Emmanuel Guillén Lozano’s photos of daily life in Russia show tension of war

The Kremlin, Moscow.  (Emmanuel Guillén Lozano)
The Kremlin, Moscow. (Emmanuel Guillén Lozano)

The war in Ukraine has been going on for months now. Images of horror spill over the media every day. These are vital images that must continue to be published. We all need to realize the despicable nature of war. I can’t think of a good argument to suppress any of them. Exhausted? Well, that’s nothing compared to what the people in the line of fire experience every day.

Of course, life will and will go on far away from the front lines. But everyday life is seldom an occasion for news. We just don’t see much of it. In Moscow, for example, people get on with their lives. And photographer Emmanuel Guillén Lozano recently spent some time there documenting what would be fairly unremarkable on any other day, Lozano’s artistry notwithstanding. Yet because of the war and countless other frictions pouring out of Russia into the rest of the world, including the United States, these photos carry added weight. It doesn’t hurt that Lozano also has an excellent eye for detail.

As you’ll see below, the seemingly tranquil scenes of everyday life (yes, taken by an outsider) belie the fear and tension that exists beneath the surface for many Russians.

Here is Lozano in his own words:

After watching the war from afar, I decided to try my luck this summer and get a visa to visit Moscow and St. Petersburg. Despite a lot of conflicting information and difficulties with the Russian consulate, I obtained the necessary documents and traveled through Serbia, where the surprised agents at Belgrade airport told me I was the only non-Russian passenger on the flight.

This ultimately boded well for the rest of the trip as I didn’t see any other obvious foreigners in the weeks I spent there. As soon as I landed and took a taxi to my hotel, I saw Z’s (a symbol of the war effort) painted on passing cars and on the doorways of some shops, but other than that – and the palpable absence of tourists – everything looks as though nothing would happen. Public squares are teeming with cultural and political events, bars are bustling with activity and typical scenes of daily life make it clear that attempts to resist and protest against the war were quickly abandoned.

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Control of the narrative is enforced not only by the authorities but also by the common man. On a train from Pushkin to St. Petersburg, a friend pointed out to me the interaction between a group of young men and a lady in our carriage. The teenagers heard loud music – “I didn’t ask for this war and I don’t support this war,” my friend translated the lyrics for me. The lady urged the youngsters to stop the music as she didn’t want to hear anything like that. Russians policing other Russians was something I experienced several times during my trip.

On another occasion, in a bar, a young student spoke to me about how he had recently moved to Moscow from a smaller town near Yekaterinburg because he was tired of how narrow-minded people in Russia’s less urban areas were be able ; support for the war, even from those close to him, was the last drop that made him leave his hometown.

He told me: “You have to understand one thing: all Russians love their country, their motherland, but not all love the government or the decisions they have made. The Russian government is not the Russian people.” We were in the middle of this conversation when an elderly gentleman approached us and spoke to him decisively in Russian. He said the man told him, “You shouldn’t talk to a foreigner about these things.” Afterward, feeling visibly uncomfortable, he looked around and said, “Well, maybe it’s not that different from mine after all City.”

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Other stories I kept hearing played out on the Moscow and St. Petersburg metro services, where some people who took part in the early protests were suddenly arrested weeks later during their daily commute after passing through facial recognition technology had been identified in the stations’ surveillance cameras. On the Moscow subway, I twice witnessed what has now become commonplace: officers randomly checking people’s phones to trace their conversations.

Those using terms other than “military special operations” to refer to the invasion will be arrested on the spot. This explained why almost everyone I stayed in touch with on Instagram and Telegram deleted our conversations after they ended, and why none of the anti-war people I met were willing to be portrayed, even anonymously. Everyone was eager to share their feelings and thoughts with me, but no one felt safe going further.

On the other hand, people who support Russia’s military action in Ukraine are perfectly comfortable talking about it, proudly wear hats and T-shirts with the signature Z’s on them, and are willing to talk to strangers and expats like me about like Russia has done, has no choice but to attack – to stop what they are calling a genocide of Russian speakers in Ukraine and to prevent an imminent attack by Ukraine on Russia.

Being a foreigner was a particularly strange experience in this context. Wherever I went, the first thing I had to admit was that I don’t speak Russian. Often everyone in the room fell silent as soon as they heard me speak English. Almost every time, the first question they asked was, “Where are you from?” When I replied that I was from Mexico, they asked in shock – aware of their country’s current pariah status – “And what are you doing here now?”

At best, several people came up to me and started a conversation with me, and no matter what the initial topic was, they always worriedly asked me what I thought of “the situation” in Ukraine, to which I cautiously answered , without that Using the words “war” or “invasion” until I was absolutely sure that we shared similar views. It was clear that you have to be extra careful these days; Most people prefer not to talk about the war at work, at school, or with their relatives. As in the Stalin era, the Russians are turning themselves in to the authorities, facing fines and the possibility of imprisonment.

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After more than 15,000 people were arrested at the anti-war protests, many of those opposed to the invasion felt that even if they decided to take a stand, it wouldn’t make a difference. Many anti-regime Russians left the country as soon as they could, including to countries like Turkey and Georgia. Most people I met knew someone who had left with no intention of returning.

Those who cannot afford to leave the country, or who have decided to stay, face the choice of cutting off contact with their relatives or friends who support the war, or accepting the fact that they cannot change their minds and simply avoiding the subject war in their conversations.

While their family members and acquaintances continue to follow state propaganda, younger generations of Russians are using VPNs on their phones to access Western apps that have been banned by the government. They look for alternative sources of information and follow Telegram channels that spread the kind of news that the Kremlin has flagged as “fake.” They continue to watch in horror the pain their country is inflicting on a sovereign nation, a nation of people they consider their brothers and sisters. There is a palpable sense of hopelessness in the air as daily life goes on as usual, especially as it has become clear that if anything or anyone can stop the war, it will not come from Russia.

You can see more of Lozano’s work on his website, here.

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