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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

What Russians Fear The Most (And It's Not Escalation In Ukraine)

An annual report has revealed Russians' anxieties. This year, contracting COVID has been replaced by food shortages, inflation, and internet blackouts.

A woman walks by empty shelves in a supermarket in Moscow.​

A woman walks by empty shelves in a supermarket in Moscow.

Andrei Prakh

MOSCOW — A recent report has revealed what Russians fear most. Carried out by the CROS agency (Public Relations Development Agency), the report traces Russian citizens' primary concerns over the first three months of the so-called "special military operation".

High on the list were fears caused by the blocking of Western social media networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (now only available via VPN) or the departure of foreign brands from the Russian market. So too was the issue of food shortages, which has dominated the minds of Russians since February. The issue has become so prevalent that it may be called a “pseudophobia,” the study says.

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The findings mark a sharp change from those published in 2021, which ranged from fears of contracting COVID to having freedoms limited by Russia’s harsh imposition of QR codes for entry into public places.

Fears caused by inflation and the increase in the number of violent crimes also came up high.

But how quickly times have changed. And in 2022, instead of learning to deal with COVID, Russians have had to become accustomed to living under the burden of a "special military operation". Indeed, the original outrage at the start of the war has now been replaced by the need to continue living and Russians have been more or less willing to adapt their lives around what they can and cannot do.

Food comes first 

According to the report, not seeing or no longer being able to afford the brands and types of food that they are used to cooking with and eating is more of a concern than any guns or missiles in Ukraine.

Second on the list is the withdrawal of foreign companies from the Russian market, financial instability (including the fluctuation of the ruble exchange rate and the disconnection of Visa and MasterCard cards), and the increased restrictions online, namely the blocking of Facebook and Instagram (owned by Meta, which is recognized as an extremist organization and banned in the Russian Federation). All of these have been affecting the day-to-day lives of ordinary Russians for the past three months.

Andrey Lebedev, director of analytics at CROS, commented on the surprising outcome of the survey: the main concerns involve the "changing patterns of consumption, for example, the increased restrictions on the internet. Everyone is used to freely communicating on different social networks, and now there are fewer opportunities to do this. There is also the departure of foreign brands — the prospects for their replacements are incomprehensible to most people, and many do not want to change their existing tastes and habits."

Photo of customers make their own orders at a fast-food restaurant in Moscow

Customers make their own orders at a fast-food restaurant in Moscow.

Maksim Konstantinov/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Ukraine is third

This is not to say, of course, that Ukraine is of no concern at all to Russians. Far from it. According to CROS, social media users are closely monitoring the development of the situation and express some concern about its further aggravation, including the potential for the use of nuclear weapons.

People are concerned about what is happening directly to them.

They are actively discussing the losses and pace of the war, as well as the shelling of Russian border territories. The study states: "Anxiety is fueled by the regular extension of restrictions on flights to the country's southern airports, which gives people reason to believe that the special operation is far from over."

Viktor Poturemsky, director of political analysis at the Institute for Social Marketing (INSOMAR), insisted that the study nonetheless accurately reflects the anxiety of Russians: “People are concerned about what is happening directly to them, including their personal economic situation."

How long Russians are prepared to put up with these increasingly difficult circumstances is unclear. But with the war showing no signs of letting up, surely it is only a matter of time before the straw that breaks the camel’s back. And if it does, goodness knows what will follow.

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Livestream Shopping Is Huge In China — Will It Fly Elsewhere?

Streaming video channels of people shopping has been booming in China, and is beginning to win over customers abroad as a cheap and cheerful way of selling products to millions of consumers glued to the screen.

A A female volunteer promotes spring tea products via on-line live streaming on a pretty mountain surrounded by tea plants.

In Beijing, selling spring tea products via on-line live streaming.

Xinhua / ZUMA
Gwendolyn Ledger

SANTIAGOTikTok, owned by Chinese tech firm ByteDance, has spent more than $500 million to break into online retailing. The app, best known for its short, comical videos, launched TikTok Shop in August, aiming to sell Chinese products in the U.S. and compete with other Chinese firms like Shein and Temu.

Tik Tok Shop will have three sections, including a live or livestream shopping channel, allowing users to buy while watching influencers promote a product.

This choice was strategic: in the past year, live shopping has become a significant trend in online retailing both in the U.S. and Latin America. While still an evolving technology, in principle, it promises good returns and lower costs.

Chilean Carlos O'Rian Herrera, co-founder of Fira Onlive, an online sales consultancy, told América Economía that live shopping has a much higher catchment rate than standard website retailing. If traditional e-commerce has a rate of one or two purchases per 100 visits to your site, live shopping can hike the ratio to 19%.

Live shopping has thrived in China and the recent purchases of shopping platforms in some Latin American countries suggests firms are taking an interest. In the United States, live shopping generated some $20 billion in sales revenues in 2022, according to consultants McKinsey. This constituted 2% of all online sales, but the firm believes the ratio may become 20% by 2026.

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