"You talk to them and it's like peas bouncing off a wall."
Irina is a teacher from Khabarovsk. She is 47 years old. She used to teach Korean and English at school, and after emigrating to Canada, she retrained as a preschool teacher and opened her own children's art studio. Here is her letter with minor edits:
- My city and the city I live in now (Victoria, British Columbia) have been twin cities since the Cold War. After February 24, 2022 our local administration sent a letter to Khabarovsk about suspension of friendly relations...
I have been living in Canada since 2003. In all this time I have been to Russia twice to visit my relatives. When I visited, I felt a growing hostility toward myself as a representative of the "collective West" from my sister, who works in the prosecutor's office, and from a relative who works in law enforcement. In 2018, a friend of mine in Russia invited me to join a newly created online group of classmates. We hadn't seen each other in 25 years and were happy to find each other. At first we communicated regularly, then less and less. I confess that after living in another country I did not understand a lot of things.
One day, during Easter, I bought an egg-writing kit at our local Ukrainian Center, made some patterns, took pictures, and shared them with my family and classmates. What was my surprise after their general negative reaction to my patterns! People there have been taught for years to hate Ukrainians.
In the spring of 2020, I once turned on Channel One's news on the Internet and was horrified. How were these rude people even allowed to make programs on the screen? I quickly turned them off in disgust.
I see now, after the war began: there were many signs that something big and bad was coming. For example, when my former classmate texted me that he was in a job that was dangerous for me, for us in Canada (for some reason everyone here is just "America"). Then he started texting me some very aggressive things: that "America has got a lot of nerve", etc. I erased everything, blocked him. This was a few months before February 24. I thought maybe they had something wrong with their psyche because of the covid.
Now I can't talk to my family. To find out if they are alive and to avoid another conflict, we only occasionally exchange messages. Almost all my classmates have blocked me either out of fear or just tired of hearing my messages about the war. I hope that at least I was able to convey something to someone. It was a shock - talking to them was like peas bouncing off a wall.
I think that during this year I began to filter out feelings related to the war, probably just for my mental health. And because I am physically far away [from Russia and Ukraine].
I am terribly ashamed of Russia. For not recognizing in time what was coming, for not talking louder with my relatives about where everything was going, for creating an information vacuum around me, for dealing with my life, and for not following the news from Russia.