They're Trying to Survive the Invasion — and Convince Loved Ones in Russia There's Even a Full-Scale War

"He started to tell me how the things in my country are going," 33-year-old Misha Katsurin says of his dad. "He started to yell at me"

Ukraine Invasion
Ukraine Invasion. Photo: EMMANUEL DUPARCQ/AFP via Getty

Weeks into Russia's invasion of Ukraine, some people from the now war-torn country face a problem beyond mere survival: Their families in Russia don't believe there's a war rampaging at all.

One 25-year-old woman who has been sheltering in Ukraine and communicating with her parents in Moscow told the BBC that she couldn't convince her family that Russia is targeting people in her country.

"I didn't want to scare my parents, but I started telling them directly that civilians and children are dying," the woman, Oleksandra, told the BBC in a story published last week. "But even though they worry about me, they still say it probably happens only by accident, that the Russian army would never target civilians. That it's Ukrainians who're killing their own people."

Another Ukrainian, 33-year-old Misha Katsurin, described a similar situation to The New York Times, explaining how he called his father once the shelling began — only to be confronted with disbelief at the extent of the conflict.

"He started to tell me how the things in my country are going," Katsurin told the Times in a Sunday story. "He started to yell at me and told me, 'Look, everything is going like this. They are Nazis.' "

Katsurin's father, told him, he said: "There are Russian soldiers there helping people. They give them warm clothes and food."

Likewise Valentyna V. Kremyr's siblings were incredulous at her report of the deadly invasion, particularly as it threatened civilians, she told the Times.

"They believe that everything is calm in Kyiv [the Ukraine capital], that no one is shelling Kyiv," Kremyr said.

She said her brother and sister believed Russian forces went after the Ukrainian military "with precision, and that's it." However, there are mounting accounts of civilians killed in Russian strikes, despite the Kremlin's insistence otherwise.

"No one is bombing Kyiv, and you should actually be afraid of the Nazis, whom your father fought against," Kremyr's sister told her via social media, Kremyr said. "Your children will be alive and healthy. We love the Ukrainian people, but you need to think hard about who you elected as president."

For some in Russia like Kremyr's family, she told the Times, "It is impossible to convince them of what they have done."

Russians and Ukrainians have deep connections, with millions of families stretching across the border between them. It appears many Russians have been swayed by the official messaging — as well as the tight restrictions on the flow of news — from the Kremlin.

President Vladimir Putin claimed he was only conducting a "special military operation" for so-called "peacekeeping" in the neighboring country and that his aim was to "de-Nazify" Ukraine.

In a speech last month, Putin suggested that NATO countries were backing neo-Nazis in Russia's latest attempt to delegitimize Ukrainian nationalism.

"It is not surprising that Ukrainian society was faced with the rise of far-right nationalism, which rapidly developed into aggressive Russophobia and neo-Nazism," Putin said, per The Washington Post.

There is no evidence, however, to suggest widespread support in Ukraine's government, military or electorate for extreme-right nationalism, as described by Putin before Russia's invasion.

In fact Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, revealed during a trip to Jerusalem in 2020 that three of his great uncles died in the Holocaust during World War II, according to the Post. His grandfather survived.

The reality stands in stark contrast to Putin's claims. Some Russians have also turned out in large protests against the conflict, despite their government's efforts.

Ukraine Invasion
People remove personal belongings from a burning house after being shelled in the city of Irpin, outside Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 4. ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty

Details of the fighting in Ukraine change by the day, but hundreds of civilians have already been reported dead or wounded in the invasion that started Feb. 24, including children. More than a million Ukrainians have also fled, the United Nations says.

The invasion has drawn condemnation around the world and increasingly severe economic sanctions against Russia.

With NATO forces massing in the region around Ukraine, various countries have also pledged aid or military support to the resistance. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, 44, called for peace talks — so far unsuccessful — while urging his country to fight back.

Putin, 69 insists Ukraine has historic ties to Russia and he is acting in the best security interests of his country. Zelenskyy vowed not to bend.

"Nobody is going to break us, we're strong, we're Ukrainians," he told the European Union in a speech in the early days of the fighting, adding, "Life will win over death. And light will win over darkness."

Worldwide protests against invasion of Ukraine
Ukrainians gather in front of the White House to stage a protest against Russia's attack on Ukraine . Yasin Ãztürk/Anadolu Agency via Getty

Ukraine, meanwhile, is waging its own digital efforts in the war and working with social media companies to combat Russian disinformation.

Speaking to Politico this week, Ukraine's deputy minister of digital transformation, Oleksandr Bornyakov, said that despite the government's best efforts, combating Russian disinformation was "impossible."

"I have family in Moscow, and I asked them what they think about what is going on in Ukraine. They said they support Putin," Bornyakov told Politico. "So, I told them to just f--- off and that I don't want to talk to them anymore — because they also went crazy. If they support Putin killing us, how can we be relatives after that? This is my personal story. It's my family and my brother who are over there."

The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.

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