What's the role of Russian speakers in wartime? : Rough Translation When protecting a language is used as justification for war, how can its speakers fight back? A conversation with Russian speakers of the diaspora who are rethinking their relationship to language, identity, and the Russian community.

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GREGORY WARNER, HOST:

You're listening to ROUGH TRANSLATION from NPR.

So does the Russian Parents Network have, like, an origin story of some sort? Was there a day that you were like, we need a Facebook group?

MICHAEL DROB: Yes.

VICTORIA DROB: Yes.

WARNER: This is Victoria and Michael Drob.

M DROB: So this started when Victoria was pregnant with her...

V DROB: No.

M DROB: No, just gave birth to our first child.

V DROB: Can I tell the story?

M DROB: Oh, yes. OK. Fine.

V DROB: All right. It's a bit of a funny story because...

WARNER: The story of the Russian Parents Network starts 14 years ago after the birth of their first child. Victoria was feeling lonely, needed a community of other parents. It's not even the only Facebook group for Russian parents in the tri-state area of New York, but it seems to be the largest - 19,000 members.

V DROB: I think it's also a testament to just how large the Russian-speaking community is and how much we look for each other and want that space to interact because we have these unique experiences coming from that part of the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KLARA RUMYANOVA: (As Cheburashka, speaking Russian).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, speaking Russian).

WARNER: And on this network, you can find things you need, like a Russian-speaking nanny or that long-lost episode of "Cheburashka."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing in Russian).

M DROB: Like, you know, the Russian cartoons you used to watch as a child - where do I find those to show my kids, right?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing in Russian).

WARNER: Michael and Victoria are not Russian. They're not ethnically Russian. They're Jewish. And nor were they born in Russia. They grew up in Latvia, when that was part of the USSR. In fact, Russian was only a label that was slapped on them after they emigrated in the '80s.

M DROB: Russian is just an easier term for people around us - for Americans to understand rather than explain that I'm from this, like, little place that fell apart from the Soviet Union. It's, like, a whole story - right? - whereas Russian makes sense to them.

WARNER: Even as people back in Latvia and back in Ukraine put laws in place to assert their language, their cultural identities, here in the diaspora, the Russian label mostly stuck to the point that Michael felt like it was obvious the Russian Parents Network was an inclusive term.

M DROB: It just meant somebody from the former Soviet Union.

WARNER: So there was no confusion about what this group was really for, who this was for.

V DROB: Never. No. No. No.

M DROB: I don't think so.

V DROB: No.

WARNER: And then came the war. Russia invaded Ukraine. Parenting-related posts gave way to aid appeals.

V DROB: You know, how are you wiring money to your loved ones back home? You know, who has the latest information? What news outlets are you following?

WARNER: And who and how to help best. A 14-year-old ballet student from Kyiv wants to continue her studies. Does anyone have housing in New York? A 3-year-old boy went missing on a boat when escaping with his grandmother down the Nepa River. Can you share his photo as widely as possible?

V DROB: Like, it's all - you know, parenting has kind of gone out the window at this point, and it's just all about the community coming together like, OK, our homeland is in crisis.

WARNER: And with this crisis, the name Russian Parents Network...

M DROB: Calling it Russian, especially when Russia is a specific country, a specific place of origin and now a specific aggressor, you know, becomes a little bit different, I guess.

WARNER: An identity shorthand that was basically convenient suddenly felt complicit.

M DROB: Now it made a lot more - it's a lot more of an impact to that - right? - to that statement. It's not just about the land you're from. It's also, like - there's an obvious divide.

WARNER: It took all of five minutes to rename the group the Russian-speaking Parents Network then announced the change in a post. But neither he nor Victoria was prepared for the response.

M DROB: The amount of comments that came in when - like, within seconds of doing that was kind of overwhelming. A lot of the comments were incredibly positive.

WARNER: Well, not only positive, but like, thank you for finally doing this. I feel so good.

M DROB: That's true.

V DROB: Which is interesting because - right? - even though there wasn't a direct ask...

M DROB: Yeah.

