I’m Russian — So If You Start Treating Me Worse, I’ll Understand

How the war in Ukraine is destroying the Russian legacy.

Sergey Faldin 🇺🇦

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Photo by Nazary Gerashenko on Unsplash

When I was a kid, about seven or eight, we used to play “war” with other kids in our dacha (country house). We would divide into two teams — “Russians” and “Germans.” Nobody wanted to play “Germans,” of course. They were supposed to lose. We would run around, shouting “grenade!” or “missile coming,” or “pf-pf-pf-pf!!!” — pretending to shoot one another with tree branches.

One day, as our “war” went especially violent and we were running, screaming, and ambushing each other, I noticed an older man standing by the sidewalk, watching us play. At first, I didn’t pay attention to him. He was carrying a black stick in one hand, relying on it for support, holding a bag of groceries in the other. I could see white onions — the cheap ones — through the white plastic.

The man waited until we were exhausted from all the running, then came up to me and said, “You think this is a game?” I was confused. “What do you mean? We were just playing,” I replied. He looked me in the eye — his skin was like a raisin, his left eye twitching — and said, “War is horrible. So horrible, you wouldn’t even know. People die. Cities are ruined. There’s no food. It shouldn’t be a game. Have some respect for the generations that gave you the freedom to be alive today.” Guilt rushed through the cells of my body. I felt like I’d done something horrible. I looked at the other kids. They were busy exploring their shoelaces. We were all ashamed. “Okay,” I said, sighing. “Promise we won’t play again.” The old man suddenly smiled, revealing the remaining two teeth, patted me on the back, and said, “Good.” Then he went on — barely walking, shaking — carrying his plastic bag full of onions.

As I grew older and witnessed other boys play Call of Duty, Battlefield, and games where you were supposed to engage in warfare, shoot and kill people, I always remembered that old man’s face — disappointed in the new generation he and his comrades fought for — and couldn’t force myself to play any of it.

(Instead, I was a big fan of Starcraft.)

My great-grandmother told me stories of how she was raped and strangled by a Nazi soldier when she was 14…

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Sergey Faldin 🇺🇦

Honest thoughts. Unpopular opinions. Not necessarily true or smart. | The Guardian, Al Jazeera, Meduza | muckrack.com/sfaldin | Subscribe: sergeys.substack.com