Abstract. Adaptation strategies to such traumatic events as military conflicts are largely determined by assessments of these events. The purpose of this article is to describe the similarities and differences in the adaptation strategies of supporters and opponents of the Special Military Operation (SMO) in Ukraine. To that end, in April 2022, the authors conducted four focus groups of six participants each from Samara Province, recruited by gender, age, and income level. The adaptation strategies of supporters and opponents of the SMO have a number of similarities and differences. Both supporters and opponents adapted their everyday lives to changed living conditions. Both reported looking to the future with caution while trying to distract themselves from their worries by focusing on work and leisure and avoiding discussions of Ukraine-related topics in order to prevent conflicts. At the same time, supporters of the SMO more easily accepted the difficulties associated with it, since for them they are mainly economic, while opponents of the SMO, in addition to economic problems, deal with psychological problems due to their disagreement with the decision to send troops to Ukraine. The adaptation strategy of supporters is to deal with their own everyday problems, believing the situation was for the best and trusting the official line on the SMO, removing themselves from political matters and leaving them to the authorities. The main adaptation strategy of opponents of the SMO is to avoid political news, conversations about the SMO, and people who support it. They feel powerless to change the situation; therefore, like supporters of the special operation, they try to focus on solving their own everyday problems. But they do this not with hope for a better future and faith in the capabilities of their state but with a pessimistic rejection of the current situation, lack of attractive images of the future, awareness of the injustice of the current situation, and a sense of dissent.
People have no choice but to adapt to extraordinary or even extreme political events that suddenly intrude into their everyday lives. In this case, the adaptation strategy largely depends on the political ideas of the individual and their assessments of the unfolding events. Social reality is created by people in their communication with their environment (“important others” and the “choir,” to use micro-sociological terminology) and dominant collective narratives. Our interpretation of adaptation strategy is based on the works of Irina Popova, Natalya Sedova, and Lyudmila Karimova [8; 10]; therefore, a successful adaptation strategy is the “behavior of social subjects conditioned by axiological-motivational attitudes and available resources to adapt to changing social contexts” [8, p. 134]. Military actions can be considered the strongest factor of changed social conditions; therefore, adaptation to the Special Military Operation (SMO) is a behavioral model that allows people to perform their social functions in wartime and survive with minimal financial and psychological losses. The extent to which individuals preserve their social functions and psychological balance in extraordinary situations attests to their adaptability level.
Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann wrote in their famous The Social Construction of Reality:
The reality of everyday life … presents itself to me as an intersubjective world, a world that I share with others. This intersubjectivity sharply differentiates everyday life from other realities of which I am conscious … Indeed, I cannot exist in everyday life without continually interacting and communicating with others. I know that my natural attitude to this world corresponds to the natural attitude of others, that they also comprehend the objectifications by which this world is ordered, that they also organize this world around the “here and now” of their being in it and have projects for working in it
[1, p. 37].
In some works of jurist Dan Kahan and his colleagues, it was demonstrated that political convictions significantly affect people’s ability to perceive facts of objective reality and adapt to them [3; 4; 5; 6; 7]. Steven Pinker has surveyed other studies of the extent to which political convictions affect the perception of facts. Scientists compared the answers of liberals and conservatives to simple questions and concluded that the answers of both groups were equally wrong when admission of the truth threatened the sustainability of the values cherished by opposing groups. As a result, in America, left-wing liberals were convinced that “a company with the largest market share is a monopoly,” while conservatives and libertarians refused to accept that “a dollar means more to a poor person than it does to a rich person.” Pinker explains these elementary errors of politically engaged respondents by constructing group political identities that lead to “what’s rational for every individual to believe (based on esteem) can be irrational for the society as a whole to act upon (based on reality)” [9, p. 358]. For this reason, sociological analysis of the impact of political positions on strategies for adapting to the extreme political situation in which Russia found itself in 2022 has become highly important. Supporters and opponents of the SMO in Ukraine relied on different political narratives to create different intersubjective worlds to determine their adaptation strategies. In this article, we studied the similarities and differences of the adaptation strategies of supporters and opponents of SMO to the new economic and political reality.
Object of the study: people who live in Samara Province who support or do not support the SMO.
Subject of the study: adaptation strategies of SMO supporters and opponents.
Aim of the study: to describe similarities and differences between the adaptation strategies of those who support and oppose the SMO.
Tasks of the study:
(1) to identify similarities and differences between descriptions by SMO supporters and opponents of their lives in wartime;
(2) to analyze the adaptation strategies pursued by supporters and opponents of the SMO to wartime life;
(3) to study how SMO supporters and opponents view their opponents.
Method of study: focus group interviews. All in all, there were four focus groups of six members each selected by gender (equal number of men and women in each) and age. All participants lived in Samara Province on average (for the province) incomes. Each group represented its age category: the first – 18-22 years; the second – 23-35; the third – 36-45; the fourth – 46-60. The focus group sessions were carried out at the Social Research Institute (Samara) in April 2022 during the initial stage of the SMO; the moderator was Prof. Vladimir Zvonovsky, D. Sc. (Sociology). Informants were recruited through social services by snowball sampling. The participants were selected from corresponding gender, age, and income groups (with enough money to buy clothes and footwear but not enough, at the time of the sampling, to buy a new car without saving). We did not ask the recruits about their positions on the SMO issue even though they were informed about the topic of discussion. The answers to questions about the SMO in the course of the poll divided the respondents into supporters and opponents. We chose the focus group method to solve two tasks: to acquire detailed descriptions of the strategies of adapting to life in a country that is at war and a description of different narratives of life under SMO conditions in a dialogue between supporters and opponents.
