For Average Russians, Western Sanctions Over Ukraine War Begin to Bite

MOSCOW—Viktoriya and

Yevgeny Vinnikov

had carefully planned for a trip this month to Bulgaria, even traveling hundreds of miles to get a Covid-19 vaccine that would allow them to enter the European Union.

They were booked on the Hungarian low-cost carrier

Wizz Air

and had reservations at a cozy hotel in the capital, Sofia, and the ancient southern city of Plovdiv.

Then came the sanctions.

After Western countries, including European nations, shut their airspace, Russia hit back, banning flights by airlines from 36 countries, including Hungary. As a result, the Vinnikovs’ vacation was scrapped. The couple doesn’t know when they will be able to travel abroad again.

“We used to go abroad at least two times a year,” said Ms. Vinnikov, a 56-year-old real-estate agent, adding that the canceled trip was a gift from her husband for International Women’s Day on March 8.

Since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine last month, the U.S. and Europe have unleashed a package of punishing sanctions against Russia’s economy, including restrictions on Russia’s central bank and cutting other major Russian banks’ access to the dollar and other reserve currencies. Plans are also in the works to sever some Russian lenders from the Swift global-payments messaging system.

The impact has already begun to reverberate.

Long lines have formed at some banks as Russians rush to withdraw hard currency.


Artyom Geodakyan/tass/Zuma Press

Long lines have formed at some banks as the ruble continues to plummet and Russians rush to withdraw hard currency. Movie theaters have been forced to cancel the showing of American films, after U.S. studios


Warner and


halted the release of films in Russia.


customers in Russia were unable to pay for their subscriptions with credit cards issued by some Russian banks, including


Russia’s largest bank and a target of U.S. sanctions. The problem was soon resolved, according to Netflix.

Some Russians shelved plans to buy a new home after mortgage interest rates more than doubled to 20%. Meanwhile, Russians have started to stock up on products such as foreign medications out of fear they might become scarce or completely run out in the coming weeks and months. Around 55% of Russian medications are imported, according to 2021 data from the DSM Group, a Moscow-based marketing agency that specializes in pharmaceutical market research.

Olga Sazonova,

60, a St. Petersburg coach and psychologist who offers what she describes as “body mindfulness tours” to Europe and beyond, was slated to take a group of 12 people to the Maldives in April. That trip has now been shelved and she is waiting for a refund of her deposit from the hotel.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine at the end of February, the U.S. and allied countries have imposed heavy sanctions on Russia. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday dives into how these sanctions are affecting everyone from President Vladimir Putin to everyday Russian citizens. Photo: Pavel Golovkin/Associated Press


Tatyana Johnson

 said the increased mortgage rates had crippled the plans of several of her clients who had planned to take out a mortgage. At least two clients, who were about to buy second homes at a pre-sanctions interest rate of 11%, abandoned their plans.

“Of course, it’s become unbearable,” she said.

Ms. Johnson also had plans to fly to Serbia on Feb. 26, two days after the first set of sanctions were imposed. But the flight bans scotched those plans. While her airfare was refunded, Ms. Johnson lost the advance payment on her hotel.

“The sanctions were not justified” because they harm ordinary people, Ms. Johnson said.

Kremlin spokesman

Dmitry Peskov

told reporters Wednesday that “the Russian economy has suffered a serious blow,” but he insisted ”we are still standing.”

Commuters at a Moscow Metro station. The pain of Western sanctions will spread through much of the population in the next several months, says one analyst.


Mikhail Tereshchenko/Zuma Press

The Kremlin has retaliated against Western sanctionsincluding imposing a ban on the issuance of loans by Russian residents to foreigners and ordering exporters to sell 80% of their foreign-currency gains from exports. The government has also said it would spend one trillion rubles, equivalent to around $9 billion, to buy shares in Russian companies.

Nonetheless, “the current situation is very difficult,” said

Stepan Goncharov,

an analyst at Levada Center, an independent Russian pollster. “It will lead to long-term consequences. It will have an effect not on only the middle class, but also the lower class, which is larger. They will also feel this change in their normal lives.”

Mr. Goncharov said these sanctions could have far-reaching domestic consequences because the low-income Russians who will bear the brunt of the sanctions comprise Russian President

Vladimir Putin’s

core political base.

Russian tech-savvy youth, who are more globally connected and are largely opposed to the Kremlin’s military campaignwill also feel the pinch, Mr. Goncharov said, adding that the pain will spread through much of the population in the next several months.


Will the economic pain felt by ordinary Russians affect the course of the war? Join the conversation below.

“I think for sanctions [people] will blame European countries and the U.S.A.,” Mr. Goncharov said. “But of course, there will be a drop in the standard of living and for this, responsibility will be put on the government, because they couldn’t make the economy self-efficient and defend ordinary people, and of course part of this blame will be put on the president as well.”

Thousands of Russians took to the streets across several cities last week to protest the war. Authorities used violence to disperse them and have since detained almost 6,900 for participating in unsanctioned demonstrations, according to OVD-Info, an activist group that monitors police detentions. Russian authorities have since quickly repressed other spontaneous demonstrations.

On Wednesday, a post on the


account of jailed opposition leader

Alexei Navalny

urged Russians around the world to come out in protest of authorities’ attempts to quash opposition to the Kremlin’s aggression in Ukraine.

“We must, gritting our teeth and overcoming fear, come out and demand an end to the war. Each arrested person must be replaced by two newcomers,” the tweet said.

A closed Apple reseller shop at a mall in Omsk, Russia.



Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Write to Ann M. Simmons at

Corrections & Amplifications
A post on the Twitter account of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny urged Russians to protest the Kremlin’s aggression in Ukraine. An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to the opposition leader as

Alexander Navalny.

(Corrected on March 2)

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