No trace of war seen in Russian capital
Zeynep Bilgehan / Moscow
As more than a month-long Russian invasion that has killed thousands and driven millions of Ukrainians from their homes is ongoing, life continues in Moscow, the capital city of the other front of the conflict, as if nothing was happening.
It is almost impossible to find a seat on the flights from Istanbul to Moscow, which have several flights a day, and finding tickets is the hardest part of the journey since Russians make up 90 percent of Turkish Airlines passengers.
There are Mastercard and Visa symbols in taxis, cafes and markets. When asked if credit cards are working, they answer “of course,” but only Russian cards. The explanation comes with allusive smiles.
For foreigners, there is no other choice but cash. While the most used payment method by Russians was Apple Pay once, now physical cards they have been using instead of a watch on their wrists.
Our first stop is Red Square. Although it is the weekend, the location looks secluded. The ones who are most upset here are the shopkeepers selling souvenirs in the vicinity. They say that Western tourists have been replaced by Iranian, Chinese and Arab tourists from Dubai with the cancellation of flights.
Gagarin, Stalin and Lenin t-shirts do not look as popular as they used to be. One of the best-selling products is t-shirts with the controversial Z symbol, and products with Russian President Vladimir Putin photos on them are also very popular.
Meanwhile, some of the luxury shops in GUM, the historical shopping center next to the square, are closed for “technical reasons.”
When asked what the Moscow residents think about the ongoing war and international sanctions, they stare in surprise and smile or say: “It’s all political.” When I ask a young man in his 20s about life without Instagram, he responds with a shrug and indifference.
“If it is closed, so let it be. We have our own social media platforms. We are used to living with sanctions since 2014,” he says.
A young woman in her 30s, whom I spoke with, tells that people in Moscow are restless due to uncertainty. She says she is worried that the war will continue for longer because Ukraine is supported from the outside and her country is strong.
She says thousands of small-scale business owners working on Instagram are victims of social media sanctions but adds that Russian alternatives filled the absence of major companies.
When asked what Russians think about the reasons that led to the war, she says the society is divided, but the majority believes Russia is right.
“We don’t think Putin is crazy. He wants to turn Russia into a strong country again. It’s like Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ policy,” she says, adding that even those who were once opposed to Putin before now support him.