V DROB: ...To do this. There - like I said, there was nothing going on in the group that was like, oh, gosh, we got to do something about this.

WARNER: They tapped into something the people in the group were feeling and maybe had been feeling for a while. This war is certainly not the first time that Russia's been the aggressor and attacked a neighboring country - whether Georgia in 2008, eastern Ukraine in 2014.

V DROB: Things don't come out of the blue (laughter). Things happen, and that makes us reevaluate and look at things differently and like, OK, well, this is how we used to say things before or do things before, but it's not fitting anymore. You know, world changes. We change. And maybe this is just another reflection of that change.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: This is ROUGH TRANSLATION. I'm Gregory Warner.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: Vladimir Putin spent years turning Russianness into a weapon. Restoring Russian greatness, protecting Russian speakers, reuniting the Russian world - these were excuses for military invasions. But for the first time, large numbers of people who proudly wore that Russian identity want to throw it aside. And the swiftness of that shift was really something to watch, you know? The Soviet Union fell 30 years ago. But really, in the past two weeks, I've seen more people say don't call them Russian anymore. And so last week, I sat down for a conversation with two writers - one trying to renegotiate her relationship with Russian...

MARIA REVA: If it's the first language you learn, I think it occupies a certain part in your body.

WARNER: ...The other with his Russian-speaking audience.

MICHAEL IDOV: Every Russian creator is so consumed by this sort of conundrum of being Russian in the world. I can't really be a part of that dialogue because there's nothing special about (laughter) being Russian.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: My conversation with Michael Idov and Maria Reva about the complicated role of Russian speakers in wartime When ROUGH TRANSLATION returns.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: Hey, we're back with ROUGH TRANSLATION. I'm Gregory Warner. So what we're going to do for you this episode is not what we usually do. This is a completely live conversation that we've just condensed for you here on the show. It is a Twitter Spaces conversation with two writers who I admire. Maria Reva, a Ukrainian Canadian writer whose short story collection "Good Citizens Need Not Fear" was a finalist for the 2020 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. Reva was born in Ukraine and moved to Canada with her family in childhood. She grew up in Vancouver. My other guest is Michael Idov, born in Latvia. He's an American screenwriter, novelist and director. His work includes the film "Leto," nominated for a Palme d'Or, and his hit German series "Deutschland 89." He lives in Los Angeles. And his recent piece for Vanity Fair was entitled "Language Is Never The Enemy: Why I Will Not Write In Russian As Long As Putin Is In Power."

Maria, let's just start with you. I mean, do you - you still have family in Ukraine, right? So how are they holding up?

REVA: Yes, I have family in Kyiv and Kherson and Cherkasy as well. The relatives in Kyiv, they made their second attempt to leave a couple of days ago, and we just learned that they were successful. They have now crossed the border to Poland. The challenge with them is that one of the members of their household is a survivor of multiple strokes. She, you know, was bedbound, disabled. And, of course, that caused great difficulty. They managed to hire a private ambulance to get them all across. So we're super grateful for that. I've heard of other - from other Ukrainians who have, you know, relatives there who haven't heard from their relatives in a few days. So yes, the relatives in Kherson, they - Kherson is effectively surrounded right now, even though civilians managed to push off the occupation of the city. But my relatives there are staying put for now. So that's the update from me.

WARNER: And in Kherson, there was a - it's a very Russian-speaking city. There was a pro-Ukrainian rally at a few days ago, I believe, and there was - they spread out a Ukrainian flag.

REVA: Yes. There was a big march on to the center of Kherson. I believe what they wanted to do with that also is to show the world that even though this is a traditionally Russian-speaking city, they don't want to be a part of Russia.

WARNER: Michael, just with you, anyone in particular in Russia or Ukraine that you're keeping in touch with or that you're worried about right now?

IDOV: Yes, of course. I don't have any relatives in Russia or Ukraine at this point, but I do have a couple of friends. I have a friend who's a well-known musician who's in Kyiv right now. So I'm in touch with him constantly. And we're in touch with a few people on the Polish-Ukrainian border on both sides. Our friends from Berlin are organizing human humanitarian aid convoys there. And one of my Ukrainian friends is helping on the Ukrainian side of that.

