It is not easy to find out how young Russians really feel about the war in Ukraine.
Polls have suggested that while they are the least likely to support the invasion, many still support it.
But as anti-war sentiment is heavily contested, few are really open about their beliefs.
What we do know is that young Russians, unlike their elders, are growing up in an age of smartphones and social networks, and therefore have access to a wider range of information compared to what they are told about the war in the state media.
Some teenagers have been arrested for sabotaging railways, sharing anti-war memes on social media, and taking part in peace rallies – although actual criminal charges against those under 18 are relatively rare.
At the same time, there have been cases of pro-war students recording their teachers making affable comments in class and reporting them to the authorities.
We spoke to six Gen Z Russians about their views:
‘We were nervous so we left in a hurry’
Kim, 18, is originally from Novosibirsk and now lives in the United States
“Since we lived in Russia, the war affected us quite a bit. My mother and I were very afraid for our lives, so it was decided to leave. We were nervous so we left in a hurry. My life has changed dramatically with the move.
“I am against any war. This particular operation is complete nonsense and an absurdity that no one needed. Although Ukraine is a much smaller country, it is patriotically strong. (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is just another man who has been in power for too long. After all, what are elections for? One person should not be in power for long, all this power twists and corrupts people. His strange behavior was noticeable long ago. The same thing happened in 2014, with his decision to annex Crimea.
“I follow everything on Telegram and independent analysis from both sides. The future is very dark. Everything that is happening does not give me hope for a stable solution.”
“There are many lies. Both on our side and from Ukraine’
Jasmine, 21, Moscow
“It’s scary. You don’t know when your friends and family will be taken away for mobilization. Relatives of friends are already dying at the front. I’m afraid they’ll announce a full mobilization and take everyone.
“We haven’t hit much yet. The economy has not been stable for a long time and the sanctions have not disappeared. Traveling is difficult – you can’t go anywhere with a Russian passport. But there is also a positive side. Many Western brands leaving Russia have paved the way for young entrepreneurs and new, high-quality Russian brands are thriving.
“About the war, I don’t know much about this situation, so I can’t judge. Everywhere they say different things and I don’t know who to believe. One thing I know for sure: there are a lot of lies on TV. Both on our side and from Ukraine.”
‘The war is f***** up and wrong’
Yuri, 20, Tbilisi
“Coincidentally, I served in the army for a year just before the war. It was my own fault for not studying instead. I am completely healthy physically, no flat feet or asthma. I was demobilized in November 2021.
“The war is f***** up and wrong, a political theater where a human life is worth nothing.
“(At the beginning) I saw more and more people in clothes with symbols and inscriptions of the pro-war position. Each time I was thrown into rage and regret – how can you think what is happening is normal? But I was no better: I didn’t try to convince any of them, I didn’t go to rallies. I sometimes shared the latest news on Instagram and talked to my relatives about this topic. Fortunately, no one in our family watches TV and no one voted for Putin for a long time.
“On September 21, 2022, my girlfriend woke me up saying, ‘Wake up, the circus is back in town.’ I perfectly understood everything about Putin’s (mobilization) speech, and that I should immediately buy tickets to Tbilisi, since there were already many friends and acquaintances there. Every time I refreshed the page, the plane tickets grew and after reaching the mark of 300,000 rubles ($4,000), I understood that an alternative was needed and bought bus tickets to Tbilisi with my girl from Moscow for 5,000 rubles ($ 66) each.
“On September 27, we got stuck in a traffic jam at the Lars crossing. I realized that if we don’t get off the bus, we won’t cross the border. We bought two bikes from Vladikavkaz for 15,000 rubles ($200) each and rode to the border. Every agent from Moscow to customs said, “You can’t get through, they won’t let you in, everything is already closed there.”
“It was so much easier to breathe in Tbilisi. The concentration of people – and not cyborgs with perpetually gloomy faces – per square kilometer is much higher here than in Moscow. It’s fun. But if you have imperialist views, you will not be able to live in Tbilisi for a long time. I found a job and a really good place.
“Two days after I crossed the border, my aunt called me and said that people in uniform came to the apartment where I was registered and asked if I lived there.”
“I’m not going to leave here and give up. Russia is my home’
Asya, 19, Arkhangelsk
“At the beginning of the war, I cried constantly. It seemed to me that all this was not real and could not last long. I deeply sympathize with all citizens of Ukraine. But as time went on, I got used to it, as horrible as it was. People even get used to war, especially if they live far from the battlefield.
“I also started to think differently and started learning new subjects: decolonization, anthropology and anarchism.
“My father has a very strange position – it seems that he supports and does not support the special military operation at the same time. In general, he has always had nationalistic views, so it is not surprising. I haven’t lived with my parents for years, but even if I did, I wouldn’t argue with them because it’s their business what to think.
“I know activists from other countries and they support Russian activists, but they don’t understand how we can continue to live and work under the war and the current government. There are probably many others who hate Russia, but we must not forget that it is necessary to separate the Russian government, a mad machine of repression and destruction, and the people of Russia, who are mostly innocent.
“I agree that it will only get worse in the future. As for politics, I do not believe that the opposition in Russia will succeed in the coming years, but I am not going to leave here and give up. Russia is my home.”
“After such colossal losses, the army will have to be rebuilt”
Nikita Karpov, 25, Noginsk
“In the beginning I took a favorable position (of the campaign), because I considered it necessary to solve the Ukrainian problem even before February 24. But now that time has passed, it has become clear that no positive results are to be expected.
“Putin is a president born out of the Soviet system. This man has a certain political style, to which most of the Russian population is already accustomed. He is neither a smart leader nor the tyrant portrayed by the opposition, but he is certainly not the best thing to happen to Russia.
“Since the Russian Federation is currently the largest state in the world with a huge population, it follows that this is a dangerous beast. It is impossible to simply write off Russia, as many people do, predicting defeats, reparations, and so on.
“The conflict between Russia and Ukraine could last for several years. I believe that the political system in Russia will seriously deteriorate in the coming years. Business, housing and community services, medicine, education – everything will sag. After such colossal losses, the army will have to be rebuilt.
“It all looks scary, but my generation will definitely have something to do.”
‘We don’t deserve Russophobia’
Renazimov, 16, Moscow region
“In recent years I have become closely involved in volunteer work. And my life hasn’t changed too much. Roughly speaking, I just started helping another part of the population. In 2022, I assisted with humanitarian aid for visiting refugees from the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, collected humanitarian aid and wrote letters for mobilized military personnel. For that I was named “Volunteer of the Year” in my hometown of Odintsovo.
“Everyone has their own opinion, but in general I think that children and teenagers should not immediately express a fervent opinion about politics, and about the special military operation.
“For me, the special military operation is a phase to go through – whether there should be an invasion of so many lives is another question. My goal is to help people who are struggling right now.
“It is also important to consider the information war and Russophobia. My position on Russophobia is that we, the citizens of the Russian Federation, do not deserve this. I don’t really see a solid argument to be hated.”
Editor’s Note: Some interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity.