NARVA, Estonia — Like many of the ethnic Russians who live along Estonia’s eastern border with Russia, Stansislava Larchenko could not believe that President Vladimir V. Putin had gone on a killing spree in Ukraine.
Ms. Larchenko, 51, got angry with her son when he said in February after Mr. Putin invaded Ukraine that Russian soldiers were killing civilians. She insisted the carnage was the work of Ukrainians dressed in Russian uniforms, a trope of the state television beamed in from Russia that she watched.
“For me, Russia was always a liberator, a country that got attacked but never attacked others,” Ms. Larchenko said in the Estonian border city of Narva, NATO’s easternmost outpost and the European Union’s most ethnically Russian city.
But after four months of war, Ms. Larchenko said she had “taken off my rose-colored glasses” — and stopped quarreling with her son, Denis, 29, after taking his advice to stop watching Russian state TV.
“Psychologically,” she said, “I have passed over to the other side.”
In a city where nearly everyone speaks Russian instead of Estonian and faces social pressure to stick with their ethnic group, Ms. Larchenko is unusual in her willingness to state openly that she no longer sees Russia as a force for good but as an aggressor.
That so few Russians in Estonia’s free and democratic society are ready to do this is perhaps an indicator of how difficult any change of heart will be for people in Russia, where open criticism of the war is a criminal offense.
Beneath the surface, however, the mood in Narva is changing, particularly among younger ethnic Russians. For some, this shift carries a worrying message for the Kremlin: Private doubts are eroding public support for what Mr. Putin calls his “special military…