Russians Are Taking to the Streets to Protest the Invasion of Ukraine
(MOSCOW) — From Moscow to Siberia, Russian anti-war activists took to the streets again Sunday to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, despite the arrests of hundreds of protesters each day by police.
Demonstrators held pickets and marched in city centers, chanting “No to war!” as President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian nuclear deterrent to be put on high alert, upping the ante in the Kremlin’s standoff with the West and stoking fears of a nuclear war.
“I have two sons and I don’t want to give them to that bloody monster. War is a tragedy for all of us,” 48-year-old Dmitry Maltsev, who joined the rally in St. Petersburg, told The Associated Press.
The protests against the invasion began Thursday in Russia, and they have been ongoing daily since then. However, Russian police are quick to detain and crack down on rallies. Although the Kremlin attempted to minimise the protests by insisting that more Russians are supporting the invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin insisted this.
In recent days, thousands have signed petitions and opened letters condemning the invasion. It was also condemned by celebrities and TV stars. A petition online, which was launched just hours after Putin’s attack, attracted over 930,000 signatures within four days. It has become one of Russia’s most popular petitions, and the largest in Russia, in recent years.
Police in full-riot gear grabbed protesters in St. Petersburg and began to drag them into their vans. Moscow footage showed that police threw several women protestors to the ground and then dragged them off.
The rights organization OVD Info tracks political arrests and reports that police have detained at most 2,710 Russians from 51 cities in order to prevent anti-war protests on Sunday. This brings the total number of people detained to almost 6,000.
Four days into the the fighting that has killed scores, Putin raised the stakes dramatically on Sunday, ordering the military Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert, citing Western countries “taking unfriendly actions against our country in the economic sphere” and “top officials from leading NATO members made aggressive statements regarding our country.”
The day before, the U.S. and its European allies have warned that the coming round of sanctions could include freezing hard currency reserves of Russia’s Central Bank and cutting Russia off SWIFT international payment system. It is possible that the unprecedented decision could cause chaos in Russia’s economy.
Ordinary Russians fear that stiff sanctions will deliver a crippling blow to the country’s economy. Russians have been flooding to ATMs and banks to withdraw money since Thursday. This has created long lines, and people are reporting via social media that ATMs run out of cash.
According to Russia’s Central Bank, on Thursday alone Russians withdrew 111 billion rubles (about $1.3 billion) in cash.
The anti-war protests on Sunday appeared smaller and more scattered than the ones that took place on the first day of Russia’s attack in Ukraine, when thousands of people rallied in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but their true scale was hard to assess and they seemed to pick up speed as the day went on.
“It is a crime both against Ukraine and Russia. Both Russia and Ukraine are being killed by it. I am outraged, I haven’t slept for three nights, and I think we must now declare very loudly that we don’t want to be killed and don’t want Ukraine to be killed,” said Olga Mikheeva, who protested in the Siberian city of Irkutsk.
People gathered at makeshift memorials in Moscow and St. Petersburg for Boris Nemtsov. This was the top Russian opposition figure that was gunned down near Moscow on February 27, 2015. Some brought flowers to honor Nemtsov’s memory, while others also held banners protesting the invasion of Ukraine, only to be detained minutes after taking them out.
Nemtsov, one of Russia’s most charismatic opposition figures, was a staunch advocate against the fighting in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists have been battling with Ukrainian forces since 2014 in a drawn-out conflict that has killed more than 14,000.
Recent actions by Russian authorities have been to suppress criticism.
Speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament Vyacheslav Volodin said the anti-war stance of “certain cultural figures” was “inappropriate” and “nothing short of a betrayal of your own people.”
Twitter and Facebook have been blocked, while human rights activists feared that similar measures would be taken to stop YouTube.
Russia’s state communications and media watchdog Roskomnadzor on Sunday demanded that Google to lift restrictions imposed on YouTube channels run by several Russian state media outlets. The Network Freedoms rights group noted that Facebook’s refusal to comply with a similar demand this week led to restricted access to the platform.
After receiving notification from Roskomnadzor, the Current Time website, which is a Russian-owned TV channel that criticizes the Kremlin was made unavailable on Sunday.
Report by Irina Tatova, St. Petersburg and Vladimir Isachenkov from Moscow of the Associated Press