I interview ordinary Russians on YouTube. Viewers think we’ve been brainwashed – I’m trying to show that’s not the case.

This say-to-say essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Daniil Orain, a YouTuber from Russia. It has been edited for length and clarity.

My name is Daniel Orain. I am a Russian YouTuber and lead the channel “1420”. In my videos, I try to create a montage of ordinary Russians and a transparent representation of what they believe.

Since the start of the conflict in Ukraine, people from all over the world have come to my channel to try to understand how Russians think.

Before I started the channel about two years ago, I had biased ideas about the world

At the time, I was working as a software engineer with a three-hour commute, and my outlook changed when I started watching street interviews with people in distant cities during those commutes. These videos showed me how people from different places and cultures think, and they played a big role in my self-education.

I started wondering: why isn’t there something like this on YouTube, but with people from Russia, like me? That’s when my friend and I created 1420.

People often ask me the story behind the name of the channel, but there is no secret meaning. It’s just the name of the school we went to together. Our whole goal with the channel was to go out on the streets of Moscow and ask people questions that interested us, like “Do you believe in God? or “What do you think of Americans?”

When the conflict in Ukraine started, we suddenly saw a huge increase in viewership

Our increase came from all over the world, not just Europeans and Americans, who were our main audience before. With the increase in viewership, I decided to double down and try posting videos on a daily basis.

To get enough material for a full video, we have to ask a lot of people. Given the nature of our topics right now, many people are refusing to participate.

During the filming of the Zelenskyy video, for example, 124 people refused to answer. Only 28 people accepted. Even when they agree, they often refrain from giving all their thoughts.

Making these videos is risky, but we haven’t had any problems so far

Unlike TikTok and Instagram, access to YouTube is still normal in Russia. In the videos, I always cut some words (but kept the subtitles) to avoid censorship.

Some people in the comments accused me of being a Russian propaganda channel, so I had to find new ways to show that I’m not. For example, in a recent video, we blurred the faces and changed the voices of the people in it, so they could be honest without fear of repercussions. Additionally, we’ve started showing longer, continuous clips of the interviews so viewers don’t think we deliberately cut them to tell a certain narrative.

I have not only seen a change in the way people perceive our channel since the war, there is a change in the way they perceive our participants

Just recently, comments on my YouTube videos were saying things like “Russians are like us”. But as the situation in Ukraine has progressed, they now tend to sound more like, “Russians are being brainwashed.”

I’m glad people watch the videos because I know from my own experience how helpful YouTube can be. We are fortunate to be able to learn online.

You will notice that in my videos, there is a fairly clear gap between the answers of people who grew up in Soviet times and those of younger people. When the older generations were growing up, they got their education only from books or teachers that they didn’t have access to in the world like people my age. The position in which I am, at the head of this chain, would not even have existed at the time.

Today you can learn things from websites, videos and even comments

Just last week, on one of my own videos, a viewer wrote: “You are not afraid, not because you are not afraid, but because you have not yet afraid.”

It upset me. I know what I’m doing is risky, but maybe I don’t feel worried because I’ve never been so worried. But at the same time, I’m just the storyteller. A lot of people send me direct messages asking for my opinion on various topics, but I don’t respond to them.

I see my role as being the person who helps tell people’s stories, and I will continue to do so in order to show how and what Russians feel.

Shirley K. Rosa