"It is not a flag of evil but a flag of love"

In a video filmed by a Ukrainian soldier that went viral in Russia in April, Ms. Ivanova mistook a Ukrainian patrol here for Russian soldiers, and came out with a red banner to greet them. When the Ukrainian soldier threw the Soviet flag to the ground, an offended Ms. Ivanova refused to accept a plastic bag holding the soldier’s food aid. “It’s the flag under which my parents were fighting, and you are stepping on it,” she scolded the soldier in the video. “Give the flag back to me.”

Days after the video lit up social media, a Russian representative made a speech praising Ms. Ivanova’s heroism at the United Nations Security Council. A Russian lawmaker, Nina Ostanina, demanded a “special operation” to rescue Ms. Ivanova, known in Russia as “Grandma Anna,” from Ukrainian “Nazis” so that she could participate in celebrations on Moscow’s Red Square…

For Ms. Ivanova, whose house lost its roof and windows to Russian shelling in March, and who speaks Ukrainian as her mother tongue, this newfound fame in Russia is bewildering and unwelcome, she says. Her real-life story is far more complex than the tale multiplied by Russian propaganda. It is steeped in the tragedies wrought by this conflict—and by the huge social toll of the Soviet Union’s collapse.

“I wish I could call Putin and tell him: Why was it impossible to solve this question without war, so neither their boys nor ours would have to die? It’s a huge calamity, for Ukraine and for Russia,” Ms. Ivanova said in her garden as artillery exchanges between Ukrainian and Russian forces raged just a few miles away, interrupting the conversation. “What have we, Ukraine, done to Russia so they have to kill us? Russia started it. Ukraine didn’t touch them.”

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