Russian woman living in Ireland speaks of fears her family are being 'brainwashed' by Putin's propaganda
Oksana has made a new life for herself here but tries to deliver news of what is really happening in Ukraine to her relatives in Russia
Dungannon -based Russian Oksana Protsevska says Vladimir Putin has not just destroyed swathes of Ukraine but thousands of families like hers too.
The 39-year-old has revealed how she has been trying to fight against Putin’s fake news campaign by informing her friends and family who still live in Russia about what is really happening in Ukraine.
And that’s brought her into conflict with cousins, aunts and even her own father.
Now as the bloody war enters a second month, she’s concerned she may never see her father and other Russian relatives ever again and fears inter-family rivalries over the war could last far longer than the conflict itself.
With new laws in Russia banning criticism of the armed forces, many Russians are only seeing the images Putin’s state media allows them to see and therefore don’t believe their country has launched a full-scale war on Ukraine.
Mum-of-two Oksana grew up in the north eastern Ukrainian city of Sumy which has been under sustained bombardment from Russian armed forces.
“I’m ashamed of some of my relatives and my own father,” she says. “It’s the hardest part for me is the way Putin is ripping families apart for absolutely no reason.
“My brother is a firefighter who stayed behind in Sumy to help defeat the Russians and I’m so proud of him. He was a proud Russian and now he’s saying he’ll never go back to Russia ever again which means he’ll never see our father again.
“I’m not sure if I ever will either. I try not to discuss it with my father now as I’m not sure I’d be able to forgive him. It’s all so sad.
“I try and discuss with my family in Russia what is really happening in Ukraine, about the bombing of Mariupol and Kharkiv and even in Sumy but they don’t want to talk about the war. They just say, ‘Let’s not discuss it because we have a different picture about what is happening’.
“I try to talk to people to tell them to open their eyes but they have been brainwashed. Even some friends in Ukraine are believing Putin’s crazy claims that it’s the Ukrainians who are bombing their own cities.”
She says she moved there from Russia, which is only 30 miles away, when she was a baby before moving to Co Tyrone in 2006 where she has made a new life with her Latvian husband.
Oksana says she’s hoping to be able to welcome a friend as a refugee into her Dungannon home in a few weeks after they fled Sumy through a green corridor.
“I have a friend who has made it to Poland so hopefully in two or three weeks she will be able to come here,” she said.
“The people here in Dungannon have been so friendly and have supported the Ukrainian people. My daughter goes to Dungannon Primary School and the principal has been so supportive.
“They were involved in sending a truck of aid and all the support is very welcome.”
Oksana has angrily refuted claims that Russian people living in the Sumy region were mistreated by the Ukrainian people.
“We had a great life there, my family moved to Sumy to find work, it was the first city we found when we crossed the Russian border,” she said.
“We all spoke Russian without any problem and we had no problems finding jobs or when we were at school. Putin just made this stuff up as an excuse for war but it’s completely untrue.
“The Russian and Ukrainian people in that area are so closely linked together. I used to be a proud Russian Ukrainian but I’m ashamed of Russia now.
“The truth is what Putin has done has had the opposite effect that he wanted. The Russian people living close to the border did not want this war and now they are more Ukrainian than they were before.
“The majority of people can see it for what it is. It’s not really a war it’s just murder.”
Oksana says the war is “mental torture” as the conflict enters its second month and she awaits bad news coming from friends and relatives who are still in Ukraine.
“I can’t believe the war is still going on, I thought it would be over in a few days,” she says.
“I’m so proud the people of Ukraine have stood together and fought so bravely. I thought the Russians would take Kyiv but I knew they would never be accepted but they have failed to take the major cities.
“They even gave up on Sumy because the Ukrainian people fought them back and now the Russians have left the area.
“But there are still bombs being dropped. They even dropped a bomb on Sumy on International Women’s Day (March 8) and it killed more than 20 people.
“My friend’s brother was outside having a smoke and he saw the plane and he actually saw the bomb dropping. He thought he was finished but he ran away and it landed on the next street and flattened 20 houses.
“We couldn’t get through to friends and family that day and it was very upsetting. It’s mental torture every day.
“After that, most of the women and children left the city in green corridors. My brother has stayed to help but he sleeps in the corridor of his apartment in case it is bombed.
“He messages me every three or four hours and there is a sense of fear every time because you just never know what the news will be.
“I wake up and think the war was just a nightmare but then remember it’s actually happening. I don’t think life will ever be the same again like it was before.”
Oksana says her kids speak Russian and they have been given a bit if a hard time.
“My husband is Latvian so we speak Russian to each other and some of the other kids are making judgments. People need to remember this war is not what the Russian people want.”
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