Life in Wartime as Described by SMO Supporters and Opponents
The economic situation. Both supporters and opponents of the SMO perceive its launch and related problems as an extraordinary situation. Members of the groups point to negative changes in their everyday lives. They complain that the economic difficulties are a tremendous shock. The respondents mention rising prices and a deficit as new realities of everyday life. “Prices immediately rose, the dollar jumped” (woman, 52 years old; the respondents’ style of speech is preserved). The participants, however, never feel panic. They are worried; they feel insecure and speak about a lower standard of living: “Life became much more expensive and more worrisome” (woman, 46). But the respondents do not feel that the normal way of life has collapsed and that people have shifted to another level of everyday reality. On the whole, the situation is bad but tolerable; life became worse, yet a normal lifestyle survived. There is anxiety but no panic. Negative changes have affected, more or less equally, the living standards of respondents of different ages. Irrespective of their political positions, all respondents have to cope with labor difficulties and, therefore, lower incomes and lower living standards: “Purchasing capacity dropped practically to zero” (man, 58); “We became twice as poor this month.… Life is losing its color” (man, 58); “The real estate market has risen; in general, life has become scarier” (man, 48). Both supporters and opponents speak of a worsening situation in all segments of consumption: from food prices and the availability of needed medicines to the inability to travel abroad: “We began spending more on food” (man, 29); “Essential drugs disappeared from pharmacies” (woman, 52); “We used to fly abroad for vacation; today, the choice is limited” (man, 58).
People think differently about the withdrawal of international brands from the Russian market. Opinions differ on the real extent of problems and the higher prices on necessary products caused by the loss of a particular brand. For example, the loss of IKEA caused regret, while the loss of McDonald’s caused no problems, because eating there had been a bad habit rather than a necessity: “We regret losing IKEA; as for McDonald’s, let it go” (man, 45); “It’s a pity that H&M left Russia: It sold good, high-quality things” (woman, 41). The youngest respondents respond easily to the crisis caused by military actions and related problems, including the loss of Western brands. One young woman even considered the loss profitable: “Some limitations did affect the situation, but for the better, in my mind. You reconsider your priorities. Take, for instance, the blocking of Instagram: I found that I had been spending too much time on social networks. I left Instagram and TikTok; I began reading books, spending more time with friends, and spending less money on clothes; I no longer eat fast food. I think these are pluses. I don’t mean what is going on, I am talking about how the limitations affect me” (woman, 18).
Psychological problems. There is a wide gap between those who support the deployment of Russian troops to Ukraine and those who oppose it. Supporters pay particular attention to economic and personal problems caused by the special operation: “We only had to postpone our trips” (woman, 31). They concentrate on the changes in their lives rather than on the moral aspects of military actions: “Prices are the only change” (woman, 41); “I went to a church and realized that prices had risen everywhere. Why should they increase them in a church? I don’t understand this” (woman, 43); “So far, I haven’t noticed any changes, except prices; only my wallet is feeling it” (man, 46).
At the same time, SMO opponents perceive these events not only as a source of economic problems but as something bad, something wrong, some kind of misfortune. They are not ready to protest the war but live in psychological discomfort because of the accompanying troubles and inability to change the situation. “There is something inside, I don’t know what” (woman, 52). It is impossible to change the situation; this stirs feelings of fatalism and a desire to disengage: “I calmed down when I decided to stop reading the news. I decided not to watch what’s going on, because I can do nothing about this” (woman, 26). Many of those opposed to the SMO became depressed. They have no personal frightening experience but are aware of the negative and nervous situation, tension, and the disintegration of something important. Negative emotions caused by uncertainty, stress, and isolation increased. People are unsure of their future and fear it. “I am simply crushed. We have never been aggressors, as we are called today. I feel there is something I don’t know – apparently something we all don’t know; probably there were reasons to be involved in this, but I feel, really feel, that it won’t be like it was before. I feel as if the whole world is looking at you because you live on this territory, that you are sort of a Russian, and that this is a verdict; I began to sense an impersonal darkness, some kind of negativity.… I could not leave my bed at first” (man, 45). Objective economic problems are accompanied, in the minds of SMO opponents, by a feeling that this is a catastrophic event of historic importance. Those who support the SMO have no such problems. One opponent called February 24 an awful date similar to June 22, 1941: “I felt that the situation had changed in principle.… For all of us, June 22 was an awful day. And here, too, something is fearful. It was difficult to realize, and my life changed under the pressure of this realization. Prices are growing all the time. But people, I look at people: They live their past lives while I live a new one” (man, 48).
On the whole, those who approve of the invasion proved better adapted to its economic and psychological repercussions. Indeed, while supporters face purely economic problems, opponents are facing them in the context of psychological discomfort caused by their disagreement with the Russian Army’s actions in Ukraine. Age and gender minimally affect the adaptation strategies. The difference is limited to the fact that while young men relied, to a much greater extent, on potential additional incomes if worse came to worst, older generations rely on their savings, their personal plots of land, or even on selling personal belongings. Despite the numerous problems in everyday life, SMO opponents do not concentrate on everyday problems; they want to restore peace and the image of Russia and its citizens all over the world. “We want for people to no longer be killed, for the borders to be opened, for people to come back. We want to work and educate people, to preserve the high level of our great country. So that everyone knows that Russia is a country of smart and educated people” (woman, 52). Supporters are, on the whole, egoists. They dream of restoring their own 2019 lifestyle: “I dream of going back to 2019, when there were none of these problems of not knowing where you can go; when there were no QR-code and PCR tests, so that you could just go somewhere after saving up enough money. We miss the freedom of movement” (woman, 30).
Fears and apprehensions. Even if people speak about anxiety and uneasiness, there is no longer panic or other intense feelings. We can say that by the time of our project, people had adapted to a new, less pleasant and more worrying level of everyday existence. This means that the new conditions did not disrupt the respondents’ usual rhythm and practices of life, even if they are worried more than before and are unsure of their future; they had to postpone their plans for an uncertain period and narrow the circle of interests to their families. “You sense some kind of uneasiness around you” (man, 45); “At first, I was shocked; there was anxiety and even fear.… You realize that something is changing around you, so you just keep on living as you used to” (woman, 44). While anxiety among opponents is caused by the negative image of Russia and worsened relationships with other countries, supporters fear that the fighting might spread to Russia. “And what if this comes here?” (woman, 43). Opponents and supporters are very worried by the negative attitude toward Russians on social networks shared by Russian friends living abroad. Some SMO opponents are aware, to an extent, of their responsibility for these changes. “My friends know people who live abroad, they have friends and relatives living there, and they feel like black sheep because you are here and things went like that. There are many arguments and disagreements” (man, 37). Supporters, on the other hand, while speaking about the worsened attitude toward Russia and Russians, describe it as inappropriate behavior inspired by the Western media. “Ordinary people have nothing to do with it! Ask Putin. This is politics. Why this pressure?” (woman, 41). Some people are convinced that the circle of those who hold a dim view of Russia is limited to politicians and the people duped by them, while most people in the countries of Europe were and will have a normal attitude toward Russians.
Unlike SMO supporters, opponents fear that human rights and freedoms might be lost. The loss of freedom of speech, of communication with relatives living abroad, of travel, and on the whole, worsened relations with other countries, are the main fears of our time as seen by SMO opponents. They fear problems for their businesses more than anything else, as well as loss of freedom of speech and their incomes. “My fellow lawyers say that this [persecution for negative statements on social networks] is real, carrying even criminal and administrative liability” (man, 48). “In the corridors of the State Duma, somebody said that business activities should be banned. This is what I fear most” (man, 58). Those who support the SMO have not noticed any violations of the freedom of speech; they fear losing their incomes, jobs, comfortable lifestyle, and freedom of travel.
Plans for the future. Plans for the future affect human adaptability, since people spend money on long-term projects that improve and consolidate their social status (pursuing education, buying real estate, having children, etc.). Supporters and opponents agree that in wartime, long-term planning is hardly possible, and plans should be shifted to the short-term perspective and everyday realities. “All plans are short-term; longer-term plans are impossible”(man, 48); “Today, it is impossible to plan for the long term.… We are thinking about survival here and now; we are in the mode of preserving what is left” (woman, 46). On the whole, the respondents find it hard to plan anything in view of the rapidly changing situation: Their plans look a lot more like wishes for the future or talk about everyday life: “I plan to work and to educate my children” (woman, 52).
Emigration sentiments are present only in the group of opponents, albeit on the level of intentions rather than real plans: “I dream of selling everything and getting out.… My plans are that my family not be exposed to these horrors; that they be affected as little as possible” (man, 58).
Conflicts caused by differences of opinion about the SMO. The various assessments of the SMO are rather divisive, yet no “mental civil war” (Aleksandr Asmolov) was detected among respondents. But political discussions, rare in Russia’s generally apolitical society, have become part of the everyday existence of many people: “I am with my father-in-law, for example, who is an old communist and Soviet supporter. Naturally, he says that were it not for us, NATO would attack us tomorrow. We simply don’t talk anymore, because inevitably in any conversation something surfaces, so to speak. I just jump in the car and drive off. I won’t go there again until this whole mess is over” (man, 52). Without skills in discussing highly sensitive subjects and settling disagreements peacefully, conflicts multiply and, therefore, the topic of the situation in Ukraine is not talked about as a strategy to preserve relationships with close friends and one’s own psychological balance. “Suddenly, I discovered that my sister had become a fan of Channel One.… Of course, I did not cut off contact with her, but I did tell her: ‘Let’s not talk about this topic anymore.’ And there is not much of a relationship – not to say that I feel any negativity toward her, but… Well … I had some friends on VK – they started using the letter Z [symbolizing support for the SMO – Trans.]; they post some strange comments and have even distanced themselves from friends. I have never argued with others, never tried to prove anything” (man, 37). This is typical of both supporters and opponents.
How the situation will develop. Supporters and opponents offer very different forecasts. While supporters are optimistic, opponents are fairly pessimistic. They have two possible scenarios of the future: an optimistic one and a pessimistic one that should probably be called moderately bad and extremely bad. The moderately bad scenario presupposes stabilization at the current or slightly lower level. “The most optimistic option is the current situation” (man, 52). A situation that would repeat what happened when the Soviet Union was falling apart or during the 1990s is also seen as optimistic. “Two options – pessimistic and optimistic. Pessimistic – North Korea with all repercussions. A better option – restored industry, revived factories, some imported products replaced with identical products produced in Russia. The standard of living, nevertheless, will take a hit” (woman, 46). Under the pessimistic option, Russia might follow the road of North Korea or the USSR of Stalin’s time. “There are two more options. It will be not Korea but Stalin’s 1930s. If everything goes well, we will return to the post-Soviet 1990s” (man, 48). Those who support the SMO disagree. They are convinced that Russia will overcome all hardships and achieve the precrisis level. Some predict that either Ukraine or some of its territories will become part of Russia. “Ukraine will be ours! We will raise up Ukraine just as we are building up Crimea” (woman, 43); “I think that an autonomous Ukraine will live under Russia’s influence. We will install our president there, frankly” (man, 29); “The LPR, DPR will probably join Russia. Ukraine might be divided or remain a separate state” (man, 33). Those who support the SMO pin their hopes for a better life on the development of entrepreneurship, industry, and the change of power in Russia: “If there is freedom of entrepreneurship we will not be starting from zero but from certain minuses. At least there will be some ambition; something will open up” (man, 48); “If there are three or four years and my optimism – but only if there is a change of power” (woman, 52).
Irrespective of their attitude to the SMO, respondents agree that the attitude toward Russians in Europe will gradually worsen. “Relations will be very complicated, because I think Europe has its principles” (man, 37). They hope relations will improve because economic interests will outweigh political animosity. “Wherever there are people with business interests, wherever there is business, relations will be on the back burner and business on the front burner. It is not important who you are and where you are from” (man, 36).
