Putin’s war is tearing us apart

Now, at the one-year mark of Russia's war in Ukraine, deep fissures have emerged among those who fled their homelands, splitting friends and families — even those who came here decades ago.



February 24, 2023 - 3:53 PM

A man comforts his wife in Lviv, Ukraine before she boards a train to Przemysl, Poland to flee the war. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

When I immigrated to the U.S. from Moscow in the mid-1990s, the first thing I learned was that people in the Soviet diaspora didn’t care where you came from. The fact that I’d spent half my childhood in Ukraine and the other half in Russia carried no significance in the new immigrant reality. The community consisted of families from Moldova, Belarus, the Caucasus, Central Asian countries and the Baltics as well as Russia and Ukraine. Regardless of origin, everyone went to the same restaurants and bought kielbasa at the same grocery stores. We exchanged tips on the best dentists, got each other jobs and even married each other. The diaspora seemed like one post-Soviet melting pot united by our newfound autonomy from the problems of “the old country” and, simultaneously, by our shared cultural dissimilarity from “amerikantsy,” the Americans.

Now, at the one-year mark of Russia’s war in Ukraine, deep fissures have emerged in this diaspora, splitting friends and families — even those who came here decades ago.

After Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine last February, rifts emerged immediately in our community and took many by surprise. While I was lucky that no one in my family, including those in Ukraine, Russia and the U.S., supported Putin’s aggression, I did lose a close friend, an immigrant from Russia. The last time I saw her had been a few weeks before the war. Our sons, who used to go to the same day care in San Francisco, were scootering nearby while she’d gushed about her recent visit to Moscow. We didn’t discuss politics. But when Russia attacked soon after, I wrote an anti-war article and she began to ghost me, ignoring my calls and telling a mutual friend that “we had nothing in common” because, apparently, she had sided with Putin. I never thought someone living here for many years could have such powerful political allegiance to Russia. I also never imagined a friend would choose Putin over me.

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