How Anti-War Russians Who Stayed Are Feeling As The War Drags On

November 21, 2023
  • Lyubov Borusyak

Having conducted her third survey of anti-war Russians who stayed in the country, sociologist Lyubov Borusyak notes feelings of marginalization, depression and helplessness, as well as disappointment in Western policies. Importantly, these people are now gradually adapting to the new reality, a trend that, in her view, will continue.

In November 2023, I conducted a fresh, third, survey of anti-war Russians who remain in the country. The previous ones were conducted in May and November 2022 (see the results in Russia.Post here and here). The latest questionnaire partly consisted of previous questions, but new ones also appeared. As in the previous surveys, I asked respondents about how they felt after the announcement of the “special military operation” (SVO), though now the emphasis was on changes in their state of mind over the fairly long period of time since then.

Description of the study

As before, the questionnaire was published on Google Forms, and I provided a link to it on my social media, thus using the “snowball” sampling method. Most likely, many of the latest respondents also participated in my previous surveys.

Due to this sampling method, at all stages of the study there were people with similar socio-demographic characteristics. They are residents of the biggest cities, primarily Moscow (this time the share was 66%) and St Petersburg (11%), who completed higher education or are university students. About half are under 40 years old; the other half are 40 or older.

As before, the following professions predominated (percentages are given based on the latest survey): university professors and researchers made up 21%; journalists and editors 11.5%; teachers 11%; culture, literature, art and design workers 10%; psychology and medicine workers 9%. As had been the case before, among the survey participants there were many people from the so-called “helping professions” – those who believe that their work benefits young people, ordinary Russians and society as a whole.

In one respect, the latest survey differed significantly from the previous two: the number of potential participants, especially non-Muscovites, sharply decreased. During the first survey a year and a half ago, 500 anti-war Russians who remained in the country filled out the questionnaire within 24 hours; six months later, 1,300 did it in the same time frame; this time, however, only 330 questionnaires were collected over a few days.

The dampened activity in terms of distribution of and participation in the survey was tangible from the very beginning, so I turned to my friends on social media for explanations. Most of them suggested that people no longer saw the point of participating in such a survey; some are afraid (although the survey is anonymous); they are in a state of apathy and indifference; many had planned to leave Russia and did; others, either out of fear or having been unable to set up a VPN, simply got off social media, primarily Facebook, which was blocked in Russia at the very beginning of the SVO.

In addition, in the spring of 2022, shortly after the start of the SVO and the first mass wave of emigration – as in the fall of 2022 after the announcement of the partial mobilization and the second wave of emigration – anti-war Russians who remained in the country really wanted to let everyone know that they existed, as they are not represented in the public space, although they are taking action and doing a lot of useful things.
Gradually, the lives of dissenters in Russia somewhat stabilized, which is why their desire to put themselves in the proverbial public spotlight has weakened and almost died out.
St Petersburg, 2023. Source:VK
The goal of the latest, third, stage of the study was to find out what the most important thing that happened over the last year to the social groups that interest me is – first of all, how their state of mind has changed.

What happened a year and a half ago?

When asked what they felt on February 24, 2022, most respondents described their feelings exclusively emotionally. The latest survey was no exception, though now it was one-and-a-half-year-old memories. Still, the experience of that time remained intense, and their descriptions remained virtually unchanged.

In terms of responses, fear and horror were the most common, indicated by 54% of respondents, followed by depression, powerlessness, hopelessness (28.0%), shock (27.0%), outrage, fury, hatred, anger (24.5%), and bewilderment, misunderstanding, confusion, as well as pain, grief, despair, melancholy (24.0% each). Coming in last was shame and guilt; in particular, there were very few responses about guilt – you could basically count them on one hand – with most talking about a feeling of shame for what is happening. The respondents did not see their own fault in this; they were ashamed of the country. As we can see, the number of responses significantly exceeds 100%, meaning most respondents said that they experienced a combination of feelings: fear, horror and shock; fear, horror and hopelessness or fury; shame and anger, etc.

Shock is a stronger and more intense feeling than fear. You can be afraid and feel horror for a very long time, but shock resembles a blow. The first blow was the announcement of the SVO, the second was the partial mobilization.

“Weak” responses predominated – passive ones that did not imply any action; it is the reactions of victims, not active actors. A quarter of those surveyed spoke about anger, fury and outrage, which represent feelings of internal protest without implying active opposition to what is happening. Somewhat fair seem the claims made by Russians who left the country that their departure is an action relative to staying, which to them represents a refusal to take any action.

At the same time, our interviews with emigrants clearly showed that both waves were also largely triggered by fear – in particular, over borders potentially being closed and a mobilization being called in the spring of 2022, and six months later the already-announced partial mobilization. Among those who left the country, the share of political activists who actually faced the threat of repression in Russia and intended to be politically active outside Russia was very small. Accusations of inaction greatly affected Russians who remained in the country. They did not consider fleeing the country out of fear to be a real action.

A year and a half later

After the partial mobilization in September 2022, there were no new waves of emigration, and
“Although the emigration flow continues, the potential for another major, third, wave may have already been exhausted.
In a nationwide survey by the Levada Center conducted at the end of October 2023, the majority of Russians reported a positive or neutral outlook. Fifteen percent indicated optimism, 67% said things were OK, 13% noted unease and only 4% complained of fear and melancholy.

