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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

"Pacifism Is Not An Option" — Meet The Anti-Putin Russians Supplying Drones To Ukraine

Russians who oppose the war in Ukraine face a tough moral question: How far are they prepared to go? Around the world, a group of Russians are organizing and raising money to send much-needed drones to help Ukrainian forces fight the Russian invasion.

Photo of Ukrainian Drone Operator in Bakhmut

Ukrainian Drone Operator in Bakhmut

Irina Dolinina

Many Russians feel deeply conflicted by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Some have walled themselves off from the news, believing that they are powerless to change anything. Others have refused to fight, left the country and stopped paying taxes — and others have sent humanitarian assistance to Ukrainians. A small few, however, have decided to help the Ukrainian army directly.

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Members of the Ukrainian Drone Forces volunteer group, which is run by Russians and supplies civilian drones to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, tell Russian independent news site Vazhniye Istorii (Important Stories) why they believe Russians must do more to help Ukraine.

When Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, many Russians disassociated themselves from their country’s actions, stepping back from what was going on and remaining silent.

“Most Russians that I speak to are not prepared to financially support the Ukrainian army,” says Gleb, a 30-year-old sociologist. “I suppose I should be grateful that at least they don't give money to the Russian army. Yet the strangest argument for me, personally, is when people hide behind pacifism: ‘I am a pacifist. I will not give money to the army.’ But it’s a problematic position to take, because a person who refuses to interfere in the battle between the strong and the weak automatically takes the side of the strong.”

Natalya Zotova agrees with Gleb: “In the battle of good and evil, of light and darkness, the detached, pacifist position is unacceptable.”

The victim narrative

But Victor, a 50-year-old software engineer, believes pacifism is in fact a sign of something more callous. “I think this pacifist position often hides the fact that such people actually have a strong association with the Russians, and in particular with those waging the war.”

Natalya, a 48-year-old scientist, believes the pacifist position often stems from a victim complex that many Russians have accepted since the invasion last February.

The victim narrative assumes we can’t solve anything.

“As a Russian woman, I do not accept the narrative of the victim of the totalitarian regime. The victim narrative denies people their own will and their own choice. Were your hands tied?” she asks. “Even those who were mobilized, they went to the military registration and enlistment office on their two feet. And the victim narrative assumes we can’t solve anything.”

Natalya admits that there are, of course, individual cases when people really are forced away from work, home or other places and sent to the front. “We understand that such people exist, but what do we do about it? We must stop the killing of those they go to kill. This is much more important now. If you feel sorry for those who are taken away, mobilized, this (war) cannot be stopped,” she says.

“I went to rallies in Russia,” Natalya says. “I was detained by the police twice. My family and I left after the annexation of Crimea and now we live in the U.S. Since the beginning of the war, I have been in a difficult psychological state, but the thing I do to keep me morally stable is buy drones. It supports me and gives me strength. The war will end when everyone makes an effort to do little things," she says. "Our group here is a small drop. But the sea is created from lots of small drops.”

Photo of Ukrainian Military Drone Training In Mykolaiv Region view more

Ukrainian Military Drone Training In Mykolaiv Region view more

Ukrainian Military Drone Trainin/ZUMA

Ukrainian drone forces

Initially, the group was formed by two volunteers from Canada and Kyiv in April 2022. They bought one drone for the territorial defense of Kharkiv, then another and another, figuring out as they went which drones were most needed, and establishing closer ties with the Ukrainian military.

“More than half of the group consists of Russians, and we work together with Ukrainians,” Natalya says. “The confidence of Ukrainians in us is extremely valuable. There are no communication difficulties in our group. Correspondence in our chat is both in Russian and Ukrainian. We asked our Ukrainian volunteers how they feel: everyone invariably answered that we are divided here not by ethnicity, not by citizenship — Russians and Ukrainians — but by our tasks and goals, by our vision of the situation.”

Ukrainian volunteers collect requests for drones from frontline units. The group then buys drones in Europe, and Ukrainian volunteers take them to Kyiv and then to different sectors of the front.

“We saw what a useful and necessary thing drones were. They save lives,” Andrei says. “We began to find friends who agreed to financially help and work with us to source and purchase drones. In eight months, we have grown into a fully-fledged volunteer group, and more than 40 drones we bought are working at the front.”

We can say that our drones participated in the liberation of Kherson.

The group has raised over €25,000 in donations from around the world — even transfers from Russians still in Russia, often via proxies for safety.

Using drones

“It is important to emphasize that drones are not weapons. They are the ‘eyes’ (of the military),” Natalya says.

In addition to reconnaissance and artillery adjustment, the drones the group sends to the front help Ukrainian soldiers to find and recover the wounded. Medicines and supplies can also be loaded onto drones and sent to the front.

“We cannot disclose information about specific units that we helped,” Andrei says. “But we can say that our drones participated in the liberation of Kherson and the liberation (of territories) in the Kharkiv region. Our drones are also now working near Bakhmut and Donetsk.”

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Migrant Lives

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

An orchid rehabilitation project is turning a small Mexican community into a tourist magnet — and attracting far-flung locals back to their hometown.

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

Marcos Aguilar Pérez takes care of orchids rescued from the rainforest in his backyard in Santa Rita Las Flores, Mapastepec, Chiapas, Mexico.

Adriana Alcázar González/GPJ Mexico
Adriana Alcázar González

MAPASTEPEC — Sweat cascades down Candelaria Salas Gómez’s forehead as she separates the bulbs of one of the orchids she and the other members of the Santa Rita Las Flores Community Ecotourism group have rescued from the rainforest. The group houses and protects over 1,000 orchids recovered from El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, after powerful storms.

“When the storms and heavy rains end, we climb to the vicinity of the mountains and collect the orchids that have fallen from the trees. We bring them to Santa Rita, care for them, and build their strength to reintegrate them into the reserve later,” says Salas Gómez, 32, as she attaches an orchid to a clay base to help it recover.

Like magnets, the orchids of Santa Rita have exerted a pull on those who have migrated from the area due to lack of opportunity. After years away from home, Salas Gómez was one of those who returned, attracted by the community venture to rescue these flowers and exhibit them as a tourist attraction, which provides residents with an adequate income.

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