How supporters and opponents of the SMO explain their political positions. Their explanations are very different. Opponents are convinced that there were not enough reasons for military intervention and that everything could have been settled at the negotiation table. “If there is a conflict [it should be] resolved in a different way. If this did not happen, why we were not informed? Why we were deprived of the right to choose?” (woman, 26). At the same time, supporters explain their position as follows: If Russia did not send its troops into Ukraine, NATO countries would have attacked it. “We attacked, this is true, but there was no other option; otherwise, fighting would have broken out on our territory” (woman, 30); “Nobody wants to be attacked; it is much better to act in advance” (woman, 43); “It was a forced measure; we were forced by the situation that had been created” (man, 29). Thus, SMO supporters have accepted the geopolitical narrative of the authorities as broadcast by the media; this means that Ukraine was deprived of the possibility to live independently, with political agency, and was treated as a “naughty younger brother” . “Ukraine is weak and spineless; they hired an actor as a president. They are waiting for support, yet everyone has abandoned it. It will either become part of Europe or, it seems to me, disappear” (woman, 30). While opponents fear the prospect of returning to the former Soviet Union, some SMO supporters are very upbeat about this: “I think that we all will be together – there was the Soviet Union, after all!” (woman, 41). They enjoy jokes about annexing the territory of other countries: “Just you wait, Washington will be ours” (woman, 31). They believe that Ukrainians do not like Russians because this is how it has always been since the fall of the Soviet Union. They believe this based on Russian films. “In the last 30 years, Ukrainians have not liked Russians and never will.… Well, look at old Russian films like ‘Brother-2.’ When he went to the American Embassy, saw his brother, came up to him, and asked for help, the brother turned to him and said ‘a Moskal [derogatory word for a Russian – Trans.] is not my brother.’ Well, something like that” (woman, 31). They do not associate these negative feelings with the Russian military operation in Ukraine; they attribute everything to the destructive influence of third countries. “They [Ukrainians] were persuaded to hate Russia!” (woman, 41).
The influence of the geopolitical narrative in the discourse of SMO supporters betrays itself in the stigmatization of Ukrainians using Soviet speech patterns from the times of the cultural trauma of the Great Patriotic War. Lev Gudkov has pointed out:
By turning to the language of the Great Patriotic War (speech patterns: “mass shooting,” “Ukrainian fascists,” “Kiev punishers,” genocide, etc. in TV news), propaganda made it impossible to identify Russians with “non-people” (fascists were not people); it destroyed the very possibility of a preliminary understanding and, therefore, created an a priori hostile attitude that blocked out further communication [2, p. 229].
This makes the “struggle against nazism” and “followers of Bandera” in Ukraine an important element of the narrative that justifies the military operation and is repeated by its supporters. “I think they should be liquidated, these followers of Bandera, because they are reckless and have lost their noggins” (woman, 30). It should be said that both supporters and opponents describe the special military operation as a “war.”
Strategies for Adapting to the New Reality
When confronted by numerous problems that appear suddenly all at once, people have to look for ways to cope. Here we describe adaptation strategies to the crisis caused by SMO.
Adaptation strategies borrowed from past crises. In difficult and uncertain situations, people tend to turn to their past experiences or to historical events: Even memories of past hardships help overcome fear of the unknown and give people resources to find ways out of a difficult situation. What makes the current crisis unique is that it has no analogies in personal or historical experience. Our respondents did not associate the Soviet Union’s disintegration and the crisis of the 1990s with the current crisis, mainly because of Russia’s international isolation. This approach is shared by both groups, even if they differ in their assessments of the degree of the crisis. Supporters who speak of the absolute novelty of the crisis do not believe that it will bring a lot of grave problems similar to those created by the COVID-19 pandemic. “We traveled there, to Europe, and will travel there” (woman, 43). They count on successful import substitution and the fact that Western countries will continue buying Russian resources. “We sell many resources abroad, to all countries” (woman, 41). SMO opponents, on the other hand, comment that there are no prospects for a better situation and many ways for it to get worse. During past crises, people felt that even if the situation was bad, it would later improve. Today, SMO opponents have no hopes: The future will be even worse. “In the past, there was no time when everybody was sad because of absolute hopelessness. Even despite empty store shelves, people remained active; they knew that everything would change tomorrow, and they lived with joy” (woman, 52). Even though SMO opponents compare the current situation with radical turning points of the past, they say the current situation is unique because the country is in obvious isolation with very vague prospects. “I remember the 1990s, when the whole world was helping us.… Today, we are deprived of everything; we are deprived, and this is sad” (man, 52). “There was a deficit in the 1990s, and it ended. There were other events; there was the putsch and so on. All this ended in a month. Today, I feel that it is a long jump” (man, 45). Even if the respondents, on the whole, do not assess the present crisis as identical to past crises, they, irrespective of their political positions, say that the survival practices of the past will return. “I think we are ready to survive – well, for six months or a year – but not on our savings. Because I have something. Two years ago, my friend and I started raising chickens. Now I have 200. They lay eggs. Put simply, we will survive on a chicken a day” (man, 52). Survival plans are becoming more and more primitive. People no longer hope to adjust to the new economic situation due to their intellectual or financial capital; they hope to survive on what they grow on their personal plots of land even in the worst scenario. “There are land plots that can be tilled by hand. This will help us survive” (woman, 52).
Forecasting the future. When talking about the possibilities of overcoming the crisis, SMO opponents use facts to predict its length and the difficulty of overcoming it. They are not optimistic that it will end soon and that sanctions will be lifted. They predict economic stabilization at a lower level and many years of spoiled relations with Ukraine and the West. “I think we will live as a semi-recognized state. The iron curtain has dropped and will remain. I think that living standards will drop, too” (man, 45). “I hope that the situation will improve, to an extent.… There is no doubt that life will be harder, inflation will be higher, prices will grow” (man, 37).