And, of course, you know, when it comes to Russia, I'm just looking kind of amazed and aghast at the exodus of sort of almost every brand of thinking Russian, you know, from computer engineers to, you know, musicians and actors and, of course, journalists and - et cetera, et cetera, just spread out from Armenia to Turkey to Portugal to Germany. And it's it's quite something to behold. And just going back to what Maria said about Kherson and what you said about this - the pro-Ukrainian rally, what Putin is accomplishing right now is actually something absolutely astonishing if you think about it. He's creating millions of anti-Russian Russian speakers, which is something that has never existed in the history of Russia as a country.

WARNER: Maria, I feel like you've thought about this because your op-ed for The Globe and Mail was on loving and hating Russian. And so I'm wondering if we can wind back the clock, go back to that and start with the kind of the loving part. You were born in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. What was your relationship to the Russian language growing up?

REVA: So I grew up speaking Russian. And because I left Ukraine at the age of 7, I didn't learn Ukrainian very much. I wasn't able to absorb sort of the flourishing of Ukrainian again over there. So I grew up speaking the language of my household. And we, you know, we used to comfortably speak it even though, you know, we were never pro-Putin in any sense of the word. But now we're really rethinking our relationship with the language. We have friends in in Kyiv, you know, who have been responding to our messages for the first time in Ukrainian. We've never heard them speak Ukrainian to us before. And actually, just last night over dinner, we - in my patchy way, I was trying to join the Ukrainian conversation around me. So my dad does speak Ukrainian. My mother has some knowledge of Ukrainian as well.

So I think since the invasion, I've - you know, I've personally come to think of the language as, you know, a national security issue, really, because in previous statements, Putin has said that he sees the limits of the Russian world where the Russian language is used. And he used these - this excuse of, you know, so-called protecting Russian speakers in Ukraine. He used it as an excuse to invade Ukraine. So that has really changed my relationship with the language. I am trying to learn more Ukrainian now. When I can go back to Ukraine, I would like to speak Ukrainian.

WARNER: You know, I'm curious. You had a fascinating episode that you describe in that op-ed. You write about an experience - and this was a couple of years ago, I guess - watching the official New Year's address by President Zelenskyy of Ukraine. And I don't want this to sound flip because I know that right now we are all - many of us, I should say, are glued to Zelenskyy's media appearances. But I feel like in normal times, to turn on something like the, you know, New Year's greetings of a president, you have to be pretty homesick. And so tell me this story of watching Zelenskyy and trying to connect.

REVA: Yes. So I would say that is a tradition over there, that, you know, the president gives these New Year's addresses and the people do tune in and listen. And this was his New Year's address on December 31, 2019. And yeah, my family and I tuned in.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: (Non-English language spoken).

REVA: And I just remember this feeling of - my comprehension just dimmed in and out. And I could tell he was trying to spread this message of unity. And he - the address actually contained multiple languages in it. And I could feel the mood of it, but I couldn't understand all of it myself. And that was a really uncomfortable feeling. And I wanted to understand all of it. And then we tuned - you know, out of this morbid curiosity, we tuned into Putin's New Year's address.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Non-English language spoken).

REVA: And...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PUTIN: (Non-English language spoken).

REVA: I understood the whole thing. And it sounded like, you know, this warning of - about the Russian military. That's what he chose to talk about in his New Year's address. So it was awful to be able to understand that message in full, but not the message of the Ukrainian president.

WARNER: Yeah, you write about this. And you say, I'd never stepped foot on Russian soil, but with queasy recognition, I knew what he wanted me and millions of Russian speakers around the globe to feel the call of home. Why do you say that, you know, you knew what he wanted you to feel?

REVA: It was an emotional reaction. When - you know, if it's the first language you learn, I think it occupies a certain part in your body. I actually feel it coming from a different part of my body than when I speak English. English comes from kind of the top of the head. Russian comes from this kind of chest area. So that language for me - I mean, that represented my lifeline back to Ukraine. It was my lifeline back to my relatives there, our summers at the dacha, right? That's how - that's the language we used to joke in, tell stories in. So that's - that was that feeling of home for me. Yeah.

