11 July 2024

When Russian actor Jean-Michel Scherbak wrote on social media that he was ashamed his country had started a war in Ukraine, his mother, a longtime supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, blocked him online.

“She texted me on Facebook saying that I was a traitor and that I had made my choice,” Scherbak, 30, an actor and head of a production studio’s press relations, told Reuters by telephone.

He declined to say which European country he was speaking from, but said he was outside Russia.

The falling out between mother and son over the war in Ukraine is one of many to divide Russian families and friends since the fighting broke out on Feb. 24.

Ukraine and its allies call Russia’s actions a brutal invasion that has killed hundreds of civilians. Apartment blocks have been reduced to rubble, towns have been evacuated and nearly 2 million Ukrainians have fled the country. Kyiv has accused Moscow of war crimes.

Putin says Russia launched a special operation to destroy its neighbour’s military capabilities and remove what it regards as dangerous nationalists in Kyiv. Russia denies it has targeted civilians.

Russian and international media have covered the conflict very differently. Most Russians get their news about Ukraine from pro-Kremlin outlets, which present a radically different interpretation of what is happening to others.

The Russian state polling agency VTsIOM said Putin’s approval rating had risen 6 percentage points to 70% in the week to Feb. 27. FOM, which provides research for the Kremlin, said his rating had risen 7 percentage points to 71% in the same period.

But thousands of Russians have also turned out to demonstrate against the war. According to the OVD-Info protest monitoring group, police have detained more than 13,000 people at anti-war protests in Russia since Feb. 24.

Russia declared OVD-Info a “foreign agent” in September, in a move that critics say is designed to stifle dissent.

Scherbak, who shares social media posts and videos showing events in Ukraine, said it was not the first time his mother had tried to influence his political opinions.

“She was always trying to convince me, to talk sense into me because she is a mother, she is clever and I am stupid,” he said.


In discussions with her mother, Daria, a 25-year-old from the Russian city of Yekaterinburg who declined to give her full name, said she avoided the touchy subject of war and other issues where they “don’t exactly see eye to eye.”

“I have made it clear to myself that she is in the worst position emotionally right now and she needs help and support,” Daria said.

At the same time, she tries to offer different points of view. Her mother was shocked, she said, by videos of protesters being arrested by police in riot gear. Daria rejoices in what she calls “small victories”.

Alex, a 28-year-old game tester who lives with his wife in Gdansk, Poland, said his parents who are in Russia told him to delete his social media posts about the war in Ukraine, warning it could be dangerous for him to share his views.

Russia’s parliament on Friday passed a law imposing a jail term of up to 15 years for spreading intentionally “fake” news about the military, stepping up the information war over the conflict in Ukraine.

Alex’s parents called him every day since the conflict began, and each call would lead to arguments and shouting between him and his mother.

His father, some of whose relatives are fighting on opposing sides in Ukraine, remained more neutral.

To save their relationship, Alex stopped posting the news. His wife changed the privacy settings of her own account and continued to share articles about the Ukraine conflict.