Supporters, on the other hand, predict an improvement, even if their forecasts look more like dreams. They cannot enumerate real factors and prerequisites of improvement; they pin their hopes on Putin and support him. “I think that our president Vladimir Vladimirovich is absolutely right; I voted for him and feel absolutely safe in Russia. I know that everything will be OK” (man, 29). They hope that China will help; they pin their hopes on the creativity of Russians; they say that Soviet technologies will be revived to free the country from the confines of import. “China is our friend; there is nothing to fear” (woman, 30). Those who support military actions are very optimistic about the future; they forecast that Russia will win, that import will be substituted, and that Ukraine will become part of Russia. They think that the West needs and will need Russia, and they predict that Western companies will return to the Russian market. “I think that no other people spend as much money as Russians when on vacation. Well, how do they hope to survive without us?” (woman, 43).
At the same time, they tend to ignore or at least downplay the prospects of negative impacts of objective problems such as Russia’s international isolation, undeveloped production, and technological poverty. “We will switch to other brands that are not under sanctions” (woman, 41). “They want to strangle us with these sanctions, but we no longer live in the Soviet Union. I can’t imagine; we have replacements for everything – probably not yet as ‘cool’ as we would like, but we will get there eventually” (woman, 30).
SMO supporters hope for a happy break in the form of a technological breakthrough or support from other countries (mainly from China). “Today we sold oil and gas to China for yuans” (woman, 43). They believe that in the absence of imported alternatives, oligarchs will invest in their own country instead of taking their capitals out of it. They believe that Russia did not develop production and did not realize the country’s potential because there was no need to do this. These people believe that external conditions will force the state to remedy these mistakes. “We have been pushed into confines. If we remain within them … we will use grey paper” (woman, 43).
The hopes of SMO supporters are obviously etatist when it comes to production, development, and import substitution; they rely on the state and even talk about the nationalization of private property. “What can we do? At least there will be state programs.… The Soviet Union produced everything from screws to nuts. We will probably reinstate old technologies. We will somehow develop what was stolen and lost, move forward. We will nationalize everything that belongs to private owners” (man, 29). People hope that smart people will invent something and that Russia has been already using its huge production resources. “I hope that we will come to this, that we will no longer depend on the dollar.… We have our production facilities – in fact, everything. The sanctions, which they imposed on us, had no effect. Well, prices have risen, yes, this is a new reality” (woman, 30). They offered no more or less clear strategies of how to get out of the crisis. “Our production will develop, there will be food” (woman, 41).
Reduced planning horizons. The crisis changed, albeit not radically, the plans of respondents. They are changing certain plans, but life has not changed much for the worse. Some will not spend their vacation as planned, some will spend more money on renovation than planned, some have had to postpone the planned purchase of a new car. “I had certain plans related to the World Cup. Now, obviously, there are no plans…” (man, 45). “We renovated our flat yet did not buy household appliances. Now we have to buy everything through Avito, that is to say, secondhand, because prices for new appliances are too high” (woman, 44). “Last year, we planned to go to Crimea; we could go there by car. Today, this is impossible” (woman, 43); “My wife and I, we planned to vacation abroad; today there are no such plans” (man, 36). The fact that people of different ages and with different attitudes toward the special operation speak of their plans as destroyed is not a distinguishing feature: They all speak of the same problem. This means that there are no grounds to describe the respondents as maladapted, yet the images of the future and their own position in it have been destroyed.
Withdrawal into everyday activities and the desire to avoid news from the battlefield. Overcoming fears and anxiety is important for adapting to difficult situations in general. Withdrawing into everyday activities and communication with other people has become a psychological defense strategy for both SMO supporters and opponents. Supporters are using this method to greater effect. Working more and consuming more entertainment content allow informants to take their minds off negative news. “I work much more and more diligently” (man, 36). “I watch videos about new cars and soccer on YouTube” (man, 37). Some try to shield themselves from information about battlefield developments. “I no longer visit social networks. Before, I used Instagram and VK; today, I no longer visit social networks to avoid seeing.…” (woman, 44). SMO supporters are in a better situation because they can watch serials and films. “Now I watch films much more than before” (woman, 41). At the same time, some opponents say that they cannot consume entertainment content, considering it unacceptable in this grievous situation. One opponent had to visit a psychologist to consult about problems caused by the war. “The psychologist helped me at the worst point, when everything was especially bad” (woman, 26).
Refraining from discussing the SMO with friends to avoid conflicts. Avoiding political discussions is one conflict prevention strategy. “We avoid these subjects” (man, 48); “We do not discuss this with our relatives. My husband watches TV while I use the computer. Friends are living in a vacuum of sorts. I can see that people are living with narrow interests; they protect them. They have to decide what to do with the mortgage, with something else, with education; there is fear of a general mobilization” (woman, 52); “We never discuss these subjects” (woman, 44); “No, we do not discuss this at home, even with my old mother” (woman, 43); “I try to keep away. I never start arguing. I simply keep my position to myself” (man, 45). Our focus-group discussions were calm, despite sharp differences in SMO assessments. We did not plan heated discussions; if they began, the moderator immediately cut them short. They never flared up. It seems that our respondents cherish their own inner balance and smooth relationships with people more than their desire to insist on their viewpoints and promote their opinions.
A taboo on discussing the SMO among close people is common, but the topic still crops up; it is impossible to avoid it altogether.
Respondents were concerned about the war between all sorts of media outlets unfolding amid the fighting in Ukraine. “There are three wars: There is a bloody war there with loss of life, the second is economic, and [the third is] the media war. I think the media war is the most frightening” (woman, 44). Opponents are aware of great pressure; they prefer not to publicly oppose the special operation because of the disapproval of others; they are afraid that somebody might tell their boss about their position and that they might be fired. “There are many people who are against all this but fear to say so publicly for various reasons.… Because of the situation on our team, I cannot say something different, because somebody might report to the bosses and in a week’s time I will be fired” (man, 52). People say that they were forced to give money to support the Russian Army. “Talking to people who worked at a factory…. Everybody knows that everyone was told to give a day’s wage to the support fund. Everything was done on the q.t. I said, ‘Could you refuse?’ ‘Well, then I’d be first in line to get fired’ ” (man, 56).
