Utahns navigating deep divide over war in Ukraine by family overseas

Mar 2, 2022, 7:41 PM | Updated: Jun 19, 2022, 9:48 pm

While the war in Ukraine is bringing the people of Ukraine together to fight, for many families, it’s creating a deep divide.

Some Utahns are sharing the complexities of different viewpoints they’re experiencing, and what’s it meant for conversations in their families.

Outside of Alina Nagdimunov’s home in Sandy, hangs two posters on each side of her garage. One says, “NO WAR” in English. The other says the same in Russian, along with a tongue-in-cheek line against Putin.

Utah leaders and citizens have been vocal about standing with Ukraine, with clear-cut opinions.

“I think the scale and the massiveness of the attack is really shocking to most,” Nagdimunov said. Originally from Ukraine, Nagdimunov said most of her family is heartbroken.

But not all of them.

Conversations with some family members in eastern Ukraine, have gone south.

“It’s very disheartening,” she said. “I’ve had some very close family members who, you know, we kind of started talking about it and they just hung up [the phone].”

While Nagdimunov was born in eastern Ukraine, she said her father was born in Tajikistan and her grandfather was born in Siberia. Her family is intertwined throughout the region, and Nagdimunov explained everything is mixed between Ukrainian and Russian language and culture.

That mix extends to their thoughts on the war.

“We have members in our families who are friends, who still think or trying to justify the actions of Putin as something that is good for Russia. Something that, there must be a reason why it is going on,” she described. “Some that think that, ‘Well, Ukraine and Russia are brotherly nations they should be together, and if they’re together– there is so much more potential.’”

Dina Goncharenko has had the same interactions with a few of her family members as well.

Goncharenko was born in Latvia, but her ethnicity is Russian. Her immediate family still lives in Latvia, with others residing in Russia.

She said people don’t even use the term “war,” rather calling it a “special operation.” She said from her understanding, people can end up harshly punished for using the wrong term to describe the situation.

The older generation in her family is pro-Putin, Goncharenko explained, and the younger generation is against the Russian president.

Some family members become upset and won’t talk about the war with her.

“They do think that my point of view has been influenced by the American government, and American government is the one who started this war,” Goncharenko said.

She created a questionnaire to better understand the viewpoints amongst friends living overseas. She indicated that most people felt there was nothing they could do, so they preferred to stay away from the subject.

She expressed that Russian government media is controlling the narrative and has forced independent media outlets to shut down. With TV as a main access for information, she described that’s how some of her relatives are learning of the situation—and that they believe what they see.

Goncharenko outlined the narrative she believes her family members are exposed to by Russian media, which she described as the feeling like the whole world is unfairly targeting Russia and being against the country.

“When your own family, the closest people that you have in the whole world, your family is half a world apart– the only people that you can rely on in this life. When they turn their back because they think that you’ve been brainwashed, it hurts,” she shared.

Watching the horrors of war unfold, Goncharenko and Nagdimunov both indicated, have been made even worse by a widening rift during a time when family and unity is supposed to mean the most.

“It drives the families apart,” Goncharenko said.

(Courtesy: Alina Nagdimunov)

Nagdimunov said she has a hard time looking those certain family members in the eyes and asking how they can have that position.

“I have a hard time reconciling with those views,” she said.

For her, it’s more important to stand against the war, and for what she believes is right.

Both also expressed that there is a clear difference between the Russian government, and the people of Russia, with thoughts and opinions just as varied as within their own families.

This also goes for anyone living in the US who is from Russia, or speaks Russian. She talked about how she hopes her own children, who are bilingual and speak Russian, don’t get unfairly judged or discriminated against at school.

“Don’t jump to those conclusions,” Nagdimunov said. “But at the same time, if you think that this conflict is wrong, don’t shy away from saying it. Don’t shy away from saying, ‘This needs to be stopped,’ or, ‘Maybe there’s something I can do.’ There’s nothing wrong with being Russian and against this conflict.”

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Utahns navigating deep divide over war in Ukraine by family overseas