As the conflict rages on in Ukraine, the rest of the world is looking for ways to punish Putin, but often at the expense of innocent Russian citizens.

Yesterday, Tartu, the national university of Estonia, announced that they would amend the documentation required for Ukrainian applicants, extend application deadlines and wave tuition fees. In the same statement, the university also announced they would not allow any applications from Russian and Belarusian national citizens for the 2022/2023 academic year.

The decision came on the same day that more than 4,300 Russians were arrested after protestors took to the street across 21 Russian cities to condemn Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Brave Russian citizens are risking their freedom to send a message to their leader, and the rest of the world, that Putin’s actions do not equate to the beliefs of all Russians.

But as the rest of the world turns its back on Russia, the escape routes from Putin’s pariah nation are slowly being cut off. Banning Russian youth from entering foreign universities will not punish Putin, but plays exactly into his hands by isolating Russia and leaving its citizens no alternative to submitting to his rule.

This attitude of collective punishment has seeped into culture too. Last week, The Glasgow Film Festival pulled two Russian films from its lineup due to the productions having received state funding. Meanwhile, a university in Italy postponed a course about the work of Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, before regressing on the decision, and Netflix axed its upcoming adaption of Anna Karenina. 

As Jenny Hjul wrote in her column on sanctions on Russian culture at the weekend, “there is a danger that in standing up to Putin’s warmongering, we will banish blameless performers into a cultural wilderness and stir hatred towards innocent Russians who despise their country’s dictator as much as we do.”

For artists, playwrights, authors and other creatives living under authoritarian regimes, culture has long been a means of protest and freedom of expression outside of the restraints of censorship. By removing any sign of Russian culture from the Western world we are entrenching the view that Russia starts and ends with Putin and silencing the voices of Russian citizens who don’t agree.

The argument will be made that the imposed sanctions on the country and the impact on daily life in Russia might enrage citizens and cause civil unrest but partnered with their state-controlled media and the propaganda being shared around the country, this is a small hope to pin these sanctions on.

Putin has repeatedly shown that his decision-making is more irritational than ever; he is sacrificing his country’s economy and has gone too far to turn back, so it seems unlikely the megalomaniac would care if Russian students’ options for international study are curtailed. The only people who will suffer as a result are young people, who will grow up to decide how Russia behaves in the future.

To be a young person stuck in a country ruled by an authoritarian regime, at war with neighbouring countries and watching all hopes for your future being slowly eroded is something no child deserves. 

Putin’s Russia is only one version of the country, we must offer a different future to the Russian youth who will outlive him.