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In ex-Stalingrad, many support Putin’s Ukraine offensive

#exStalingrad #support #Putins #Ukraine #offensive

Vladimir Zotov, a resident of the southern Russian city of Volgograd, says he feels sorry for Ukrainian civilians who died during the Moscow intervention, but insists the Kremlin had no choice.

“War, military conflicts always mean casualties, heartache and tears,” the 68-year-old retiree told AFP on a sunny morning after a dental visit.

“Of course I feel sorry for the people,” he said, referring to the ordeal of the devastated port city of Mariupol, which came under the control of Russian troops after weeks of siege. “But that’s life.

“If you are surrounded on all sides, if you are in danger, then protect your life and your children,” he said, referring to Russia.

To gain support for his decision to send troops to Ukraine on February 24, President Vladimir Putin has likened Moscow’s military intervention in the pro-Western country to the Red Army’s fight against Nazi troops.

Many Russians embraced the rhetoric enthusiastically, and that sense of patriotism and support for Putin’s policies is on full display in Volgograd, known in Soviet times as Stalingrad and the site of the bloodiest battle of World War II.

The Battle of Stalingrad in 1942-43 raged for almost six months and by the time it was over the city lay in ruins and more than a million soldiers and civilians had lost their lives.

The city’s legendary landmark is a hilltop memorial dedicated to the battle, including the 85-meter-tall sculpture of a woman with a raised sword known as “The Motherland Calls.”

Denis Stepanov, a 51-year-old visitor from downtown Nizhny Novgorod, says he visits the huge memorial complex every time he’s in town.

Stepanov sees parallels between Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine and other conflicts involving the Russian army – including Chechnya, Afghanistan and World War II.

“Every time young people performed heroic deeds,” said Stepanov near the monument. “They did it for Russia, which means that patriotism will not be weakened.”

The Russian army has kept a low profile on its casualties in Ukraine, but in Volgograd and other cities, local media often announce funerals for soldiers killed in action in the former Soviet country.

Alexander Grachev, who has lived in Volgograd for two decades, also draws parallels to Russia’s fight against Nazi troops.

“There was fascism then, now there is neo-fascism,” said the 50-year-old, referring to the Ukrainian authorities.

He describes Russia’s relations with Ukraine – including the annexation of Crimea in 2014 – as the result of a chaotic “divorce” between Moscow and Kyiv following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

He sees himself as a patriot and points out that his Ukrainian grandfather fought in the Battle of Stalingrad and reached Berlin.

– Lenin, Stalin, Putin –

Memories of the Soviet past are alive in the former Stalingrad, with souvenir shops selling Soviet-era paraphernalia such as magnets featuring Lenin and Stalin alongside portraits of President Putin.

As in other cities of Russia, banners with the letter “Z”, which has become the symbol of Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine, are now hanging on buildings and billboards.

“For our people, Stalingrad!” says one of the patriotic signs with the letter “Z”.

Zotov said his generation grew up with patriotism and reverence for World War II.

“The spirit of patriotism was everywhere,” said the retired factory worker.

Since the offensive began, new laws have introduced prison sentences of up to 15 years for spreading “fake news” about the Russian army, while TV stations ramped up production of anti-Ukraine propaganda.

However, not all Volgograders support Moscow’s military operation.

“I’m not particularly in favor of the special operation because it took so many lives,” said 20-year-old college student Marina Kiryanova, who used the Kremlin’s term for the intervention.

“I think there were other ways to solve this problem.”

Ilya, a 30-year-old engineer from the city of Samara, called the offensive “surreal.”

“Both nations are suffering,” said the young man, refusing to give his last name.

However, he acknowledged that there were many supporters of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

“I think society is split in two,” he said.

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#exStalingrad #support #Putins #Ukraine #offensive

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