I’m sure by now, you all know what is going on with Putin declaring war on Ukraine. I felt it was time to share some things I have learned about Russia and Ukraine from being in Russian ballet and being part of the Russian community in London.

About Russia:

Yes, I speak Russian. Yes, I love their ballet and theatre. No, I do not agree with what Putin is doing now. I was doing Russian ballet in the 2000s and became part of the Russian community. There were no oligarchs in that community. They were normal, everyday people like you or me. Among the Russian community were people from former Soviet countries who grew up in the Soviet era. Even though there were some awful things about that time in history, ballet flourished. People from former Soviet states wanted to appreciate Russian culture through ballet. Russians living abroad still have great pride in their ballet, and for good reason.

Russia has a 300-year ballet history and developed ballet technique and artistry that is only matched by France. Russian ballet gives me hope because it survived the Russian Revolution, the Soviet era and it WILL survive Putin! If you ever go to Russia or have an opportunity to see the Mariinsky, the Bolshoi or the Eifman ballet companies when they are on tour GO FOR IT! I promise you that you will not regret it! I am proud to have been part of something so beautiful for a significant part of my life.

As time went on, I noticed a lot of people had left Russia or former Soviet states because of the rise of Putin. They knew 10-20 years ago what people are realizing now about Russia, but they weren’t being taken seriously. If you say Putin’s name around a Russian, look at their face. You can’t ignore the fear you see in their eyes, even if they don’t say explicitly what’s going on. They might not say what is going on for fear of retribution, but IYKYK.

I learned about Ukraine from my Russian Teacher:

When I was learning Russian, my Russian teacher was great at informing us about Ukraine and other former Soviet states and their relations with Russia. One of her parents was Ukrainian as well. She said that if you travel to Ukraine, Eastern Ukraine is more accepting of people speaking Russian, and there are a lot of Russians who live there. If you go to Western Ukraine and speak Russian, they will treat you like a terrorist. Can you blame them? I don’t. In general, my Russian teacher encouraged us not to speak Russian if we ever travelled to a former Soviet country, unless we are certain that it’s still an acceptable alternative to Russian. That’s a fair thing to say.

Additionally, she said that it is common for kids who move to Russia from former Soviet countries to be bullied because they are from those countries. Ukrainian kids seem to have a particularly hard time. She isn’t the only person that I have heard that from. It seems like Russian kids pick up on this narrative that they are superior compared to people from former Soviet countries. I can’t help thinking that this kind of bullying has led to what is happening now. My self-defence teacher said, “Wars can be traced back to someone being rude to the waitress.”

As Time Went On:

David Cameron became Prime Minister of the UK in 2010. One of his stupidest moves was to allow Russian oligarchs to buy prime property in London, and their kids got automatic admission to top private schools. There was a fear in the Russian community because they knew these oligarchs were capable of real damage. I felt sorry for them and frustrated that no one believed them when they shared what was happening. Over time, the oligarchs started buying prime property in other countries as well, but London was the most obvious choice. I am completely unsurprised that war in Ukraine is happening because of what I have seen.

If you want to know more about Russian financial systems and human rights abuses, I recommend reading Red Notice by Bill Browder. I am following what he has to say about the war in Ukraine as well. I feel he’s the best person to inform others of what is happening.

It became clearer to me that I couldn’t live my dream of dancing in Russia one day, and politics was one of those reasons. There was no denying that Putin had a pathological need to go back to the old days using brute force. A word of caution, it’s important not to underestimate Putin. He’s a master tactician. It’s like what Yoda says, “Do not underestimate the power of the emperor or suffer your father’s fate, you will.” I believe that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is the best person to lead Ukraine to fight against Russia. He’s Jewish and he had relatives who died in the Holocaust. Plus, his father fought against the Nazis. Zelensky is also a standup comedian, which pisses Putin off. That’s a great quality to have and I wish him well!

My Future Suggestions and Final Thoughts:

It’s time countries start rethinking their citizenship by investment laws because billionaires are running roughshod over major cities. Those laws were created to appeal to foreign billionaires and not to encourage everyday immigrants to buy property.

I’m going to say this again. Read Red Notice by Bill Browder. He’s a capitalist turned human rights activist who has been trying for years to make Western politicians aware of Russian financial corruption and human rights abuses committed by Russia. Putin gave Bill Browder the Red Notice because of what he’s doing. CW: His friend and fellow advocate is murdered by the Gulag.

Get to know Russians, Ukrainians and other Eastern Europeans and hear their stories. If they trust you enough, they will share their experiences with you. Don’t listen to news that says that Russians are responsible for this. No, it’s PUTIN doing this on his own! Be aware though that Russia has an abysmal civil rights record and people may not want to talk about it for fear of retribution. I’ll give you an example. It’s common knowledge that in the West, half the men in ballet are gay. That’s not true in Russia. They are either in the closet or they move away. Additionally, I have heard a lot about racial and ethnic discrimination within Russia. When one groups’ rights are threatened it has a snowball effect, so it’s hardly surprising.

