Andrey Sidorkine wants to enlist in Ukraine to help fend off the Russian invasion, but every time he tries to sign up, he gets rejected.
The reason? He’s Russian.
“I have already gone to the military enlistment office five times, but they sent me back precisely because I have a Russian passport,” said Sidorkine, a resident of Kyiv. “I tried to somehow get through in another way and I went to Azov, but so far, to no avail.”
Sidorkine is one of several Russian citizens resident in Ukraine who are willing to take up arms against their former home. For many, Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has brought heartbreaking consequences as they watch their country of origin transform into an enemy.
As he can’t enlist, Sidorkine has instead taken to preparing Molotov cocktails with other volunteers.
“If this happens, God forbid, that Russian troops enter here [Kyiv], I would like to meet them with weapons in my hands, and not empty-handed,” he said.
There were nearly 175,000 Russians living in Ukraine with a residence permit at the end of January, according to Ukraine’s State Migration Service, with many more likely living there illegally due to the lack of visa regime between the two countries.
And while some, like Sidorkine, are prepared to defend their new home if need be, others feel more torn.
Maria Trouchnikova, a 43-year-old English teacher who has lived in Ukraine for 20 years, says she is experiencing an identity crisis.
“Shame, rage, pride for Ukraine, there is all of that in me,” she said, adding that she feels “a terrible emptiness instead of nationality”.
Sasha Alekseyeva, who now lives in Lviv, actually feels safer in Ukraine than in Russia, where she says a “different war” is being waged.
“We are certainly much worse here now physically and mentally than many people in Russia,” she said. “But at least there are some prospects here, while in Russia there are not.”
Alekseyeva says she regrets “collaborating” with certain Russian companies in her role as an IT specialist, but ultimately she’s not ashamed of her origins.
The same can’t be said for Galina Jabina, who said she was “ashamed to be Russian” as she heard the bombs falling on the city of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine.
“I was very angry, ready to throw myself on a tank with my bare hands, but there were no tanks, just air strikes,” she said.
A sense of shame has also caused her and others to sever ties with her family back in Russia.
“I hardly talk to anyone anymore,” she said. “My friends bury their heads in the sand, my family invites me to go back to Russia and they don’t understand why I don’t.”
Yulia Kutsenko, founder of a kindergarten in Kyiv, says her mother and sisters in Moscow support Ukraine but she can’t understand why they’re not doing anything about it – despite the dangers of protesting against the Putin regime.
“I am very afraid for them, but I would still like them to go out on the streets,” she said, adding that she now feels Ukrainian and considers Russia “an enemy”.
Sidorkine goes one step further: he hopes for Russia’s collapse.
“It would be convenient to say that only Putin is guilty” for having ordered the invasion of Ukraine, but “that’s not true”, he said. “We have to dismantle this imperial myth of Russia.”