- Sofia Petizza and Svyatoslav Khomenko
- BBC news
An elderly Ukrainian woman waving the former Soviet flag in front of Ukrainian soldiers has become a symbol of Russian propaganda after a video of her went viral.
The BBC tracked down Babushka Z in an attempt to uncover the truth behind that photo and what happened.
“I do not think they should praise me, I’m just a peasant,” says Babushka. “I do not understand why I became a celebrity.”
The woman became known as Babushka Z, meaning grandmother in Russian, while the letter Z is often carried by Russian armored vehicles and military vehicles in Ukraine.
The woman was shocked when the BBC showed her photos of her latest fame and said: “I have never seen anything”.
In the video, she is seen walking towards two Ukrainian soldiers holding the Soviet red flag.
The soldiers say they came to his aid and gave him a bag of food, then took his flag, threw it on the ground and violated it. The offended woman returns the bag of food and says indignantly: “My parents died for this flag in World War II.”
For the Kremlin, this passage was an invaluable asset. Russian propaganda rarely focuses on individuals, and she saw this woman as a rare example of a Ukrainian mourning the fall of the Soviet Union and regarding Russians as liberators.
Most Ukrainians, even in Russian-speaking areas, did not welcome the invasion, so the waving of the Soviet flag by the old man was used as evidence that the Russian military operation had the support of the local population from Russia.
Russia believed that it was okay to use the flag and Babushka as icons, as this image brings back to the memory of every Russian the postcard of World War II that bore the expression “Mother Russia”.
The Kremlin propaganda machine has started working. Within a few days, her image began to appear everywhere, from Moscow and Siberia to the island of Sakhalin in the Far East.
They are now immortalized in murals, banners, postcards, sculptures and posters.
She produced songs and wrote poems praising her, and Russian officials even unveiled a statue of her in Mariupol, the flattened Ukrainian city.
Until recently, no one knew the true identity of Babushka Z and no one was able to confirm whether this woman was alive or not, and whether she was a real person and actually existed.
The woman’s name is Anna Ivanovna. We tracked her down in the village of Velika Danilevka near Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine, where she lives with her husband, dogs, cats and rabbits.
The 69-year-old was amazed when we showed her photos and the statue that embodies her image.
“Do I really look so old? It’s like a stranger is looking at me!” she asked.
Her version of events is completely different from the version presented by the Russian media, as she does not support the Russian war in her country.
“How can I support the murder of my people? My grandchildren were forced to go to Poland, we live in fear and terror.”
So why did Anna receive soldiers with a Soviet flag?
She says it was misunderstood. She claims she was confused and made no distinction between the two Ukrainian soldiers who served the food and the Russian soldiers.
“I was happy that the Russians would come and not fight us. I was happy that we would be reunited.”
Anna did not add any political connotations or connotations to what she did during her speech.
The red flag, she says, is not the flag of the Soviet Union or Russia, but “the flag of love and happiness in every family, in every city, in every republic. It is not the flag of bloodshed. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong. “
As Anna spoke, the sound of artillery shelling and constant fighting was heard nearby. Anna was not worried, she was used to it. “If I could talk to Vladimir Putin, I would tell him that I made a mistake, what have we Ukrainian workers done to deserve this? We are the ones who suffer the most from this war,” she said.
Anna belongs to the Soviet era and does not publicly criticize the Russian leader, saying: “Putin is a president, a tsar, a king and an emperor.”
Although Anna became a star in Moscow, her village was not spared by Putin’s forces, but was constantly bombed.
As we passed the village by car, we noticed that some houses were still burning, others had turned to ashes, and her house was also bombed, the windows of her house were broken, the roof had collapsed and the debris was scattered in the front garden. of the house.
“Now I understand,” Anna said. “They do not care about the lives of the people of Ukraine, only the occupation of our lands.”
Dmytro Galko of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine agrees and says that Russian propaganda uses everything for a single purpose. He says: “They do not care about the truth or real people and are not interested in who Anna is and what her fate is. is. “
Anna fears for her safety now. In Ukraine, she is under cyber attack because she is seen as pro-Russian.
All the neighbors avoid it, it is a small village and everyone knows each other.
“I am not happy with my fame in Russia, because now in Ukraine I am considered a traitor.”
It is clear that the true extent of her fame became apparent only at the end of our interview. As we greeted her, she tried to give us her beloved red flag with a sickle and hammer on it.
“I do not want any trouble,” she said. “I never want people to use it against me.”