FILE - A woman walks past a boutique in the GUM department store closed due to sanctions on Red Square in Moscow, Russia, Monday, March 28, 2022. Three months after the Feb. 24 invasion, many ordinary Russians are reeling from those blows to their livelihoods and emotions. Moscow's vast shopping malls have turned into eerie expanses of shuttered storefronts once occupied by Western retailers. (AP Photo, File)

After 3 months of war, life in Russia has profoundly changed

After 3 months of war, life in Russia has profoundly changed

When Vladimir Putin announced the invasion of Ukraine, war seemed far away from Russian territory. Yet within days the conflict came home — not with cruise missiles and mortars but in the form of unprecedented and unexpectedly extensive volleys of sanctions by Western governments and economic punishment by corporations.

Three months after the Feb. 24 invasion, many ordinary Russians are reeling from those blows to their livelihoods and emotions. Moscow’s vast shopping malls have turned into eerie expanses of shuttered storefronts once occupied by Western retailers.

McDonald’s — whose opening in Russia in 1990 was a cultural phenomenon, a shiny modern convenience coming to a dreary country ground down by limited choices — pulled out of Russia entirely in response to its invasion of Ukraine. IKEA, the epitome of affordable modern comforts, suspended operations. Tens of thousands of once-secure jobs are now suddenly in question in a very short time.

Major industrial players including oil giants BP and Shell and automaker Renault walked away, despite their huge investments in Russia. Shell has estimated it will lose about $5 billion by trying to unload its Russian assets.

While the multinationals were leaving, thousands of Russians who had the economic means to do so were also fleeing, frightened by harsh new government moves connected to the war that they saw as a plunge into full totalitarianism. Some young men may have also fled in fear that the Kremlin would impose a mandatory draft to feed its war machine.

But fleeing had become much harder than it once was — the European Union’s 27 nations, along with the United States and Canada had banned flights to and from Russia. The Estonian capital of Tallinn, once an easy long-weekend destination 90 minutes by air from Moscow, suddenly took at least 12 hours to reach on a route through Istanbul.

Even vicarious travel via the Internet and social media has narrowed for Russians. Russia in March banned Facebook and Instagram — although that can be circumvented by using VPNs — and shut access to foreign media websites, including the BBC, the U.S. government-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

After Russian authorities passed a law calling for up to 15 years’ imprisonment for stories that include “fake news” about the war, many significant independent news media shut down or suspended operations. Those included the Ekho Moskvy radio station and Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper whose editor Dmitry Muratov shared the most recent Nobel Peace Prize.

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