Emmanuel Guillén Lozano’s photos of daily life in Russia show the tension of war
Of course, far from the front lines, life will go on and on. But daily life is rarely the subject of a report. We just don’t see much of it. In Moscow, for example, people continue to live their lives. And photographer Emmanuel Guillén Lozano recently spent time there documenting what would be another rather mundane day, despite Lozano’s artistry. Yet, because of the war, as well as myriad other frictions flowing from Russia to 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 calm scenes of daily life (yes, done by a foreigner) belie the anxiety and tension that exists below the surface for many Russians.
Here is Lozano in his own words:
After watching the war unfold 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 officers at Belgrade airport told me that I was the only non-Russian passenger. on the flight.
It ended up being an omen for the rest of the trip, because during the weeks I was there, I didn’t see any other apparent strangers. As soon as I landed and took a cab to my hotel, I started to see Zs (symbol of the war effort) painted on passing cars and on the entrances to some businesses, but aside that — and the palpable absence of tourists — all seems as if nothing is happening. The public squares are teeming with cultural and political events, the bars are lively and the typical scenes of daily life show that the attempts at resistance and protest against the war were quickly overtaken.
The control of the narrative is imposed not only by the authorities but also by the ordinary citizen. 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 car. The teenagers were listening to 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 strongly demanded that the youths stop the music, saying she didn’t want to hear such a thing. Russians watching other Russians is something I witnessed several times during my trip.
On another occasion, in a bar, a young student was telling me about how he had recently moved to Moscow from a small town near Yekaterinburg because he was tired of how people can be shut down. mind in less urban areas of Russia; support for the war, even from those close to him, was the last straw that made him leave his hometown.
He said to me: “You have to understand one thing: all Russians love their country, their homeland, but not everyone loves the government or the decisions they have taken. The Russian government is not the Russian people. We were in the middle of this conversation when an older gentleman approached us and spoke to her firmly in Russian. He said the man told him, “You shouldn’t talk about these things to a stranger.” After that, he visibly felt uncomfortable, looked around, and said, “Well, maybe it’s not so different here than in my town after all.”
Other stories that I constantly heard took place in the metro services of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, where some people who had attended the first demonstrations were suddenly arrested weeks later during their daily commute after being identified by facial recognition technology in station security cameras. . In the Moscow metro, I twice witnessed what has become a common occurrence: officers randomly checking people’s phones to watch their conversations.
Those who use terms other than “special military operation” to refer to the invasion are arrested on the spot. It explained why nearly everyone I stayed in contact with via Instagram and Telegram deleted our conversations once they were over, and why none of the anti-war people I met were willing to have their picture taken, even anonymously. All were eager to share their feelings and thoughts with me, but no one felt safe going any further.
On the other hand, people who are in favor of Russian military action in Ukraine feel quite comfortable talking about it, proudly wearing hats and T-shirts with the characteristic Zs on them. and willing to talk to strangers and strangers like me about how Russia has no choice but to attack — to stop what they call a genocide of Russian speakers in Ukraine and to prevent an imminent attack from Ukraine against Russia.
Being a foreigner was a particularly strange experience in this context. Everywhere I went, the first thing I had to recognize was that I didn’t speak Russian. Often everyone in the room would go completely silent as soon as they heard me speak English. Almost every time they would ask for the first time, “Where are you from?” Once I replied that I was from Mexico, they asked in shock – fully aware of their country’s current pariah status – “And what are you doing here now?”
At best, several people would approach and strike up a conversation with me, and regardless of the initial topic, they would always ask me anxiously what I thought of “the situation” in Ukraine, to which I would respond cautiously. , without using the words “war” or “invasion” until I am absolutely sure that we share similar views. It was clear that we had to be extra careful these days; most people prefer not to talk about the war at work, at school or with their loved ones. As in the Stalin era, Russians are turning themselves in to the authorities, incurring fines and the possibility of a prison sentence.
After more than 15,000 people were arrested during anti-war protests, many of those who opposed the invasion felt that even if they decided to take a stand, nothing would change. Many anti-regime Russians left the country as soon as they could to countries like Turkey and Georgia, among other countries. Most people I met knew someone who had left with no intention of returning.
Those who cannot afford to leave or who have decided to stay are faced with the decision of whether to cut off contact with relatives or friends who support the war or to resign themselves to the idea that they will not be able to change their lives. opinion and simply avoid the subject of war in their conversations.
While family members and acquaintances continue to watch state propaganda, younger generations of Russians are using VPNs on their phones to access Western apps that have been banned by the government. They seek out alternative news sources and follow Telegram channels that carry the kind of news the Kremlin has called “fake.” They continue to watch with horror the pain their country inflicts on a sovereign nation, a nation of people they regard as their brothers and sisters. There is a palpable sense of desperation in the air as daily life goes on as usual, mainly because it has become clear that if there is anything or anyone who can stop the war, it will not come from inside Russia.
You can see more of Lozano’s work on her website, here.