RD Rhodes spent the last six months living in St Petersburg. He was there when Russia invaded Ukraine and took part in some of the protests which followed

I AM standing at the edge of the Russian border, desperately thinking about what I can possibly do to make a difference in this war and to protect my friends? I feel rage, burning intense rage, at what the dictator Putin is doing. And will continue to do. He will not stop. Unless he is stopped.

But as much as I want to fight and as horrible it is to admit, there is little a foreign citizen can do from within the country – I would just be used as propaganda and delegitimised and made an example of. It seems that maybe the only ones who can stop Putin, if World War Three is to be avoided, is the Russian people, in Russia. I started teaching English in Saint Petersburg five months ago. And it became home in a way that was unlike any other place I had been. I loved it and loved the people. And got rooted into many different communities.

Initially, I was struck by the shyness and uncertainty of the adults I was teaching. There was a strange nervousness in them. A reluctance, and fear, to ask questions or speak out in the classroom, even though my lessons were fun and interactive, and I had had lots of success with them before. In six years of teaching all around the world, it was very odd and unusual for me.

I also noticed, as I moved around the city, a common feeling of cynicism in the locals. Again and again I met them, people of various ages from 20 to 50, with a dark sadness in their eyes, an edge of frustrated despair knitted deep in their brows, that often only came out of them vocally when they were drunk.

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The number two question I was asked – after “Where are you from?” – was “WHY ARE YOU HERE?!” Many were visibly surprised that I could want to be there at all, when they want to get out, young people especially.

But as the months went by, I was overwhelmed by their kindness and warmth, by their attempts to make me feel comfortable despite my extremely limited Russian.

So many things happened that make me have to say they are some of the biggest, warmest-hearted human beings I have ever met in my life. But the cynicism and sadness, and the pessimism, and fear of speaking out, had reason. They are almost still in Soviet times, in that they are living under the direction and shadow of a dictator.

I went to two protests which were quickly shut down. People holding placards were grabbed by fascist soldiers and dragged into the back of waiting police vans, some more violently than others.

I was only five yards away from one child-faced 17-year-old as he tried to run from six burly soldiers, his eyes full of fear. He got caught, and was pulled away through the air into the waiting van. Around him, the crowd of bystanders remained quiet, some videoing on their cameras, others twitching nervously, but the reluctance to express what they felt was palpable, their fear hovering in the air, while it took everything within me to hold myself back from reaching out for the boy and trying to help him get away.

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Most Russians do not want this war. They have lost college places, businesses, opportunities, the ability to travel. I have friends who have studied hard in subjects such as international tourism for five years, and for what, they ask me.

But the fear is there and it is real. Go to a protest and you risk being beaten; or locked up for up to 10 years; or losing your job; or being kicked out of university. Simply for being against war and asking for peace.

The tactics are chilling and brutal. But unless the Russian people can do something, things will only get worse. It has been going this way for years. Before the dictator started on the Ukrainians, he had started on the Russians. The country is turning into North Korea.

I have left so many close friends there who I worry about every day. But this has to be fought and won by Russians in Russia. And I hope to God that they can win. If Putin falls, freedom and free will wins. The alternative will mean very dark times are ahead.