Russian opposition leaders and human rights activists took to the streets on Thursday to protest President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine, but were swiftly met by a crushing police response.
In Putin’s home town of St. Petersburg, a crowd of two hundred gathered to chant “No to war!” – only to be confronted by police shouting through bullhorns that public gatherings were forbidden under coronavirus restrictions. Several dozen protesters were reportedly arrested.
Возле Гостиного двора в Петербурге собралось, по оценкам корра «Новой», около двухсот человек. Толпа скандирует «Нет войне!». Полиция в мегафон предупреждает о недопустимости массовых акций в период коронавирусных ограничений. Несколько десятков человек задержаны. Видео: «Новая» pic.twitter.com/lsOkKTWFvd
— Новая Газета (@novaya_gazeta) February 24, 2022
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) February 24, 2022
Human rights activist Marina Litvinovich was detained outside her apartment in Moscow after calling for nationwide rallies against Putin’s war.
“I know that many of you right now feel desperate, powerless, and ashamed over the attack by Vladimir Putin on the friendly people of Ukraine. But I call on you not to be desperate, and come out to the central squares of your cities at 7 p.m. today, and clearly and explicitly say that we, the people of Russia, are against the war unleashed by Putin,” Litvinovich said in a video statement on Facebook.
Radio Free Europe (RFE) quoted Russia’s Investigative Committee warning citizens they would face consequences for “holding unauthorized actions and participating in uncoordinated events” related to the “tense foreign political situation.”
“One should be aware of the negative legal consequences of these actions in the form of prosecution up to criminal liability,” the Committee said in response to online calls for protests.
“It should be remembered that holding a criminal record holds negative consequences and leaves a mark on the person’s future,” the Committee added menacingly.
Russia's interior ministry tells TV viewers to "refrain from unsanctioned protests" & or they'll be "arrested & brought to responsibility."
That's because there are "coronavirus restrictions, including on public events."
Not because of calls to protest the war or anything pic.twitter.com/fuKDsso2eQ
— Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) February 24, 2022
“The Russian Interior Ministry warns that any provocative actions, aggression toward police officers, and failure to obey their legitimate demands will be immediately prevented. People committing such offenses will be detained and held liable,” the ministry statement said.
“Offices of the Russian Interior Ministry and other law enforcement agencies are in full control of the situation around the country and will take all the necessary measures to maintain law and order. Be smart and don’t compromise your safety,” the statement warned.
Interior Ministry spokeswoman Irina Volk called on Russian citizens to “remain calm and refrain from participating in uncoordinated actions.”
RFE spotted “single-person pickets” popping up across Russia, as determined activists staged demonstrations too small to trigger either coronavirus restrictions or the rule against “uncoordinated events.” At least a hundred of the “solo picketers” were arrested anyway.
“In another Central Asian nation, Kyrgyzstan, dozens of activists picketed the Russian Embassy on February 24, protesting Russia’s attack on Ukraine,” RFE wrote.
The Jerusalem Post said the number of arrests was over a thousand nationwide by Thursday afternoon.
Numerous eyewitnesses said police were aggressively arresting people gathering near traditional protest areas to crush demonstrations before they even began:
Police are detaining anti-war protesters in Moscow, after Russia launched a major military offensive in Ukraine.
Protests reportedly broke out in several cities, with police "arresting everyone." Authorities warned of criminal prosecution against protesters for "public order." pic.twitter.com/lNmJ2SBBVU
— AJ+ (@ajplus) February 24, 2022
Police are busy arresting everyone before it takes off. pic.twitter.com/FQfXVap8MH
— Thomas van Linge (@ThomasVLinge) February 24, 2022
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky implored the Russian people to speak up on Thursday morning.
“For all those who have not yet lost their conscience in Russia, it is time to go out and protest against the war with Ukraine,” Zelensky said.
Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said he was “against this war” on Thursday.
“This war between Russia and Ukraine was unleashed to cover up the theft from Russian citizens and divert their attention from problems that exist inside the country,” Navalny charged.