Thousands from Moscow and other major cities may have fled Russia to avoid mobilization, but that doesn't paint the full picture. In parts of the country far from the capital, Vladimir Putin still has strong support and no shortage of willing draftees.
UST-LABISNK — “There are no cowards here!"
Elena, around 30, has a stern gaze, and she doesn’t mince her words. "We're ready to go to Ukraine and fight the West!”
The "here" she's referring to is Ust-Labinsk, a small town with a population of fewer than 40,000 in Russia's southern agriculture region of Krasnodar.
Far away from Moscow and the misgivings of the urban elite, support for Putin’s war remains strong in the Russian hinterlands.
When asked about the fighting in Ukraine, the locals immediately praise the “war” and speak of their pride in sending their men to the front.
In the background, tractors trundle peacefully along. These fields of rich black soil are some of the most fertile in Russia. Around 1,300 km south of Moscow, 400 km east of the Donbas and the two Ukrainian regions annexed by Moscow last week, the region is also a hotbed of support for the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin.
Unlike the "traitors" in Moscow
“My husband is ready to go to the front. Not like those traitors in Moscow who are fleeing like rats,” says Elena, a singer in a Cossack choir.
Historically, the region was home to these legendary defenders of Slavic land and traditions. For the moment, the couple has not received a call-up. But they are awaiting a second wave of mobilization and at home they have a bag already packed for the front: uniform, warm underclothes, medicine, bandages.
“We’ve bought everything in case. I’m ready too," Elena says, with a wink. "They'll need singers to boost morale among the troops.”
We are responding to the call
Like millions of Russians, the residents of Ust-Labinsk have listened to all of Vladimir Putin’s speeches about Ukraine and his anti-Western rants. “Here, there are thousands of enthusiastic conscripts,” says Dmitri, a taxi driver and father of three. “We are responding to the call, not shirking. I don’t want a war. But because of the fascists in Kyiv, if I’m needed, I’ll go.”
Ust-Labinsk is a small town with a population of fewer than 40,000 in the south of Russia
However, most people cut the conversation short when asked to explain their reasons for supporting the war. “We’re going to a great war. I am ready!” says Yuri, a local honey and apple juice seller. “We are showing our support,” he says.
Support for what? “Support, that’s all…” the young man replies with a smile.
“We trust Putin” is all Svetlana has to say. Her two sons, 22 and 26 years old, are both professional soldiers and have been at the front since February. “I am proud of them.” She has stuck a letter Z on her windscreen, a symbol of support for the Russian army. “It’s a clash of civilizations. What positive impact has the West had? It’s brought colonization and destruction everywhere, from Libya to Ukraine. I hate your values. Just look at your toys and cartoons: poor quality and often immoral,” Svetlana says from behind the steering wheel of her car — a Renault Logan, one of the last models made in Russia.
Feeling threatened by the U.S. and NATO
Who are the “fascists” being targeted in Ukraine? What are the Kremlin’s aims? Why is the Russian army being pushed back by the Ukrainians, when they thought would take Kyiv quickly in the spring? What are the economic consequences of the conflict? Like the majority of people in Ust-Labinsk, Svetlana prefers not to answer these kinds of questions. “Let’s talk about nature and the nice weather,” she deflects.
The West’s aim is to destroy Russia
"Faced with threats from the United States and NATO, Russia could no longer avoid a war that was being stirred up by the West,” says Piotr, a farmer. To back up his argument, he claims to have read a statement from a European leader confirming that the “West’s aim is to destroy Russia”. Where did he read it?
“I can’t remember. Somewhere on an independent Russian news site…”
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