The youngest group of respondents had the biggest share of optimistic responses at 28%, with the smallest share among the oldest group (over 65 years old) at only 8% – results that can easily be attributed to age. In addition, note that two thirds of respondents believe that the country is moving in the right direction.

My survey participants – anti-war, well-educated big city residents – are part of the minority that sees no reason for optimism. The shock has passed for almost everyone, as it is impossible to remain in such an intense state for long. The share of fear and horror also decreased to 17.5%, three times less than in the spring of 2022. Moreover, whereas fear and horror went together back then, now fear is mentioned separately, in reaction to some specific threats, and horror is talked about as a general, undifferentiated state.

The share of those experiencing anger, fury and outrage almost halved (to 14%). Most likely this is because the idea that active resistance is impossible has become more pervasive. Indeed, there were significantly more respondents (36.2%) who spoke about hopelessness, powerlessness, fatigue, depression, dejection and doom [obrechennost’].

This group of responses has begun to predominate, and the spectrum of words describing this state widened. In particular,
“A new word for the survey was ‘doom.’ Mentions of shame and guilt halved to 6%. Doom – the feeling of being a helpless victim – thus seems incompatible with feelings of guilt.”
A park in Maryino, Moscow. Source: VK
Another, new group of responses (18%) that appeared in the current survey centers around the words “adaptation,” “acceptance,” “calmness,” “indifference” and occasionally even “hope,” which clearly is a reaction to the prolonged state of stress.

What changed?

I asked respondents to describe in more detail the main changes that had occurred in their outlook over a year and a half, in light of the new, unfortunate situation.

As one might expect, the leading answers were “getting used to it, adapting” (20.6%) and “fatigue, hopelessness, powerlessness” (18.1%). Another 10.3% said that they had “an understanding that all this horror will last for a long time.”

In other words, the pain has gone from acute to chronic and become a normal part of life.

Here are the most typical answers: “it is like after the death of loved ones. It seems that the world should collapse, but it did not collapse. You look around and get used to living in a new reality;” “we got used to horror;” “we got used to living with constant pain;” “we get used to pain. And to the fact that you cannot change anything;” “there is conforming, a horror that you get used to does not hurt as much as that which is unexpected;” etc.

“There is no hope left;” “intense reactions atrophied, the feeling of darkness has become permanent;” “there is a feeling that there will be no more happiness;” “powerlessness, hopelessness.”

A small share of the respondents believe that since this is going to last for a long time, they should not lose heart completely. You need to be patient, save yourself and/or hope for the best: “we need to develop a long-term perspective – how to save ourselves and our children in a reality turned upside down;” “there is nowhere to go, we need to live and work on;” “I decided that I will not destroy my life myself. I will keep things going where I can. In my life and the lives of my loved ones;” “we must somehow live in these times. Many people around me think the same, which means there is reason to hope that we will get through it and take part in the rebuilding,” “the psyche has adapted: we will have to live in this darkness for a long time, perhaps until our end, and the events will only grow and shock with their monstrosity – we are gathering our strength, concentrating on what is important, ‘suiting up,’” etc.

If the situation remains approximately the same as in recent months, if there are no socio-political upheavals, then the share of people who are determined to adapt and “live and work on” will likely rise. At the same time, only 4.8% of my respondents mentioned a worsening political situation and growing pressure on dissent.
It is worth shining light on several not-so-common answers, which nevertheless seem important. Eight percent of respondents said that they were experiencing painful disappointment in the people around them – often family – because of which they began to feel lonely, like outcasts. Meanwhile, only 2.6% said that the presence of like-minded people in their lives really helps them to push on and gives them hope.

For some respondents, the turmoil in the Middle East and around Karabakh made them stop perceiving the situation in Russia as unique. They write: “the whole world has gone crazy;” “the old world is no longer; “globally, the political situation generally is heating up, we already see it in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Israel and Palestine. There is a sense that the number of conflict zones will only grow.”

Respondents speak of disappointment with the policies and sanctions of the West, which they accuse of hypocrisy: “the attitude of the West toward us has become clear, its goals do not coincide with the well-being of our country (or that of Ukraine);” “hypocrisy... not only on the part of Russian politicians, but also from European politicians with their senseless sanctions);” etc.
In all three surveys of anti-war Russians who remain in the country that I conducted, economic and everyday difficulties constitute only a small part of their problems and experiences.
St. Petersburg, 2023. Source: VK
In the latest survey, only 4.8% of respondents complained about rising prices, everyday difficulties or problems with work – this theme, relative to political issues, remains marginal. Perhaps this owes to the fact that the absolute majority of my respondents live in Moscow and other big cities; in the recent past, they could, adjusted for the peculiarities of the Russian political regime, be called middle class. I never heard any complaints about the quality of services. Only three respondents reported losing their jobs, and a few noted that prices had gone up. Still, I repeat, such responses are few and far between.


It is not everyday life or the economy that makes the life of most of the respondents who have stayed in Russia so hard and painful, plunges them into depression, and makes them feel hopelessness, scared and sad. Although they are far from the front line, and their loved ones are not fighting in Ukraine, the war is constantly on their mind, creating a feeling of isolation and marginalization in their own country, depriving them of hope and generating fear about the future. Their melancholy is aggravated by separation from emigrated relatives and friends and disappointment in Western policies. The only area where the latest survey differs from the previous ones is suicidal feelings, which have now subsided. Indeed, some sort of adaptation is taking place.
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