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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 This year, contracting COVID has been replaced by food shortages, inflation, and internet blackouts.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 Indeed, the original outrage at the start of the war has now been replaced by the need to continue living and Russians have been more or less willing to adapt their lives around what they can and cannot do.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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Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Rules: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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