Cutting costs and stockpiling as an adaptation strategy. The strategies of everyday adaptation to new realities – i.e., ways of adjusting to the changed conditions of everyday life – are very similar for SMO supporters and opponents. Cutting costs has become the main strategy. “Today, we are saving less money than before, so we have to choose cheaper brands” (man, 36). Some people changed their preferences and moved from retailers to wholesale shops. “Before, we bought everything at Pyatyorochka and Perekryostok [popular grocery stores]. Today, we drive to Svetofor, where everything is cheaper” (man, 45). The majority said that cutting costs had become much more important. Today, people pay more attention to sales and discounts and have been unpleasantly surprised that many retailers have ended their loyalty programs. “Half of these loyalty programs, they worked from abroad. Today, they are closed – the point balances reset. Perekryostok and Pyatyorochka – now many programs have, conversely, become worse” (man, 45).
Many respondents regret that today, as prices increase and many beloved brands disappear, they have to look for Russian-made lower quality replacement products. “We will switch to other brands that are not under sanctions” (woman, 41). Food preferences remained more or less the same. People cook more food at home to save money on meals. “We stopped ordering out. Normally, we would order sushi rolls; in two months we have ordered rolls only once” (woman, 44); “We have started eating healthier food” (man, 45). One participant commented that people have turned to sweets. “I started eating more chocolate – all sorts of Snickers and Mars bars” (man, 37).
Food deliveries shrank, yet people did not change their transportation habits: gasoline prices remain stable, yet our respondents try to cut costs on car servicing, which became more expensive along with spare parts. “It seems that I do not drive less, because gasoline prices did not rise. Spare parts, however, are growing more expensive; I think, ‘Well, I’ll drive somewhere far, like 400 kilometers’ and then stop to think: damn, motor oil is expensive, spare parts have risen – in short, overhead costs have become much higher.… You should think twice before mindlessly driving anywhere: In other words, goal setting has become more reasonable” (man, 45); “Before, motor oil cost 3 [thousand rubles]; today it costs 7” (woman, 43); “I had to readjust my plans – this year I wanted to buy a new car. Now I have to postpone this indefinitely” (man, 52); “I told my family that we should use our car less. I am afraid of accidents, because I don’t know how much car repairs would cost: Spare part prices have risen several times over” (man, 48). Today, respondents are thinking more carefully about the logistics of their routes, to make fewer trips. “Before, I drove where I needed to drive; today, I plan an itinerary to visit all places in one trip” (man, 58 years); “Either public transport or well-planned logistics” (man, 48); “The prospect of a new car is gone” (man, 36). Some younger respondents have already bought electric scooters, which are gaining popularity.
Amid higher prices and a deficit of many products, many participants, irrespective of their attitude toward the war, have begun to stock up on essential commodities. “I have already stocked up on razors and aftershave cream – all of this stuff” (man, 37); “I’ve bought enough perfume, creams, toothpaste” (woman, 41). They have stocked up but not gone overboard. Some people stocked up on sugar, others on buckwheat; there were those who managed to buy construction materials before the price hikes. “Buckwheat and macaroni can be stored indefinitely in good condition” (man, 45). Respondents are less worried about food shortages; they show much more concern when talking about future shortage of medicines. “I’ve started stocking up on medicines for my mom: Critically important life-saving medicine for her was gradually disappearing from drugstores; I did not know whether it would be supplied to Russia or not. We have stored up for a year and half.…” (woman, 46). Some respondents remained calm and never tried to stock up on anything. “I do not share such situations in which you should stock up on anything. You just create shortages” (man, 36).
New Internet practices: installing a VPN and switching to Russian sites. Online services connected with global technologies suffered a lot because of Russia’s international isolation. Respondents comment that it became much harder to use many sites. “Sometimes it is much harder to work online” (man, 37). Some people switched to other platforms, including Russian ones. “We installed ‘Mir’ ” (woman, 41); “We moved to other platforms – as for AliExpress, OZON, and Wildberries, everything remained the same. At first, prices went up, but later they probably realized that people would not buy; now they use all sorts of coupons and sales, promotions, and special offers” (man, 45). Our respondents commented that in these complex times, the services sector moved to cash payments to avoid taxes. “They insist on payments in cash” (man, 45). SMO opponents responded negatively to the ban on foreign social networks, yet it was not a big problem. They rely on YouTube and Telegram as sources of independent information. Switching from social networks to messengers is another new trend; it began before the SMO and is gaining momentum. On the whole, they have negative opinions of Russian social networks even if Russians continue using them. The blocked foreign social networks do not strongly affect users. Those who used Facebook and Instagram installed a VPN and continue using them. “We installed a VPN” (man, 45). Others no longer use them. SMO supporters saw no problem, even if some of them used Instagram. They are convinced that Russia has options. “Instead of Instagram, three Russian social networks were installed (Rosgram, Limbika, and Yarus)” (woman, 31). They do not regret the loss of their Instagram accounts and have never used Facebook.
Methods of finding and selecting information and news. Regardless of their attitude toward the SMO, respondents are gradually moving away from TV; they go to the Internet, where they can rely on resources based on their political positions, ranging from oppositionist Nikolay Bondarenko to the Defense Ministry’s channel. We did not notice clustering of the information space among participants; they did not fall “into information bubbles,” not because they want to create a parity of sources but because they are poorly orientated in the political media space and do not have the time, perseverance, or desire to sort things out. “Well, we have no time; we work. We just switch on [the TV] during lunch breaks and watch what they show us” (woman, 43). They are critical of information sources and habitually suspect that any side of the conflict might spread false information. Fully aware of their inability to separate lies from the truth, to distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources, people follow the path of least resistance; they are suspicious all sorts of sources. They believe that this mistrust of sources representing both conflicting sides will move them closer to the true picture and help them formulate their own opinion. “I know that there is no truth anywhere, so I try to study as many sources as possible to gather a lot of varied information to find somewhere in the center something that looks like the truth” (woman, 52). Respondents trust most what eyewitnesses have to say. Neither supporters nor opponents have pools of sources to which they regularly turn. Likewise, they never seek out special information. “Sometimes, links surface in recommended materials. You visit them without signing up and read something about certain events” (man, 45). More often than not, respondents find information while browsing the news on Yandex News and recommended YouTube channels. “Well, in principle, I read Lenta.ru in Yandex and find that this is enough” (woman, 41). “I go on YouTube; if I find something interesting in the recommended videos, I’ll watch that; I don’t specifically look for stuff” (man, 36). It should be said that the respondents were not very engaged; they consumed information while doing other things. “I switch on the TV; they say something while I do other things” (woman, 46). When information from different sources is highly contradictory, when it is impossible to check facts, or when people have no skills working with contradictory sources, they rely on rumors or disengage from the negative information about the fighting in Ukraine or give up all hopes of learning the truth.
