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.
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?