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‘Frontline’ documentary tells stories of Russians who oppose Putin’s war

Columnist Eric Black writes, “The fact that there is such an anti-war movement is itself surprising, interesting and inspiring.”

Inside Russia: Putin’s War at Home

The latest installment of the great long-running PBS documentary series “Frontline” is titled “Inside Russia: Putin’s War at Home,” which pretty much tells you what it’s about. The one-hour documentary will air Tuesday 9 p.m. Central Time on KTCA Channel 2 in the Twin Cities and other PBS stations.

Most of us stateside (including me) are focused on how Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is going (with very few of us cheering for the Putin/Russia side), and on the suffering and bravery in Ukraine’s resistance.

But there are Russians who have summoned the courage to oppose the war, some even doing so more or less openly. It’s against them that Putin wages his “war at home.”

Public displays of opposition to Putin’s war have occurred, although Putin’s goons attacked them. And Putin rushed through laws cracking down on war opponents. But the fact that there is such an anti-war movement is itself surprising, interesting and inspiring.

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The film focuses on two young women, Sonia Subbotina and Sasha Skochilenko.

Sasha was arrested for lying about the war, (which means telling the inconvenient truth about how badly it has gone for the Russian military) and had been locked up four months. Others protesting the war have been beaten and/or locked up.

Russian say they are cracking down only on “extremists. But Sonia remarked that “the words ‘no to war’ are considered extremism here. You could go to prison for 10-15 years or just be beaten and tortured.”

Journalist Vasiliy Kolotilov risked his own liberty and safety to cover those who risk their lives to oppose the war in Ukraine. “The Russian government wants the world to think all Russians are supporting the war,” he says. “It’s not true. It doesn’t work like that.”

Protesters are arrested, beaten and tortured. Every military death is considered a state secret, and the government releases no reports of deaths to Russian soldiers.

An online-only magazine called “Baikal People” has been documenting, as best it can, the people who have been imprisoned for opposing the war or telling unwelcome truths about it. The government has blocked online access to the magazine. Many Russians get their war news secretly from friends and relatives in Ukraine.

A woman. publicly identified only as “Natalia,” publishes her findings on Tik Tok. Russia has blocked anyone within Russia from accessing her Tik Tok postings, but they have reached tens of thousands elsewhere.

One woman in the film remarks that the idea of searching for the truth “is something that has lost its meaning completely.”

Vasily, another Russian journalist working with the Frontline crew, calls the Russian censorship operation “Grim and heart-breaking,” adding “It’s not about the deaths of soldiers on either side of the struggle, but a death of truth. But, given Russia’s past, why would anyone be surprised?”

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Sasha was expected to get out of jail after five months, but I looked online and learned that her “temporary detention” had been extended until next April and she will still have to face trial on charges of spreading false statements about the Russian Army, with a possible 10-year sentence if convicted.

Her friend Sonia was asked: “What kind of future would you like to see for Russia? She replied:

“I hope I won’t go to jail for saying it. I would like to live in a free and democratic country, where there are free elections, where there is freedom to assemble, so that if people believe something they can gather peacefully and non-violently to say it.”