How SMO Supporters and Opponents Appear to Each Other
Regardless of their political ideas, respondents found it hard to compose social images of both supporters and opponents. Members of our groups were convinced that the special operation is supported mainly by older generations and middle-aged people working in government-funded organizations. “I have a clear psychological portrait of such people. I know somebody I went to school with who in all forums writes the letter Z on all banners instead of snowflakes. She is head of her housing committee or some kind of regional deputy. They have to wave the flags no matter what.… She was an active Komsomol member and has remained very Soviet since then” (man, 45). Members of our focus groups suppose that the attitude toward Putin is the dividing line between supporters and opponents of SMO. Those who support Putin support the SMO; his opponents oppose it. “This is probably who is for and who is against Putin. Those who are ‘for’ approve of everything; those who are ‘against’ Vladimir Vladimirovich, correspondingly, moved to the opposite side” (woman, 31). The descriptions that SMO supporters and opponents give of those who share their opinions and those who oppose them are more or less the same. Some supporters draw highly unattractive images of their opponents and say that they are very dependent when it comes to decision-making, while those on their side are presented as patriots. “I think that supporters are patriots who invariably support their country, no matter how bad the situation is. Supporters should be proud of their country and invariably say only good things about it” (man, 29). They deny SMO opponents agency in making decisions yet describe them in Soviet clichés; they admit that as patriots of their country, they are ready to support any decision of the Russian authorities. This means that they have replaced decision-making with an a priori agreement. “I will never change my opinion in the sense that I will always support Russia and our state” (man, 29); “People who have never studied anything, who do not try to study history of any kind or how things were, they are against Putin.… In our country, the war has been going on for eight years [in a reproachful tone]” (woman, 30). Some SMO supporters also reduce Russia to what its government is doing. The position of any branch of Russian government is interpreted as the position of Russia. “I think that supporters are people who like living in Russia; they will continue living in Russia and will always support it. They will always support it come what may. It is not important whether Putin or somebody else will be president; they will always support what will happen” (man, 33). At the same time, one SMO opponent described those who had supported the sending of Russian troops to Ukraine as harsh and rude people who tended to make categorical conclusions. “People who say that they support Putin and Russia, they are harsher, so to speak. They try to say that they are patriots. At the same time, [there are] people who also love Russia but their attitude toward Russia is very different from a moral and ethical standpoint. You know, they are also people; they share the same history with you, and I have the right to say that I am against the war. This does not mean, however, that I am against my country” (woman, 26).
There is no agreement on whether the younger generation supports the military operation or not. On one hand, the respondents believe that young people do no support it. “Well, not young people, not a young person, because young people are indifferent to everything” (woman, 43). On the other hand, they point to the scope of patriotic propaganda and the activities of pro-government youth organizations. “Take the Yunarmy. They walk and march with flags in the Donetsk People’s Republic. Today they marched along Osipenko Street” (man, 45).
Group members weakly differentiate between supporters and opponents of the military invasion of Ukraine based on the sources of their information. Opponents say nothing about differentiation of this sort; supporters, for their part, are convinced that the other side is influenced by the “fifth column,” YouTube, and Western media. “There are people who have watched too much YouTube – social networks, the Internet, whatever – and start to consume information that deliberately targeted against [the SMO]. This is, frankly, the fifth column” (man, 29); “They watch Western media” (man, 33). Members of both groups are convinced that SMO supporters are not scared by the number of lost lives; they treat the figures as an inevitable side effect of fighting. “Supporters are not worried by what is going on there … collateral deaths, etc.” (man, 45). “I think that those who are against show more emotion, and they think that victims are important” (woman, 44).
Level of Support of the SMO in Society as Assessed by Its Supporters and Opponents
The majority in both groups are convinced that most Russian citizens would have voted for deploying troops even if they had seen the results of fighting. But they differ in their forecasts. Supporters are convinced that the SMO would have been supported by most Russians, which coincides with the results of opinion polls about the level of support for the SMO. Some supporters are absolutely convinced that the decision to start military actions is supported by all “sane” Russians who “understand” the situation. “I think that all who understand the importance of the situation would approve” (woman, 30); “I think that if explained to them what was done and why, a sane person would have voted ‘for,’ so that there would be none of this Nazism” (woman, 31). Opponents disagree: Half believe that the majority would have never supported the start of military actions. “I think that the majority would have opposed, because war is frightening and nobody wants wars” (woman, 26). Others believe that the majority would have voted “for” under the pressure of vehement propaganda efforts (“It is said that if we did not start it, they would have; therefore, the country would have largely voted ‘for’ ”) (woman, 44). At the same time, the opinion that the majority would have voted “against” prevailed in the first group, in which all members were opponents of the invasion. This confirms the “false consensus effect” described by Lee Ross and his co-authors in the 20th century: cognitive distortion under which people tend to think that the majority agrees with them .
The analyzed focus groups were organized in April 2022, when the war and its economic reverberations were a couple of months old. We should say that the applicability of our results is very limited. By the time this article was published, much had already changed under the pressure of military actions in our country and in Ukraine. The results of the focus groups should be treated as a cross section of opinions of our informants tied to a certain time and place.
