While exchanges between Russia and “the West” have been put on hold since Russia’s war, the YouTube channel 1420 provides a glimpse into the minds of ordinary Russians. An interview with Daniil Orain, the face behind the channel, about his project and what we can learn from his interviews. By Florian Zoller
Daniil Orain is a Muscovite in his early 20s. Since 2019 he has started as a full-time vlogger with his YouTube channel 1420, where he asks ordinary Russians different questions about Russian life and politics. The channel has more than 400.000 subscribers and is mainly watched by Western audience (in every video, there are English subtitles). Since Russia’s second invasion of Ukraine, YouTube is one of the last remaining platforms in Russia, where ordinary opinions can be broadcasted without censorship. Daniil’s channel is very productive, releasing videos every week. This makes his interviews a very valuable source of oral history where one can follow the chronology of pedestrian’s opinions on Russian politics and the war in Ukraine.
Russian YouTuber Daniil Orain in Interview
Dear Daniil, your YouTube channel has been around since before February 24, 2022. What was your original motivation for interviewing Russians on various topics and sharing these videos primarily for a non-Russian-speaking audience?
Actually, I just liked watching similar videos and decided to do the same kind of thing. I’m an open person and I like to talk to strangers. It makes a lot of fun to produce a video from the beginning to the very end – coming up with questions, looking for a good spot in Moscow or elsewhere, approaching strangers and finally editing all the film material.
Do you think we in the “West” have many misconceptions about Russia that could possibly be exposed and corrected by your videos?
There are different people with different opinions, that’s what I can say, and this is everywhere the case, doesn’t matter which country. I don’t think there are any misconceptionps, unless you assume that all 140 million Russians are exactly the same and think alike. This would then be a misconception.
How do people in Russia inform themselves about the war and how do you arrive at your information, which is obviously diametrically different from the RF’s official narrative.
Younger people get information from Telegram channels where there are all sorts of channels with different opinions, while older people from TV. That’s about it, probably not very different from any other country. I personally prefer the first option (telegram channels and so forth).
How does your immediate environment (family, friends) react to your YouTube channel?
They’re ok with it. At the channel 1420, we’re a team of totally seven people. They’re also my friends.
Your videos are sometimes very sad and hard to watch. Somehow one has the feeling that there is an absolute “Orwellian” and “Kafkaesque” mood in Russia at the moment. People seem to be very fatalistic. Is this impression true or am I biased by western glasses here?
Perhaps those who watch the video already have preconceptions about the “mood” in Russia and my videos don’t have anything to do with it, because I personally don’t feel any “Orwellian” or any other things from my videos. Sometimes we manage to put together interesting responses and people rate them “positive” (opposite to Orwellian), sometimes people rate answers as “negative”, I can clearly see it from the comments… It depends from day to day and from topic to topic, plus it also depends on the way we ask questions.
I noticed following observation: Many people use the terms “indifferent”, “neutral” or “apolitical” when you ask them about the war. Are these terms implicit codes to express a rejection?
Politics is a boring thing, not only to Russian people; people would rather play music and scroll through short videos with some funny content than dive into politics, and I don’t blame them, this thing is also not entertaining to me, I was born a bit more anxious about future and it’s hard to just dive into entertainment. People are apolitical, indeed, but if we go deeper than that, people are „a-futuristic“ I’d say, they don’t care about their future, you can see it by the way they dive into bad habits like smoking or just wasting their time on 4 years in college and many more.
I noticed also a difference between people in cities and in rural areas. What are your observations and explanations for this phenomena?
Difference between people in rural areas and in cities is a normal thing. Such differences come with urbanization, I don’t think Russia is different in this regard from USA or from Switzerland, for example.
How dangerous is your work? Have you already come to the attention of the authorities? Or have you already had negative experiences with interviewed people on the street?
Well, people in the comments always ask me how I’m not arrested yet, but I wouldn’t say it’s dangerous, it’s just that not a lot of people would do that if they were in my shoes. I haven’t come to the attention of any authority so far. And I never had any negative experiences with interviewed people on the street, regardless of their political opinions.
Since you’ve been in the world, you’ve been ruled by no other politician than Putin, so to speak. Can you even imagine a Russia without Putin? What would such a country look like?
We will see one day, I don’t know. But as mentioned above, people are not really interested in politics, and the same goes for me. I’m interested in musics, meeting my friends and cutting the film material for the YouTube channel. I don’t think that anything of this would change, completely independent of who our president is.
Is there a real danger that you, as a young man, could also be drafted into the military? What is the mood like at the moment among you and your male colleagues of the same age?
Yes, I might get drafted but I’m not going. I don’t want to waste my life for a cause I absolutely reject. By the way, getting your drafting letter doesn’t actually mean you have to join the military. There are ways to get out of it.
Your videos – especially since February 24, 2022 – undoubtedly serve as great oral history documents. What other sources (such as other YouTube channels) would you recommend to get the most authentic picture of how Russians think about the war?
I don’t think there are any except 1420, especially not if you’re looking for any channels for an English-speaking audience.
Last but not least: What are your future plans regarding your YouTube channel?
I think I’m going to stick to interviews for now. I like it, we’re very productive and we got a lot of positive feedback. And it seems that we will not run out of political topics for our street interviews in the near future.
Images: Daniil Orain