Russia Faces Post-Traumatic Stress On National Scale – Analysis


By Joseph Taylor

In addition to the economic problems Russia faces and will continue to face when the Ukraine war ends, another wave of challenges will arrive in Russia no matter the outcome of the conflict – that of returning soldiers.

Those who have committed war crimes or simply experienced combat will return to Russian society and civilian life. What will happen to them when they begin their reintegration into Russian society? The nature of this war, or “Special Military Operation,” will complicate how returning veterans will treat PTSD, creating issues that will hamper Russia’s transition to a post-war society.

Silence and Apathy

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, the Russian government has leveraged its resources to ensure a monopoly on the information space surrounding the war. Censorship laws aimed at independent media, arrests of anti-war protesters, and the infamous “discreditation” laws work to keep the general populace away from politics and the war. It was reported that soon after the war began, a deliberate campaign of “positive” news was begun to convince the public that nothing bad was happening, despite difficulties on the battlefield. While official rhetoric has changed somewhat, with more forthcoming admissions of the challenges faced by pro-Russian forces, Russian citizens are kept from obtaining objective information on the war and are encouraged to focus their energies on other matters. Even the term “Special Military Operation” and the government’s obsession with keeping the word “war” out of the public discourse shows its intent to present the invasion in Ukraine as far away from the lives of ordinary citizens. This policy, as well as military failures, have worked, as a recently closed poll organized by the Kremlin shows that Russians are tired of the war and feel indifference and apathy towards it.

Veterans returning from the war will encounter this media blackout and apathy among the population, finding it difficult to discuss their experiences openly, as their version of the war will differ from official rhetoric. These soldiers have seen firsthand the failures of the Russian army and some have made their views public. Their experiences will increase their chances of acquiring post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the effective treatment of which includes learning how to healthily manage stress, reconnecting emotionally with the experience to process it and find a way through the trauma, reconnecting with others, and finding support groups. These approaches all require open and frank discussion of war, which will be difficult given the Russian government’s censorship policies, including even a ban on the word “war.” Censorship may scare away organizations and doctors who are willing and qualified to help veterans.

While veterans requiring mental health support could potentially find resources within the Russian military, where military psychologists are present on bases to speak with soldiers returning from conflict areas, the system may work only in theory. A visit to the psychologist may be required, but it can be more of a formal conversation and check-up rather than a serious review of a soldier’s mental state. Among many soldiers, there is also a fear that working with a psychologist could jeopardize their military career, because their access to weapons and more dangerous, and therefore more prestigious, assignments could be restricted. As a result, their advancement in rank and transfers to better duty stations could be slowed or stopped altogether.

Russia is a country with extreme inequality, and the military offers an escape with stable pay and the promise of social advancement. Soldiers from poorer regions see the military as their ticket to a better life. They may also be the main source of income for their families, and may even be supporting several relatives back home. In the choice between sacrificing their income and career and working through their trauma, the former will take precedence. Furthermore, it is likely that when soldiers return from the war, they will simply want to return as soon as possible to their families without taking the time to remain on base to work with psychologists.

Apart from the human side of this issue, there is the logistical side. The war has shown severe deficits in the Russian system. Recruits and conscripts lack equipment and receive little training before seeing combat. This same system will likely lack the resources to process the large number of soldiers requiring assistance when they return.


Returning veterans will bring tensions from their combat experience into a society that is already tense due to economic and social inequality. They will begin to interact with men who avoided fighting by either leaving Russia or obtaining an exemption from military service. Those who left have the resources to move their lives abroad, while those with exemptions work in privileged professions, such as the military-industrial-complex and IT sector. Access to these opportunities is not widely available to the poorer regions of the country. Given the harsh response to soldiers at the front who refuse to fight, there is a high risk of conflict between returning veterans and those who did not fight. Soldiers who experienced trauma will express anger towards those who were able to avoid the war. This will increase the divide between the regions of Russia and the larger cities, such as St. Petersburg and Moscow, as it is the poorer regions that are disproportionately represented in the war.

In addition to societal tension, violence will likely increase within Russian society, as soldiers with violent experiences will return to civilian life. Another symptom of PTSD is increased irritability and anger, and traumatized soldiers will bring violence from the war into their family life. Likewise, the economic situation in Russia as a whole and the country’s regions, in particular, is unlikely to improve, even with the cessation of hostilities. While the payments soldiers receive are quite large, especially as compared to average salaries in their home regions, little will remain once they return. While payment holidays were granted to many families of mobilized citizens until the end of 2023, the payments will need to be made after that. As prices increase and resources become scarcer, veterans with combat experience may see no other alternative but to resort to crime to ensure the survival of their families.

Furthermore, the private military company “Wagner” has actively recruited inmates from prisons across Russia to fight in Ukraine with the promise of pardons and high salaries. Many of these individuals were convicted of violent crimes, including murder and assault. Those who survive will return to Russia with pardons, awards, combat experience, and weapons training. They may even do this on their own. Recently, a former inmate reportedly deserted from Wagner and opened fire on police officers in the Rostov region of Russia, which borders Ukraine. This particular individual only wounded a police officer and was apprehended soon after; however, there is no guarantee that either other deserters or officially discharged former inmates will not return and form criminal elements with their former comrades in arms. It will be difficult to control the flow of weapons in these border regions, and local police will find it difficult to counter combat veterans who turn to crime.

Post-War Russia

While the military outcome of the war is still unclear, it is possible to deduce the societal and political outcomes within Russia. Due to the Russian government’s monopoly on information within the country, combined with failures on the battlefield, returning soldiers will find little official or community support in their transition back to civilian life. Cases of PTSD will go untreated because the Russian health system will be incapable of working with the large number of veterans affected. There is general indifference and apathy among the Russian population towards the war, especially as economic hardships continue, which will make it hard to convince them to contribute more of their resources to veterans. The government will seek to censor the stories of returning soldiers to control the narrative of how the war was handled, further complicating the treatment of PTSD because veterans will find it difficult to openly discuss their experiences and process their trauma.

The inequality that existed before the war in Russian society will remain, further increasing social tension. Given their traumatic experience, it is likely that tension will rise between those who were mobilized and those who were able to avoid mobilization by either leaving the country or through the exemption system. Untreated PTSD coupled with increasing social tension will lead to more aggression in Russian society. This will hamper Russia’s peaceful transition to a democratic system and presents a challenge to any leaders in Russia at the local and national level who are interested in mending the inequalities within Russian society.

The views expressed in this article belong to the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect those of

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2 thoughts on “Russia Faces Post-Traumatic Stress On National Scale – Analysis

  • December 17, 2022 at 9:25 am

    What makes you think the plan is that anyone of these soldiers will come home?
    The plan is they stay there.

  • December 17, 2022 at 1:10 pm

    Couple mental health care and the state of regular health care in Russia and you have a very unsafe place to live down the road, not to say that it is not already that way to begin with.


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