By the time of publication, hostilities had been going on for over a year and the economic situation had stabilized at a new, lower level; therefore, the negative forecasts of our participants might be adjusted. At the same time, the forecasts of a prompt victory broadcast by the state media and reflected in the narratives of SMO supporters did not materialize; this changed public opinion, which should be studied. Several months after our focus group sessions, a partial mobilization began. This meant that military activities were no longer external events for many Russians; they invaded their lives and destinies and the lives and destinies of their families. Here we mean not only those who were mobilized but also those who emigrated or avoided mobilization by other means. Even those whose families were not directly involved were fully aware that their close friends and relatives could be sent to the front; this could have changed their perception of the military actions. And, finally, from the time we conducted our focus groups, information about casualties started arriving; losses from among the closest circle of our respondents changed their perception of military actions. For families that lost near and dear ones, the current armed conflict became a source of personal tragedy.
People became aware of changes in their lives when Russian troops were sent into Ukraine. Members of our focus groups spoke of higher prices and lower incomes, as well as sanction limitations. Those who support the SMO spoke about economic problems, while their opponents were worried about worsened international relations, Russia’s worsened image in the world, and human losses in Ukraine. Everyday practices had changed only a little, yet people preferred to cut spending and postpone ambitious plans. The planning horizon became much smaller. An awareness of limited freedom was closely connected with the political positions of the respondents: Supporters were ready to replace the no longer available social networks and information sources while opponents were keenly aware of the lost freedom of speech. On the whole, opponents were much more keenly aware of the problems created by the special operation: Their economic problems were accompanied by psychological discomfort and frustration.
The main argument in favor of sending troops into Ukraine was the threat of NATO aggression, on which SMO supporters relied in discussions of the official geopolitical narrative of the state media. Opponents rejected this argument as unsubstantiated; they did not believe that it was real and could not accept death and destruction caused by military actions in the 21st century; they did not think that Russia had the right to interfere in the domestic affairs of other sovereign states. Their arguments were much more detailed and their rhetoric much richer than that of supporters, who mostly relied on clichés to discredit political opponents. The correlation of forces in our focus groups did not correspond to their correlation identified by public opinion polls: In our groups, there were more opponents than supporters. It seems that SMO opponents were more eager to take part in focus groups than supporters. In any case, our sampling was not representative either for Samara Province or Russia as a whole. The images of supporters and opponents of the deployment of troops to Ukraine painted by our respondents depended on the camp to which they belonged.
In most cases, it turned out that support/non-support of the special operation was reduced to the level of agreement/disagreement – detailed argumentation of one’s own position on the special operation, and readiness to defend it. We did not detect that the participants had studied the subject in detail. There were no vehement political discussions. On the whole, respondents preferred reconciliatory positions and avoided political conflicts, which sometimes flared up in their circle of acquaintances because of their inability to discuss acute political subjects. Still, both supporters and opponents had their own positions on the issue. Even if their narratives were not rooted in deep knowledge of the subject, participants did not want to risk their own well-being and comfortable lifestyle for the sake of their convictions. We can say, however, that they made their moral choice and understood its meaning, each in their own way.
Their ideas about the future differed in full accordance with their political ideas. Opponents expected a lot of problems and Russia’s isolation; they were afraid that the country would slide to the level of the USSR of Stalin’s times or North Korea. Supporters, on the other hand, were too optimistic. They forecasted a rapid economic revival, a much stronger Russia, and pushed aside objective problems. All respondents, regardless of gender, age, and political convictions, demonstrated a high level of anxiety and uncertainty about the future.
Description of adaptation strategies. Adaptation strategies of the focus group of participants – both supporters and opponents of the special operation – at the early stage of its implementation had certain common features and certain differences. Both were adjusting their everyday practices to the changed conditions, they tried to save money, switched to Russian brands, and postponed their planned trips abroad and big purchases. Both were fairly anxious about the future, tried to distract themselves from negative feelings by immersing themselves in work and entertainment, avoided all discussions of the Ukrainian issue to prevent conflicts, and had no sources of news and information of their own; they searched for information by browsing the Internet and news aggregators. Regardless of their positions, the informants were, on the whole, apolitical and tried to keep the political agenda away from their personal lives.
SMO supporters found it easier to deal with the resultant problems since they were mostly economic, while opponents had to deal with economic and psychological problems, since they disagreed with the deployment of Russian troops to Ukraine. The adaptation strategies of supporters rested on their expectations that the SMO would bring positive results; they believed in import substitution and were convinced that the country would overcome all difficulties; they hoped that it would acquire new territories and tied their optimism to their hope that Russia would become economically independent. They offered no rational arguments in favor of their forecasts, which was of little importance for their adaptation strategy. Their trust in a better future of their country was a sort of psychotherapy; it helped them cope with everyday problems and a vague future. Their adaptation strategy consisted in dealing with their own everyday problems, in hoping for a better future, and trusting the official line while pushing aside all political problems by leaving their solution to the authorities. From the standpoint of personal comfort, this strategy seemed successful, at least until mobilization was announced. From then on, “politics” became part of the everyday life of a considerable share of the country’s population. This adaptation strategy shows promise to the extent that the Russian authorities manage to keep military actions out of the personal lives of most Russians.
SMO opponents found it much harder to adjust to the special operation; we have already written that they have had to cope with economic and psychological and moral problems caused by a political decision that, first, they did not support and did not choose, and second, for which they were not prepared economically, psychologically, or politically because of their absolute indifference to politics. They were very pessimistic about the future, which increased the stress caused by the unacceptable situation. Avoidance was their main adaptation strategy: They avoided political news, SMO subjects when talking to those who supported it, they felt they could not change the situation, and very much like supporters, immersed themselves in their everyday problems, not with the hope of a better future but with a pessimistic rejection of the situation, no attractive images of the future, an awareness of the situation’s unjustness, and an acute feeling of disagreement. We cannot say that at the start of the special operation they demonstrated an inability to adapt to the situation; they continued working and carrying out their duties at home, continued their leisure activities, maintained social ties, and bought goods and services. They adapted to the changed reality at a new and very much more troubled and less comfortable level.
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