"Hate has become the national idea of Russia.

Photo from Sergei Sapogov's social networks

Sergey Sapogov from Cheboksary is 31 years old. An economist by training, he served in the army, worked as a DJ for two years. Then he started selling building materials. Things were going well, so he did not follow the example of his father, who emigrated after the war began - he hoped for a quick end and a diplomatic settlement of the conflict. After the announcement of the "partial" mobilization, Sergei nevertheless left and, after crossing the border into Georgia, gave interviews to journalists covering the mass exodus of Russian men. Links to the interview found their way to the "patriotic" "VKontakte" public forums, and angry supporters of the war started writing to Sergei in comments and private messages. And then his page in "VK" was blocked at the request of the Prosecutor General's Office. This (and three subpoenas in the mailbox at his place of residence) dashed his hopes of returning to Russia in the near future. Here is Sergei's story:

- I distinctly remember the morning of February 24, when I was awakened by a call from my dad:
- Have you heard the news yet?
- No, what happened?
- The war has started.

 I remember quickly getting ready, jumping in the car, and rushing to the bank to withdraw cash. On the way, I opened the first live broadcast on YouTube - it was "Dozhd" - and, listening to the night bombings and the columns of equipment entering Ukraine from Russia and Belarus, I caught myself in a sense of unreality of what was happening.

I did not follow the news much at the time, but I could feel a certain tension in society. Political topics and, in particular, the situation in Ukraine began to pop up more and more often in conversations with friends, family and friends, and colleagues at work. The media pressure was having its effect, but I had no idea that it would escalate into a full-scale war.

The first days after the invasion began I could not find my place. On the one hand, I understood that something had to be done, but on the other, I saw that on the very first day of the war the law enforcement agencies were already detaining protesters all over Russia. So at that point, seeing the flywheel of repression against dissenters as was rapidly unfolding, I abandoned the idea of street protests. I understood that if I got into trouble with the police, I might lose everything. And I had a lot to lose: a selfemployed job that was consistently bringing in good money by the standards of my city, a car, a great apartment to rent, and most importantly, plans for the future that were not destined to come true.

Photo from Sergei Sapogov's social networks

My father left Russia in May because of his unwillingness to support the actions of our state, including with his taxes. Even before the invasion, he and I had openly discussed the political situation in the country; we are absolutely united in our views. My critical attitude toward the authorities began to take shape in 2014, while my father's was formed in 2012 after the Bolotnaya Square rally. I had no idea that I had to leave Russia. At that time I still hoped that international diplomacy would work and that all this horror would end in the next few days.

Almost all of my entourage at the time took a negative view of the outbreak of war. Among my acquaintances there were only two people who more or less approved of the invasion of Ukraine. One of them was an old university friend of mine, and the other was a former colleague at work. Our communication quickly dried up.

Time passed and the situation got worse and worse. It was September 2022, and with it "partial" mobilization. By that time, there were already two summonses with the wording "on the issue of military registration" at my place of registration. I had a military service in 2014 under my belt, so I had no illusions about why I was persistently invited to the military registration and enlistment office.

The road to Vekhny
Photos from the personal archive of Sergey Sapogov

Service in the Russian Armed Forces significantly influenced the formation of my political position. I was drafted in December 2013, and after I was assigned to the 1117th anti-aircraft and missile regiment in Moscow Oblast (Kalininets - editor's note). I received a specialty - senior radio telegraph operator of a medium and low power radio station.

What I saw there during my year of service I cannot call "the second army of the world. Our regiment at the time was located on the territory of a former Soviet unit, half of this territory and infrastructure was used by us and the other half by the soldiers of the 147th Guards self-propelled artillery regiment (in 73966). The gunners' barracks was located 30 meters away from ours, with a common smoking room for both barracks only from our side. So throughout our service, we constantly crossed paths with the conscripts of the artillery regiment.

In the spring of 2014, soldiers of the artillery regiment told us that they were being sent to the border with Ukraine to conduct "exercises. On one day, I personally saw from the window of our barracks how the artillerymen drove Msta-S self-propelled vehicles and Grads through the territory of the unit to be sent to the border.

A couple of months later, in the summer of 2014, our neighbors returned to their permanent location. We met with the conscript artillerymen in the smoking room, and they told us that they had shelled the territory of Ukraine while on those very "maneuvers. Not only contract servicemen, but also regular enlisted men, who openly and unashamedly told us about everything that had happened, took part in the shelling.

