Shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday announced a partial mobilization of the Russian population to go fight in Ukraine, the opposition movement Vesná called protests across the country. Thousands of citizens braved the risk of demonstrating in Russia, which can involve prison sentences and being sent to the front, to show their anger at the Kremlin’s decision. The police arrested at least 1,000 people in 36 locations, according to data from the independent watchdog organization OVD-Info. In Moscow, the march brought together more than 1,000 demonstrators.
With a play on words in Russian, the organizers had replaced the word “mobilization” with “grave” on their protest placards. “Our fathers, brothers and husbands will be thrown into the meat grinder of war. Why will they die? Why will mothers and children shed tears? For Putin’s palace?” the group denounced on social media.
Protesters in Russia routinely face heavy repression. Now, those who dare to speak out against the Kremlin’s decisions are also facing a new law against discrediting the actions of the armed forces in Ukraine. These violations are usually settled with a fine, although repeat violators could receive prison sentences of between three and 10 years. Sources close to the Kremlin have suggested that detained protesters could be included in the upcoming rounds of mobilization, which in theory affects around 300,000 reservists.
Marchers in Moscow gathered in the pedestrian area of Old Arbat, which became a mousetrap where a strong police deployment arrested dozens of citizens chanting “Not to the war!” and “Shame!”
The deployment of security forces was massive in scale. Officers from the Ministry of the Interior and Rosgvardia — the National Guard, the president’s personal army — monitored the entire city center of Moscow on Wednesday, from Pushkinskaya Square, the epicenter of protests in the past, to the Red Square.
Some of the detainees were carried away. Young and old, parents and grandparents, showed their outrage at a forced mobilization that, according to the Ministry of Defense, will take at least 300,000 fellow Russians to the front.
There were also some pro-Kremlin demonstrators on hand, with one young man shouting “traitors” at the protesters, who were gathered on a street where t-shirts are sold bearing the z’s and u’s that have become a symbol of the Russian offensive in Ukraine. The march barely lasted an hour, and some protesters fell silent as officers approached so as not to be arrested.