Thousands of Russians Protest Putin’s Assault on Ukraine

February 26th, 2022 - by Ivan Nechepurenko and Dan Bilefsky / The New York Times & Oleg Bodrov / The Gulf of Finland Interregional Environmental Movement

Many said they felt depressed and broken
by the news of Russian military action

Ivan Nechepurenko and Dan Bilefsky / The New York Times

(February 25, 2022) — Thousands of protesters took to the streets and squares of Russian cities on Thursday to protest President Vladimir V. Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine, only to be met with heavy police presence.

Many Russians, like people across the world, were shocked to wake up and learn that Mr. Putin had ordered a full-scale assault against a country often referred to as a “brotherly nation.” At the protests, many people said they felt depressed and broken by the news of Russian military action.

In Moscow, the police blocked off access to the Pushkinskaya Square in the city center, after opposition activists called people to come there. Police officers dispersed even the smallest groups of protesters, ordering them to clear the area through loudspeakers.

A few hundred people, mostly young, flanked the streets leading to the square, some chanting “No to war!” and unfurling a Ukrainian flag. The police detained more than 600 people in the city, according to OVD Info, a rights group that tallies arrests.

“The world has turned upside down,” said Anastasia, 44, bursting into tears after seeing that the square was not full of people. “Everyone must be here, it is the only way to show that something monstrous is happening,” she said, refusing to give her last name fearing repercussions from security services.

While many Russians credit Mr. Putin with lifting their country out of the economic hardship and instability of the 1990s, others are deeply uneasy about his leadership. And tough sanctions that affect everyday Russians, like potential technology embargoes that could separate Russians from their beloved next-generation phones, could diminish his support at home.

Many Ukrainian politicians and public figures called for Russians to come out to voice their discontent with the incursion, but years of government oppression made the risks of taking part in anti-Kremlin demonstrations very high.

In Moscow, Ilya, 28, who also refused to give his last name, predicted that Russian people “will only get poorer because we depend on international trade so much.”

In St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, riot police officers rounded up at least 327 people who came to the Nevsky Prospekt, the city’s main thoroughfare.

Wearing helmets and in full gear, they hit people and pushed protesters to the ground, according to video footage from the scene. Many people came out in other Russian cities, including in Yekaterinburg, a major city in the Ural Mountains, where protesters chanted “No to war!” in front of a Lenin monument.

Overall, more than 1,300 people were detained across the country, OVD Info reported. Oxxxymiron, one of Russia’s most popular rappers, called for an antiwar movement to be created in Russia that would unite people.

He was one of many Russian public figures and celebrities who spoke out against the Russian attack. “I know that most people in Russia are against this war, and I am confident that the more people would talk about their real attitude to it, the faster we can stop this horror,” said Oxxxymiron, also known as Miron Fyodorov.

He referred to American protests against the war in Vietnam as an inspiration. “This is a crime and a catastrophe,” he said, adding that he will cancel his six sold out concerts in Moscow and St. Petersburg because of what happened.

“I cannot entertain you when Russian missiles are falling on Ukraine,” said Oxxxymiron in a statement, published in his Instagram account. “When residents of Kyiv are forced to hide in basements and in the metro, while people are dying.”

Mr. Putin in the past has crushed domestic challenges to his authority. But last year, with the economy stumbling and the pandemic raging, opposition groups held some of the largest anti-Putin protests in years.

Alina Lobzina contributed reporting

Russians Speak Up Against War

Oleg Bodrov, Chair of the South Coast of the Gulf of Finland Interregional Environmental Movement of the Leningrad Region and St. Petersburg

(February 25, 2022) — This petition was prepared a day ago by a well-known Russian scientist and human rights activist Lev Ponomarev. This petition was signed (February 25, 16:00 Moscow time) by more than 500.000 Russian residents, including me.

According to Alexandr Kupnyi from the city of Slavutych — which was built after the Chernobyl disaster for the personnel of this nuclear power plant —this nuclear facility is surrounded by tanks, which, apparently, arrived through the radioactively contaminated territory from Belarus. The operating personnel of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, who are supposed to replace their colleagues, were not allowed to work. The electric train with personnel from Slavutych, according to a resident of this city, was not allowed to pass through the territory of Belarus.

The Petition of Lew Ponomarev:

On February 22, the Russian armed forces crossed the border and entered the territory of the eastern regions of Ukraine. On February 24, the first attacks on Ukrainian cities were delivered at night.

All sorts of people in Russia spoke publicly about the categorical rejection of the war, about its fatality for the country. From the intelligentsia to retired colonel generals and experts of the Valdai Forum.

The same emotion sounded in different voices – horror at the very thought of the possibility of a new round of war between Russia and Ukraine. The horror caused by the realization that this could actually happen.

And so it happened. Putin ordered the start of a military operation against Ukraine, despite the terrible price that both Ukraine and Russia will undoubtedly pay for this war, despite all the voices of reason that sounded in Russia and beyond.

Official Russian rhetoric claims that this is done in “self-defense.” But history cannot be deceived. The burning of the Reichstag was exposed, and today exposures are not required – everything is obvious from the very beginning.

We, the supporters of peace, acting in the name of saving the lives of the citizens of Russia and Ukraine, in order to stop the war that has begun and prevent it from developing into a war on a planetary scale:

• we announce the beginning of the formation of the anti-war movement in Russia, and the support of any peaceful forms of anti-war protest;

• we demand an immediate ceasefire by the Russian Armed Forces, and their immediate withdrawal from the territory of the sovereign state of Ukraine;

• we consider as war criminals all those who made the decision to start hostilities in the east of Ukraine, sanctioned aggressive and war-justifying propaganda in the Russian media dependent on the authorities. We will seek to hold them accountable for their deeds. May they be damned!

We appeal to all sane people in Russia, on whose actions and words something depends. Become part of the anti-war movement, oppose the war. Do this at least in order to show the whole world that in Russia there were, are and will be people who will not accept the meanness perpetrated by the authorities, who have turned the very state and peoples of Russia into an instrument of their crimes.”

Oleg Bodrov is chair of the South Coast of the Gulf of Finland Interregional Environmental Movement of the Leningrad Region and St. Petersburg.