RUSSIA: Three Comrades (Три товарища, 2020)

Patriots and Protest: The War on Youth and Three Comrades (2020)

by Liv Tracy

Please read the crafter statement before watching the video essay.  Thank you.

The Kremlin has waged a War on Youth to subdue youth culture and create a pro-government narrative. Specifically, concerts have been shut down in hopes “of ‘protecting’ young people against immoral and subversive influences” (Cathcart). Young people are not given spaces to express themselves in a way that goes against Russian values of being loyal to the nation. If they were given the chance to synthesize unique thoughts that do not align with a pro-Russia narrative, but more of an anti-establishment view (something these concerts advocate for) the young people themselves would be dangerous to the Kremlin. Instead, the Kremlin pushes the notion that young people must serve Russia, giving the motherland all that they have to offer. In creating a new culture, one that emphasizes defending the national government no matter what the cost, a strong base of support from the youth of Russia will be created and bolster the strength of the Kremlin. The War on Youth has created two groups: Patriots and Protestors. With the start of the war in Ukraine, these two groups have been pushed against each other as they try to create their ideal Russia.

Part 1: “We don’t have and there can’t be any other unifying idea, apart from patriotism. It is necessary to constantly talk about it, at all levels.” – President Vladimir Putin

Since the start of the Ukrainian war, the letter “Z” has become a symbol of pro-Russia military sentiment. There is no consensus upon the meaning of the letter being used, with theories ranging from “Z” meaning zapad (west) or zhopa (ass), however, it is agreed that if this letter is seen, it is in support of Russia, not Ukraine (Dean). The letter “Z” has been seen painted on military trucks and printed onto clothing. A wave of patriotism followed this symbol, with young people today being seen with black sweatshirts with a white “Z”.

When a child wears a “Z”, they show that they will defend Russia. They show that they support the Kremlin. They show that they are a patriot.

Part 2: “Rap and other modern [forms of art] are rested upon three pillars: sex, drugs, and protest.” – President Vladimir Putin

The Kremlin’s War on Youth has led to the shutdown of various rap concerts. One group particularly impacted is IC3PEAK. In 2018, the duo released “Death No More”, a song and music video that criticizes the oppressive nature of the Kremlin. The two had had a tour planned, but after being detained by the police and had pressure placed on them by government officials, more than half of the concerts they had planned were canceled (Kim). By creating a music video that was a protest, IC3PEAK created a threat to the Russia the Kremlin was trying to create. IC3PEAK was a threat to the minds of young people, as the Kremlin viewed it. The only way to prevent any damage from occurring was to shut down their concerts, and later completely censor their music, making it impossible for young people to be impacted by a view that was critical of the Kremlin.

This music has been in part a catalyst for all the protests that have broken out regarding the war in Ukraine. Young people in Russia are especially making sure their voices are heard, taking advantage of the accessible nature of music.

нет войне, нет войне, нет войне.

No to war, no to war, no to war.

The nature of the film Three Comrades lends itself to be a protest piece in a more subtle way. By critiquing what little opportunities are left in Russia for young people and showing what occurs at night, Vladimir Kozlov creates a narrative that places the blame on the Kremlin for their behavior. The three young men are “misogynistic, xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic and alcoholic in modern-day St. Petersburg”(Moore), a characterization that does not portray Russia in a positive light. At the start of the film, these men are complacent with the systemic depersonalization of the Russian machine, especially seen with the ‘simple’ goals they have laid out for themselves as businessmen. These men are good enough to be viewed as respectable. However, by the end, all the layers that surround them are stripped away to reveal what violence they are capable of.

Was this the future that the Kremlin feared? That if they exposed their youth to rap music, their children would turn into drunken monsters, abusing others emotionally and physically because they are ‘just bored’? Or was this the future that the Kremlin created? Because they suppressed the voices of the youth, their children were forced to emulate the oppressive nature of the Kremlin as they guard themselves against any hardships in their everyday lives.

As the war in Ukraine continues, a line between patriot and protestor will be drawn. Sides will form, splitting the youth of Russia into two. The patriots will stand by the Kremlin, singing the anthem of their nation. The protestors will stand against the Kremlin, chanting нет войне. Both groups have an image of what their ideal Russia looks like, whether it means that they are victorious militarily, if the nation enters a time of peace, or finding themselves somewhere between those two points. The youth of the nation has been influenced, one way or another, placing themselves into the categories of patriot or protestor, all because of the media that the Kremlin has and has not approved for them to consume.


Cathcart, Jack. “Culture Wars – How the Kremlin Securitizes Youth Culture.” The Security Distillery, 15 Oct. 2021.

Dean, Jeff. “The Letter Z Is Becoming a Symbol of Russia’s War in Ukraine. But What Does It Mean?” NPR, 9 Mar. 2022.

Kim, Lucian. “Young Russian Musicians Struggle Under Government Scrutiny.” KQED, 17 Jan. 2019.

Moore, Roger. “Movie Review: In Russia, Just Call These Brutish Bros ‘Three Comrades.’” Movie Nation, 21 Oct. 2020.