WARNER: The language that connected you back to your relatives in Ukraine was now being employed in this war-like message from President Putin.

REVA: Exactly. Yes.

WARNER: Yeah. So that call - I mean, yeah, Michael, do you want to react to any of this? Do you recognize this feeling, or any reactions to what Maria is saying?

IDOV: Well, I have a very different relationship with the Russian language and a very different circumstance because I come from Soviet-occupied Latvia, and I come from a Russian-speaking Jewish community there. So technically, my speaking Russian and my knowledge of Russian is an accident of history and geopolitics because I should normally be speaking either Yiddish or Latvian. Yet that's how things turned out. And unlike Maria, I've spent the last 20 years of my life writing in English and in Russian and for an American audience and for a Russian audience. And so my relationship with the Russian language is - it's not just about being bilingual. It's about being fully bicultural.

And with - you know, with absolutely no malice toward Maria, I have to say that part of my personality is being routinely annoyed by people who for whom sort of the Russian language - who consider themselves bilingual, but for whom Russian language is something nostalgic, something about the, you know, those evenings at the dacha. I actually have kind of an allergy to that, to be honest, because for me, biculturalism has always been about knowing the culture as it lives and breathes. So you can't consider yourself bicultural, I thought, unless you are up on the latest developments in indie rock and hip-hop and movies and TV and internet memes, and if you can basically keep up, you know, sort of the most complicated conversation with, you know, the most plugged-in people in the country, like, that's biculturalism to me. And of course, I've expended incredible effort keeping that up over the years and decades. So for me, that's what Russian is.

WARNER: Yeah. Well, actually, I want to ask you a question about when that cultural relationship with Russian, as you say, and with Russian culture became complicated and ultimately untenable. There was - so in 2012, if I have the dates right, you moved to Moscow and you started writing some very successful TV series. One of them I watched - "Londongrad," which centers on the Russian community of London.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LONDONGRAD")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, speaking Russian).

WARNER: It's really funny. It's got these very three-dimensional characters. But then you describe about how that series that you put a lot of work into was then marketed in Russia.

IDOV: Right. Well, the thing about "Londongrad" was it was written and largely filmed before the Russian annexation of Crimea and the sort of explosion of chauvinist, kind of imperialist sentiment that followed in the official culture with sort of this new political reality when, you know, I remember the head of PR at the network telling me, you don't realize what we're walking into. People are getting beat up on the street for wearing an American flag or a Union Jack on their T-shirt in the provinces. No one's going to watch this outside of Moscow, et cetera, et cetera. So yeah, so surprisingly released the series without any cuts. It suffered no censorship whatsoever. But they did add an incredibly annoying marketing slogan to it, so - the slogan that almost became part of the title. So instead of just being "Londongrad," on every poster, in every trailer, it was referred to as "Londongrad" (speaking Russian), which is sort of like "Londongrad," how our guys do it, or, like, watch our people - watch how our people do it or something, which really recast the series in an interesting way. It almost made it sound like the series would be not about Russians who are fully integrated into the western world, but Russians somehow, like, triumphing over it, which was not the goal of the series at all.

As I wrote in the Vanity Fair piece, it was probably the first-ever Russian pop cultural product that did not recast immigration as this sort of tragic exile. The subversive message of it was that London and Moscow are just two cities, and you can live in one or you can live in another, and that's how every character in the series approached it. And that was the main message that I try to get across in all of my Russian language TV and film work. Russia is part of the world. It's just a country. It's not an empire. It's not in an existential conflict with the world. It's, you know, it's just the place. And there are many other places. It's a simple thought, but it - yeah, it was a little subversive for the market when I started doing these TV series and films, and then it was more and more subversive, and now it's not even true anymore. And that's part of what led me to sort of realize that I can no longer speak to that audience. I don't know what to say to it.

WARNER: I guess I'm wondering from you, Michael, whether this is a change, whether Russian audiences have become more receptive to the warmongering, to the calls for expanding the borders, or were those expansionist dreams always there and you just hadn't seen them, hadn't appreciated it?