At the time, this information made me wary, because on TV at the time we were told stories about the civil war in Ukraine, defensive miners, and the fact that Russia had nothing to do with this conflict. After returning from the army, I started looking for information and had no trouble finding both confirmation of what the artillery soldiers said about shelling Ukrainian territory and a lot of other evidence of the Russian regular army's involvement in combat operations in Donbass. This became the starting point of my protest views.

Further events in the country only strengthened my critical attitude toward the government. The year 2017 and Alexei Navalny's sensational investigation "He's not Dimon" was a special year for me in this respect. After the film's release, there were rallies against corruption in many cities across the country, and in March of that year I took part in a protest in my hometown. 

The reaction of the authorities at that moment spoke for itself - after the rallies, the organizers and the most active participants began to be pressured by the law enforcement agencies. At the same time, the same law enforcement agencies did not even bother to conduct a formal verification of the facts announced in the investigation, which prompted tens of thousands of people across Russia to go out and voice their discontent. It was 2017, and the carnival of corruption and lawlessness of the Russian authorities was already in full swing.

Photo from the personal archive of Sergei Sapogov

And then 2022 came, and with it the war, the bombing of Mariupol, the massacre in Bucha, the rampant looting and mass murder of civilians in Ukraine. Russia, on the other hand, began to tighten the screws. With one hand the state cleaned up the media field, with the other it intensified propaganda in all state media. "The "Second Peace Army" could not cope with "drug addicts and neo-Nazis. Against the background of "goodwill gestures," "difficult decisions," and "regroupings" of the Russian army, the opinions of turbo-patriots regarding the need for mobilization in Russia became more and more frequent.

By the time the "partial" mobilization began, I had already made it clear to myself that I would not be an accomplice to war crimes under any circumstances. On the same day, I began to prepare for forced self-isolation. On September 25, however, my relatives persuaded me to leave the country for a while. In a hurry I flew to Moscow, and in the evening we left already in the direction of Vladikavkaz in a group of 4 persons, and on September 27th we successfully crossed the border into Georgia.     

At the Upper Lars border crossing point, I was interviewed by reporters from the Georgian First Channel. The reporters asked me direct questions about my attitude toward the war in Ukraine.

Then I faced a serious contradiction within myself, because on the one hand, I was leaving Russia in the hope that soon the parties to the conflict would come to an agreement, the war would end, and I could return home in peace. On the other hand, I did not want to remain silent about what was happening in my country, but I understood that any public criticism of the authorities could cause me problems in the future when I returned to Russia. When answering journalists' questions, for the first time I said everything I was thinking frankly. At that moment, I internally promised myself that in the future I would speak openly about everything that was happening in my home country without compromising with myself.
Photo from the personal archive of Sergei Sapogov

The hardest months were the first ones after I left, when there was still hope that I would be able to return soon. On October 6, the third summons arrived at my place of registration, this time stating my military rank and warning of administrative responsibility in case I did not show up at the enlistment office. At about the same time, a week apart, two articles and interviews were published in the publications Pro Gorod Cheboksary and Idel.Realii, in which I gave a detailed account of my story of fleeing the country.

After the articles were published, in addition to countless insults, I received threats both in personal messages on VKontakte and in discussions in some of the communities supporting the war. Appeals to the prosecutor's office have yielded no result other than formal replies. And at the same time , VKontakte blocked my page in Russia at the request of the Prosecutor General's Office.

I realized that I had to move on, not hoping that the situation in Russia would improve soon. Without hope, but with a sober view of what was happening, I began to build my life in the new country from scratch, crossing out the plans for the future that had previously firmly tied me to Russia.

It has been a year since that February 24 morning, and unfortunately for me it has been a year of very unpleasant revelations about my home country. Putin's Russia showed the once close to us people of Ukraine its brutal grin of "brotherly love. The screen of nobility fell away, revealing the true face of the "Russian world" - bloodthirsty and fierce.

Hate has become the national idea of Russia. Hatred of everything that is not like us. Hatred of Europe, the West and Ukraine. Hatred of the good life and freedom. Russia in a bloody binge with the hooting of the z-patriots is rapidly flying into the abyss, and now we hardly have a chance to reverse the trend. But what I am sure of is that only the defeat of the Putin regime in this war can give us hope for a happy future for Russia.

I share the pain of Ukrainians and sincerely sympathize with all those who have suffered from the actions of the Russian Federation in the current war. The guilt and responsibility for what our country has become and for the war unleashed lies to one degree or another with all Russian citizens, and I do not disclaim this responsibility.

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