They are just over 1,000 miles away from each other, but they may as well be lightyears apart.
Eva is sitting in her apartment the grand Russian city of St Petersburg, her name changed to protect her identity in a nation that punishes those with a view that does not align strictly with that of President Vladimir Putin.
Anastasia Kvitka is in what she hopes is temporary accommodation in Dnipro in Ukraine, having escaped her hometown of Zaporizhzhia after Russian forces fired missiles at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant earlier this month.
Both women, who spoke to i on the same Zoom call, work for the Riga-based workplace software group Bordio, and they have never met before.
When asked about Putin’s “special operation” in Ukraine, Eva gives a wry smile. “You mean the war in Ukraine,” she says, making her view of her President’s actions clear from the outset.
“There are many people like me in Russia,” she adds. “My friends, my family. We talk about the war every day. Some are liberal, some are more traditional and inclined more towards Putin. But no one I know believes this war is anything other than wrong. Putin is the invader, and many Russians know that. You can still get news from the West or from independent Russian outlets if you know how to.”
The trouble is many Russians do not know how to and are fed the ramblings from Putin and his apparatchiks in the Kremlin on their nightly news bulletins.
“There are many people that were already poorly paid and struggling before the war,” says Eva. “These are the people it is easier for Putin to control, feed his ‘special operation’ propaganda to. Those like me, who are lucky to have had a good education and have a more global perspective, know what’s going on.”
Anastasia is nodding throughout Eva’s comments. She knows not all Russians are the enemy, but Putin’s destruction of many of her nation’s cities, and the twisted actions of some Russian troops towards her people will, she admits, make it hard for her to trust Russia ever again.
“I cannot trust the nation of Russia while Putin is in power,” says Anastasia. “I can trust people like Eva and other Russians like her. But not Russia while he is in power. I have friends and family in Russia. Some tell me not to be concerned because Putin is coming to rescue people like me from the east. I cannot trust those people again.”
Anastasia says she is living in a constant state of nervousness. The Russian tanks may not be in Dnipro, but it is another Ukrainian city facing almost daily bombardment.
“I have not cried yet,” she says. “We just live on our nerves. I guess I may cry when the war is over. When we can breathe again and begin the rebuilding of our country.”
Would she consider moving to the west of the country, as many millions of Ukrainians have to seek relative safety?
“I don’t want to be forced out by the invaders,” she says. “This is my country not Russia’s. We do not have Russians in the city, we are being attacked from the air. In any case, no place In Ukraine is truly safe. All cities are being bombed to some extent.”
While Anastasia could leave Ukraine and seek refuge away from the war, she has no intention of doing so. Eva is, however, keen to escape Putin’s Russia.
“It is something I have discussed with my boyfriend a lot, and we do want to leave Russia,” she says. “We do not want to be in this country as, little by little, freedoms have been taken away. The situation is now that the people are silenced, imprisoned, or disappeared if they challenge Putin’s lies.”
Western sanctions are also beginning to bite ordinary Russian people, she adds.
“The prices in the shops are going up, around 10 per cent for all things,” says Eva. “But this is just the beginning. Things will get worse for many people in the months ahead.”
Both Eva and Anastasia are continuing to work through the war, and while the difficulties for Anastasia are clear, it is something her boss Jacob Udodov in the Latvian capital of Riga is not expecting her to do.
“I want to work,” says Anastasia. “It helps make life more normal. We have food, light, heat, and the internet. There is no reason why I cannot work, and I want to.”
For Eva and her work colleagues in Russia, the simple process of being paid has become somewhat more difficult due to the sanctions as company founder Jacob explains.
“Obviously, many of the Russian banks are subject to sanctions,” says Jacob. “So, we had to find a bank in Russia that we could get money to for people like Eva and our other Russian-based staff. We did last month, but it’s a moving feast.”
There has been much discussion around a peace deal, with President Volodymyr Zelensky making clear he is open to compromise on some areas in any agreement with Putin, particularly when it comes to the Donbas region and Crimea in the East of the country.
President Zelensky will put any settlement to his people in a referendum, and Anastasia will be one with a vote. Like many in Ukraine the thought of giving an inch of land to Putin in any peace deal is something she finds hard to stomach.
“This is not Russian land,” she says. “Putin is trying to take it from us. But I am here without troops in my city, and I have everything I need. I can understand people in cities like Mariupol will just want an end to the war. So, I don’t know how the country as a whole would vote in a referendum, and I can’t speak for others. But I do not want to give Putin anything.”
As we come to the end of more than an hour of discussion, I ask one more question. Can this war end while Putin is still in power?
Both Eva and Anastasia form their hands in the shape of a gun, making clear what they believe needs to happen to Putin.
“There will be no guarantee of peace while Putin is in power,” says Anastasia. “Whether he is dragged away from power to live the rest of his life in some bunker, or he is killed. He must go, and we feel it is at least the beginning of the end of him.”
“Putin generals need to act,” adds Anastasia. “They need to drag him from power. Then we may get some real peace.”