Editor’s note: Stanislav Kucher is a Russian journalist and former television presenter. Previously, he worked as the editor-in-chief of the multimedia platform Snob, chief political analyst and creative director of the news radio network Kommersant-fm, presenter of the television channel Sovershenno Sekretno and editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler ( Russian edition). He lives in New York. The views here are his. See more opinion on CNN.
On the evening of February 24, with all the world’s media reporting on Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, my friend and I approached a hotel counter in upstate New York, speaking to us in Russian.
The man at the front desk, turning away from the TV where CNN commentators were summarizing the first day of the invasion, greeted us, filled out the relevant paperwork, and bade us goodbye in Russian.
“Have a nice evening, you’ll like it with us,” he said, diligently uttering every word.
Turning around, I replied, “Just in case you were wondering, we are against this war.
“Can anyone be for that?” he replied, surprised. “By the way, I like the Russian language, so I learn a little to have something to say to the guests.”
As a Russian journalist, I have been traveling to America since 1991 and living there permanently since 2019. Even before this war, my Russian acquaintances were often curious: “Is it true that Russians are not liked in America?
For many in Russia, the main source of information about the mood in America is the state-controlled media outlet RT, the mouthpiece of the Kremlin’s propaganda. According to them, the West is simply suffocating with hatred towards Russians and everything Russian. And, since America leads the West, it is logically the country where Russians are most hated.
But I feel like most Americans have always understood the difference between the people and the government. In my 30 years of visiting here, I have never encountered Russophobia. And in the almost three months since Putin’s war on Ukraine began, that hasn’t changed.
I live in New York, one of the most liberal and politicized cities in America, and travel around the country regularly. Whether I’m talking to parents in the playground, to shopkeepers, to waiters, to rangers in national parks, or just random customers in restaurants, I never hide my origin.
And the question “Where are you from?” always comes third – after “How are you?” and where are you going?”
Of course, over the past three decades, American attitudes toward Russia have changed. The hopes and excitement around Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost in the late 1980s gave way to a calm and balanced attitude in the 1990s, and then to distrust in the 2000s.
Then there was Russia’s war with Georgia in 2008, the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the murder of Kremlin critic and opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in 2015 and Putin’s tightening of the screws on the Russia itself – all this did not arouse warm feelings either from the Russian President or from Russia as a state.
Now, in the shadow of the war in Ukraine, I read that organizations in the United States were canceling contracts with cultural and sports figures who either actively supported Putin before or supported the Russian invasion of Ukraine today.
But such events should not be called manifestations of Russophobia.
Across America, there are towns and villages filled with signs of solidarity with Ukraine – flags, stickers, posters. And at anti-war rallies, protesters hold up caricatures of Putin, declaring exactly where the Russian warship and the invaders should go.
Such people might look closely or even suspiciously at all Russian-related projects and ventures – because supporting the aggressor’s economy with money is not only immoral, but simply short-sighted.
These demonstrations don’t make me uncomfortable – why would they? Likewise, when I hear a new song from my friend – Russian rock star Max Pokrovsky – with lyrics to the tune of the football chant “Russia go home!” I rejoice for the true Russian patriots who are against this war.
My heart has been with Ukrainians since at least 2014, and especially now, after Putin unleashed this shameful invasion.
I admire the courage and resilience of Ukraine as a nation, consider Ukraine’s borders unshakable. As a long-time journalist, I have criticized Putin and his policies on every platform available to me since 1999, long before the first Ukrainian Maidan.
To say what I really think, I paid dearly – and I don’t regret it. I talked about the silently obeying majority of my compatriots, on whom Putin so successfully played, bringing Russia to the state in which the current war has become possible.
It is probably for such comments that Russian far-right nationalist television Tsargrad-TV has repeatedly included me in its notorious list of “russophobes” – and Russian “patriotic” commentators refer to me almost as an agent of world imperialism.
As for the war against Ukraine, I fully accept the concept of collective responsibility – but I do not recognize the concept of collective guilt.
For example, the courageous anti-war protesters who gather in Russian cities are brought to the streets by their awareness of collective responsibility. They are not responsible for Putin’s actions – but neither should they be surprised or offended by any negative feelings Ukrainians might have towards Russians in general.
Seeing images of war crimes in Ukraine, I feel both pain and shame. But those emotions are about the specific actions of specific humans, those who stand behind them, those who made it happen, who are willing to justify it. These sentiments are not for all ethnic Russians or for all citizens of Russia.
Just as when I walk into the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City and see photos of the aftermath of the carpet bombing of Vietnamese villages, I have very simple negative emotions towards American pilots who have bombed Vietnam and politicians who gave criminal orders – but they don’t apply to Americans in general.
Similarly, to see the atrocities unfold in Ukraine and to think that the Russian people are historically doomed, or a weird nation, a genetically inferior nation, a rapist nation, etc., means falling victim to exactly the same mistaken mindset as those who on the other hand affirm that the Russian people are chosen by God, carrying a particular genetic code or historically called to fulfill a unique civilizational mission.
There are no “chosen”, “bad” or “good”, “successful” or “lost” peoples, states or nationalities. There are peoples and states in which, at a certain historical period, for certain reasons, the bearers of certain ideas and human qualities triumphed.
Stupidity, pettiness, cowardice, venality, fascism. These do not and cannot have a national identity. Just like genius, decency, fearlessness, honesty, and whatever “isms” you like don’t have it.
“Russian”, “Ukrainian”, “American”, “German” – these are just the shirts in which we were born.
I love the Russian language and was happy to teach it to my American friends. But it would never occur to me to be proud of the fact that I speak it, as well as the fact that Russia is the birthplace of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Putin or the Pussy Riot art group.
In the same way, I will not feel guilty for the social experiences, the military adventures and the like – and there, excuse my English – f*****s of my ancestors or compatriots with whom I have nothing to do.
It is necessary to study the lessons of the history of one’s country, its culture, to apply this knowledge for the benefit of contemporaries and descendants. But it is illogical, stupid and dangerous to experience strong feelings by associating with it.
The only time pride in belonging to a nation, people or state is a justified feeling and should be encouraged is when that nation, people or state is defending its life and freedom against invaders.
So I rejoice when I see the flag of Ukraine. Because now it is this flag that has become a symbol of the fight against evil. While the Russian tricolor, alas, has become a symbol of this evil.
Yet all flags are just symbols. The choice of who I am is mine.