For two Russian women, the war in Ukraine stirs pride or fear

By Guy Faulconbridge

MOSCOW (Reuters) - For two Russian women, both named Yekaterina, the war in Ukraine has stirred them to very different emotions. One supports President Vladimir Putin and expects victory, while the other opposes Putin and thinks Russia will lose.

A year since Putin sent troops into Ukraine, the views of Russia's 145 million people about the war are still difficult to discern, though official opinion polls say Putin's approval rating remains around 80%.

Yekaterina, 38, is a supporter of Putin and believes that Russia will ultimately triumph, even though it is now fighting a Ukraine backed by the U.S.-led NATO military alliance.

Her flat in southern Moscow is packed full of bags of donated clothes and boxes of food that she has collected to send to Russian-controlled Donbas, where many people have been left homeless by the war.

"When my boyfriend went off to fight as a volunteer, I understood that I had to do something to help," she said, asking for her surname not to be used for fear of online abuse from supporters of Ukraine.

"We need to help to defend our country, our families, those who are close to us and all of Russia," she said, adding she supported Putin and the current path of the Kremlin leadership.

In her flat, she sorted dozens of bags, carefully labelling those containing winter clothes, fur-lined boots and baby clothes, sometimes discarding boots that were not in good enough condition.

Polling by the independent Levada Centre indicates around 75% of Russians support the Russian military, while 19% do not and 6% don't know. Three-quarters of Russians expect Russia to be victorious.

Many diplomats and analysts doubt the figures.

"I support the president and think he is working well," Yekaterina said. "Russia will be victorious - unequivocally."


Just 10 kilometres (6 miles) south, another Yekaterina has a completely different view. Yekaterina Varenik, 26, who used to work at state-controlled gas giant Gazprom, hates the war and publicly opposes Putin.

After a Russian strike on Dnipro last month, she held up a placard reading "Ukrainians are not our enemies but our brothers" in front of the Moscow statue of Lesya Ukrainka, a Ukrainian poet.

Her flat echoes with emptiness. Everything has been sold or stored as she packs up to leave Russia for Kyrgyzstan to join her husband, who left soon after Putin ordered troops into Ukraine.

Varenik recalled the shock and emotion of first hearing the war had started on Feb. 24 last year. Like many Russians, she has close familial and friendship networks which criss-crossed the borders of post-Soviet Russia and Ukraine.

She remembers holidaying in Ukraine as a child. Now her family is divided by several closed borders and impassable front lines.

After her placard protest, she spent 12 days in detention.

"Many of my friends have left," Varenik said. "If you are in danger and in order not to be complicit in these events, you need to use all means to escape."

Since the war, and after Putin's partial mobilisation in September, sections of Moscow's wealthy cultural, technological and economic elites have left in the biggest wave of emigration since the years following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Soon after the war began, Putin warned Russians to be vigilant about Russian "traitors" and "scum" who he said the West would try to use as fifth column to destroy the country.

Some officials have been concerned by such a large exodus of Russian talent, though others dismiss the concerns and say Russian society is now much more united without those whose allegiances are questionable.

"It is very sad but it seems to me that this will not be ending any time soon," Varenik said. "I think this is only going to end when Russia either admits defeat or loses."

In her view, Russia's and Russians' reputation will be sullied for ever.

"We in Russia will probably never be able to wash it off."

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Alex Richardson)