IDOV: It's a very wide-reaching question because, first of all, how do you measure sentiment in a country where, you know, people break out in cold sweat at the sight of a journalist's microphone or, you know - I mean, one of the points I kept making lately on Twitter is that, you know, stop doing Russian man on the street interviews and vox pops and population surveys because, you know, with all kinds of dissent becoming so quickly criminalized, it's completely pointless to, you know, to run after people and ask them if they agree with what their government is doing, because if today, saying something wrong is, you know, is a fine, tomorrow, it's 15 days in jail, and the day after tomorrow, it's, you know, being shot in the street as a traitor. We don't know. We don't know how far it goes.

But we can talk about it through the prism of just basic facts, you know, for most young Russians, who were born when Putin was already president. The only social lift, you know, the only way upward is through government structures and government-funded structures, and these are being run as sort of an ideological dictatorship, but not a Stalin-era dictatorship, more like the Brezhnev-era dictatorship, when everyone knows that almost everything they're, you know, they're supposed to say and sign their name under and vote for is basically, you know, bull. But it's just - it's the price of doing things, and everyone knows that this is nonsense that just needs to be observed, you know, the sort of classic Russian thing - same thing that they did with the COVID precautions, you know? We're going to do the absolute least to not get fined or to not get in trouble, you know? We're going to wear masks on our chins. We're going to buy fake vaccination certificates just to have it in the system that we are vaccinated. It's the same kind of thing. They're going to apply the same sort of lackadaisical energy to supporting the war. They're just going to do whatever needs to be done to not get into trouble, and that is the poisonous lesson that Putin's era has taught the overwhelming majority of young Russians.

REVA: Just to chime in - I think this is also showing us that when our civil liberties begin to be eroded, it happens gradually - right? - slice by slice. And, often, it doesn't seem like it's a big deal or they don't, you know, they don't affect us directly in our perception. So this is for us to also remember that once this starts happening, we do need to fight as early as possible because it becomes harder and harder, and the risks to your personal safety become higher and higher. And I have been watching the protesters in Russia coming out onto the streets.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE CHANTING)

REVA: And I see them, and I am very, very happy that they are doing this.

WARNER: Maria, I would love to ask you about what happened when you were texting with your family and they started speaking to you for the first - or speaking to your sister, I believe, for the first time in Ukrainian. Tell me sort of what that moment - what happened with that moment, and what did it mean?

REVA: Right - so I don't equate Russian with Putinism, necessarily, but that moment, you know, when we were hearing them speak Ukrainian to us, it really reinforced that it really is a question of national security at this time. I know that Kyiv authorities have asked people out in the streets to speak Ukrainian where they can. There was a local news station in Odesa reporting that more and more people are switching to Ukrainian. It's not just a matter of symbolism, it's also a way to identify saboteurs. So there are saboteurs out on the streets who are, you know, asking for directions and trying to find information from civilians. For example, they put this kind of fluorescent paint onto buildings, which serve as targets for airstrikes. So if someone comes to you on the street and they cannot speak a word of Ukrainian, that raises suspicious now. So it is a matter of national security.

WARNER: I'm part of the Russian Parents Network, and they recently changed their name to the Russian-speaking Parents Network. There was no complaint, even calling themselves the Russian Parents Network, as in New York, they were actually inviting Ukrainians, Latvians and people from Israel - I mean, anyone from the former Soviet Union, that was just implied. But when they changed it to Russian-speaking Parents Network, they got this huge outpouring of gratitude from people who said, thank you for including me. Thank you for sort of upending this kind of Russian language hierarchy. And I guess I'm wondering is, as you, yourself, Maria, are turning to learn Ukrainian, if other immigrant communities formed from the former Soviet Union are waking up to a desire to be more inclusive, to slough off the colonial reasons for speaking Russian?

REVA: Yes, and I think that distinction between Russian and Russian-speaking is more important now - now more than ever. I think that, for example, Ukraine has been thought of by a lot of folks out here in the West, judging by the reactions to my book, as a part of Russia or a province of Russia. There - when I read, you know, reader responses to my work, a lot of it is - yeah, a lot of the responses just casually say, oh, this book was set in Russia, even though multiple times in this book and on the book cover it says Ukraine. So I think that differentiation between Russia as a country and Russian speakers who were not born in Russia is a very important one to make.