I’m glad that finally, the West is catching onto Russian financial corruption. However, if other countries are going to cut Russia from SWIFT, they must exercise caution and careful planning. The economic sanctions imposed before have really not done anything about the oligarchs, and we need some solution that will hold them accountable.

Anyway, that’s my experience. What do you think?

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27 Comments

  1. Richard grew up in communist Poland and has a lot of insight into what is happening to the Ukraine now. It’s scary times trying to negotiate with a lunatic. I’ll look for Red Notice. Maggie

  2. This is quite extraordinary insight and story. You should write about this some day. I do have red notice in a stack of unread books and i think i’ve seen a movie somewhere(don’t know if it’s based on the book)

    1. I’m touched by your comment that I should write a book on this as a Westerner with an insider perspective. The movie Red Notice is not the same as the book. Enjoy the book though! Thanks for commenting πŸ™‚

  3. Thanks for the tip on Red Notice. It is a fascinating lead and supports what I have long suspected. The rich get richer and the poor get walked on. I also watched John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight pieces on Russia from 5 years ago and on N Korea from maybe 4 years ago. Trump’s words “fire and fury like the world has never seen” sound a lot like Putin’s recent nuclear threat. How much was/is Trump still in Putin’s hip pocket? How long before the average Russian and the Russian soldiers stand up and say we don’t want to do this anymore? Greed and Power are the enemy of peace and it is time to stop the competition for the stealing the most toys. Stay well and stay safe. Allan

    1. Red Notice is a critical book to read right now. If you’re just starting to read it, enjoy! I don’t care how much Trump denies it. He and Putin have a bromance. There actually have been protests all over Russia on this. Also, in London, Russians are joining Ukrainians in protesting this. Respect to those Russians who are risking so much to protest! I’m not lying when I say the fear of retribution is real! Thanks for commenting πŸ™‚

      1. The Russians have shown before they can rebel against wrongdoing, when they overthrew the Czars. The trouble is there will always be a snake oil salesman around to try to fill that power vacuum. The first time under the guise of Communism, then under the guise of crooked capitalism and finally as a dictator. I am sure Trump fancies himself as the American Putin. Putin just sees him as a pawn. Trump rhetoric is dialling up and he has referred to our pretty prime minister’s response to the Trucker protest as “woke tyranny”. Why can’t idiots follow the rule of Better to Remain Silent and Be Thought a Fool than to Speak and Remove All Doubt? Allan

      2. That is true about overthrowing the Tsars. Maybe this an equivalent historical moment for them. Also, Russians have generally gone for leaders who project this strongman persona, and obviously Putin used that to his advantage in elections. Now, it seems like the entire country is regretting electing Putin. Trump makes me want to throw up

  4. It’s terrible to hear what’s happening in the Ukraine. I have a few coworkers with family in the area and I can’t even begin to imagine what they are going through. You’re right to draw attention to the fact that Putin doesn’t represent the views of every Russian. On a lighter note, I am such a fan of the ballet. I took an adult beginner ballet class for a couple of years and have so much respect for what they do and how much they train. And they make it look so flawless and perfect.

    1. All the best to your coworkers! You don’t know the fear of retribution Russians are feeling until you see it for yourself. That’s so cool you love ballet! Thanks for commenting πŸ™‚

  5. Thank you for sharing your heartfelt and personal insights with your post. What you say resonates very strongly. If ever we needed one voice, it is now and that voice must be decisive. And, yes – the oligarchs, who appear to be the muse to a person who has lost touch with reality, need to be held accountable too. I read through the reviews regarding the link you provided to Bill Browder’s Red Notice – without doubt, compelling, and insightful, material.

    1. You’re welcome and welcome to my blog! I hope you like Red Notice. It’s time to listen to the people who have known what’s been happening all along. Thanks for commenting πŸ™‚

  6. Thanks for sharing your personal insights about Russia and its people. I’ve seen videos of Russians taking to the streets to protest against the war. May their voices be heard.

    1. The thing is for a long time, I never talked about my experience because for a long time, Russian meant pro-Putin. I heard it’s now people in 51 cities across Russia who are protesting. Full respect to them for risking so much to be heard! By the way, I sent your card last week and made sure it was by airmail. Hope you get it soon! Thanks for commenting πŸ™‚

      1. I’m sure they are scared of potential consequences though, but courage is realizing that there is something more important than fear. Sounds good and you’re welcome!

  7. Yeah, Putin has been pushing buttons a lot. Cutting Russia from SWIFT can’t just be an emergency response. I actually read that what we see in movies that wars are won by brute force from both sides is actually not true. In reality, about 2% of wars have been won that way. I do believe Putin is getting to big for his britches. Pride comes before a fall! Thanks for commenting πŸ™‚

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