A Minnesota man with Russian ties has a message for Americans on what he sees happening in Ukraine.
Kirill Bak-Stepanoff and his wife Svetlana Bak-Gavrilova have run the Minnesota Ballet School (formerly known as the Academy of Russian Ballet) in Eden Prairie for 21 years. Originally from St. Petersburg, Russia, the two live in Chanhassen.
“We are Russian, but what (Russian President Vladimir) Putin does, this is not Russia,” he said. “It’s just the Putin government doing horrible, horrible things. We are against this war and hope Americans will not hate us because we are Russian.”
Bak-Stepanoff said he heard local stories of anti-Russian sentiments not long after the invasion began on Feb 24.
One involved people demanding a Russian-themed restaurant in St. Paul drop “Moscow” from its name. Another urged the removal of Russian vodka from liquor stores.
“Stupid things like that,” he said. “I hope people will be more educated and see what’s going on. It’s not Russia that invaded Ukraine. It’s the Putin government who is doing this aggression.”
Bak-Stepanoff said he supports Ukraine and opposes Putin’s attack on that country.
“There is no excuse for this aggression when a huge powerful nuclear country attacks a little country, a peaceful country of Ukraine, and tries to free Ukrainian people from the Ukrainian government,” Bak-Stepanoff said. “It’s nonsense.”
He thinks most Russians who live outside the country oppose the attack.
“Inside the country, Russia propaganda is so big, so huge,” he said. “Many people in Russia truly believe that Putin’s government is trying to free Ukraine from Nazis, from fascists.”
Bak-Stepanoff has talked to some friends back in Russia who believe Putin did the “right and good thing” for Ukraine.
He and his wife have dual citizenship, Russian and American.
“They’ve gone there and killed people,” he said. “I don’t think there is any excuse to go and kill people.”
He said many Russian armed forces are young men, about 18 to 19 years old, who are “fooled” into fighting by being told they were taking part in training exercises.
“They got to Ukraine, and they got frustrated because they didn’t know it was war,” he said. “They didn’t know they were in Ukraine. This is another Putin crime, where they make young people die and fight against a professional military.”