IDOV: I agree with Maria completely, by the way, here. And the funny thing is part of me considering myself for, you know, so-called Russian American as opposed to Russian-speaking American is because America made me think this way. I never thought of myself as a Russian in Latvia because neither Latvians nor Russians would let me think that. My identity has - there has always been Jewish, and, as you know, probably in much of the former Soviet Union, Jewish is considered to be an ethnicity, almost a race - definitely not a religion. So I thought of myself, as you know, an ethnically Jewish Latvian who happens to speak Russian.

And so the first time in my life I heard myself referred to as Russian was after coming to the U.S. And it's true that it's sort of the American point of view that pushes people from all over the Soviet Union, or the Russian imperial sphere of influence, into this Russian identity. And I think that the fact that there's some pushback to that is very healthy and good. I think the most valid Russian voices - Russian language voices to - I want to hear right now in film and TV should be coming from underrepresented Russian-speaking minorities - should be coming from the people who would not be speaking Russian if not for the Russian imperialism. And it's obvious that Ukrainian voices are first in that line. But also, you know, I want to hear from Kazakhstan. I want to hear from Yakutia, from - you know, from Chechnya, for God's sake, for - basically, I think that a lot of sort of Russian language content that's clear of Putinism will have to come from the victims of Russian imperialism - not perpetrators of it.

WARNER: Coming up - what are the special responsibilities or opportunities for Russian speakers to engage with the people back home? My conversation with Michael Idov and Maria Reva continues after this break.

Hey, we're back with ROUGH TRANSLATION. I'm Gregory Warner. So there is this map that has haunted me, really since the Russian military first started amassing in great numbers on the eastern Ukrainian border back in early January. This is a map that I first saw in 2014, when I was on my way to Ukraine to cover what was called by Ukrainians the Revolution of Dignity. This was the uprising in Kyiv that led to a change in regime and really set Ukraine on this turn toward Europe and this collision course with Russia. Back then, a lot of people thought that Ukraine would not survive the revolution - that it would split in half with Russia's help. And this map, it basically showed the outline of Ukraine divided into two halves - the blue part and the red part. The blue part on the west was marked Ukrainian speakers and the red part was marked Russian speakers. And not to get too deep into this - I mean, there's a lot of truth into this map, but it also felt like it bought right into Russian propaganda because it ignored the fact that many Ukrainians are and were bilingual. They can go back and forth between both languages, and many are proud of that.

REVA: Yeah, I actually printed out for this interview the Article 10 of the Constitution of Ukraine, and it actually - it has - as part of that article, it says free development, use and protection of Russian and other languages of national minorities of Ukraine shall be guaranteed in Ukraine. I wanted to add that in.

WARNER: Well, actually - yeah, so, Maria, talk about - I think, in terms of bilingualism, one thing that's been stunning and terrifying, but very interesting to watch, is Zelenskyy's use of Russian - the way he and his officials have spoken to Russians. And I don't mean their comments toward or about Putin, but rather their addresses to Russian soldiers, for instance, saying, you know, you don't want to be here, you know that it's wrong to be here - even using cursing in his almost familiar sort of way. And it seems to be - I'm curious if you've seen that or thought about the strategy there in reaching out to Russians.

REVA: Well, yes. I mean, what Russians are being told through state media right now is that Russian is being banned, and that, you know, there's discrimination against Russian speakers in Ukraine. And Zelenskyy, by speaking Russian - right? - he's actually a native Russian speaker - he's showing them in a very direct way that that is not the case. He also doesn't take an absolutist approach to Ukrainian either. He switches back and forth, depending on who he's addressing, so I quite enjoy that aspect of him.

WARNER: So my last question, really for you both, is about, well, kind of, like - what's the duty of Russian speakers in this moment, in terms of speaking across the border to Russians? And as challenging as that is, is it more necessary in this moment? There's a site right now called Papapover - Papa, believe - it's exhorting Russian speakers to call their family back home, and it even gives advice on sort of negotiating with somebody with vastly different political and ideological thinking than you. It says, don't lose your temper, be patient, and really encourages the Russian diaspora, but I guess really any Russian speaker in the diaspora to do the emotional work of speaking to family members who they may have, at this point, nothing in common with ideologically or not even see the reality the same way. So I guess I'm wondering - it sounds like both of you have - you know, are wrestling with your - in different ways, with your relationship with the (speaking Russian), with the Russian world. And I guess I'm wondering, at a time when we're distancing ourselves, is there also an imperative to lean in closer?

REVA: Yes, I believe so. I have an example for you. So my relatives in Kherson - their neighbors were talking to family in Russia about what was going on. And this was the early days of the war. They were talking about the bombings that they were hearing. And the relatives in Russia, they basically laughed at them, saying that it wasn't true. What kind of fake news, you know, are they talking about? Then these neighbors in Kherson - they sent them photos of the bodies of soldiers that were now on the bridge - the main bridge in Kherson. And only then did their relatives in Russia believe them. So that was a huge change. They said that, yeah, they weren't being told in the media what was going on. But I also understand that, you know, some people might not have even believed the photos. They might have even said, these are fake. So that was a positive outcome of that specific interaction that they were able to break through, but I imagine that it's quite a challenge in other cases.

WARNER: Michael, you called your decision not to write for Russian audiences anymore as sort of egotistical self-care. And I'm wondering if - how you feel about engaging with Russian audiences to the extent - you or others, whether or not that's necessary or possible.

IDOV: If we're talking about the duty of Russian speakers to the world right now, I mean, our No. 1 duty is to help Ukraine. It's very simple, actually - financially, logistically, you know, with words of support. And I see that people from Ukraine are actually reacting very positively to sort of unalloyed expressions of support and, you know, us going to rallies around the world under the Ukrainian flag and just making it very clear which side of this we're on. That's the No. 1 priority. As my No. 2 priority, I see trying to figure out something that I've always shied away from and, in fact, kind of disliked, which is the diasporic Russian culture - figure out what that might look like. And that's going to take years, probably. With any luck, you know, the Putin regime will come to an end and the Russians and the diasporic Russians can start figuring this out together.

If not, you know, there's the Kasparov way, like, constant sort of continuing to be kind of a Russia expert and commenter and try to influence things within Russia, et cetera, et cetera. And then there's the Baryshnikov way, which is to sort of - to embody and keep propping up the light of the Russian culture while completely cutting off Russia, the state. You know, he never visited ever since defecting, even after the regime change. He never toured in Russia. You know, when he wants the Russian audiences to see his shows, he stages them in places like Latvia or Poland or Lithuania, so they, you know, could come across the border and see them there. So - but at the same time, you know, he's not reinventing himself as an American. So to me, the road ahead is the Baryshnikov way right now.

WARNER: Well, that's all we have time for, but thank you so much, Michael and Maria, for this nuanced discussion.

REVA: Thank you. Thank you very much for having us, and thank you to ROUGH TRANSLATION NPR.

IDOV: Thank you, Gregory, and thanks everyone who was tuning in.

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WARNER: Today's show is produced by Pablo Arguelles and Adelina Lancianese, edited by Bruce Auster and Luis Trelles. Special thanks to Matt Adams, who guided us through our very first Twitter Spaces conversation. Let's do it again soon. And thanks again to our guests Maria Reva and Michael Idov, as well as Victoria and Michael Drob from the Russian-Speaking Parents Network. And not to forget, the ROUGH TRANSLATION bosses network is Neal Carruth, Didi Schanche, Chris Turpin and Anya Grundmann. Liana Simstrom is our supervising producer. John Ellis composed our theme music.

We want to bring you more conversations like this one that unpack what is happening in Ukraine and the ripple effects around the world. If there's some topic that you're interested in us covering, drop us a line. We're at roughtranslation@npr.org. We're on Twitter at @Roughly. I'm Gregory Warner, back in two weeks with more ROUGH TRANSLATION.

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