SOCHI, Russia – Thousands of people took to the streets of Russian cities on Sunday to protest President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine, risking beatings and arrest.
Sunday’s protests came on the heels of similar anti-war demonstrations across the country that have been held in dozens of Russian cities every day since Russian forces crossed the Ukrainian border early Thursday morning. Demonstrators also went out in cities around the world.
Several Russian protesters said they were shocked by Putin’s decision to send troops and heavy weapons to what many in Russia see as a “sister nation.” Millions of Russians have relatives or friends in Ukrainian cities. Many grew up in Ukraine and love childhood memories of it.
At the protests, many people said they had come to express their solidarity with the Ukrainian people and were confident that Mr. Putin’s decision would seriously harm Russia.
Fyodor Zhurov, for example, said he had never participated in protests before, but was shocked when he read the news on Thursday that Russia had attacked Ukraine, the country where his relatives live.
“I’m starting to feel ashamed that I live in Russia,” said Mr. Gurov, 22, speaking by phone from a police car where he was being held.
On Sunday, Mr. Zhurov said he had come to stand in front of the Russian Foreign Affairs building in central Moscow with a poster that read “No to war!” Shortly after he arrived, police detained him and threatened to break his hand. A flight attendant, Mr. Gurov fears losing his job after European countries closed their airspace to Russian flights.
In Moscow, crowds of people moved around the city center chanting “No to war!” To make it more difficult for them to be detained by the police, they tried not to concentrate in one place. However, police arrested more than 1,100 people in the Russian capital alone and more than 1,100 in other Russian cities according to OVD Info, a rights group that tracks arrests at demonstrations in Russia.
Aside from arresting people at the demonstrations, the Russian authorities have also said they will increase pressure in other areas. Government employees who signed letters and petitions against the war, for example, were threatened with dismissal.
On Sunday, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office warned Russians that providing undefined “assistance to a foreign organization or its representatives in activities directed against the security of Russia” could be characterized as high treason, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Russia’s communications watchdog announced on Friday that it will partially limit access to Facebook in retaliation for the restriction of some pro-Kremlin media accounts.
On Sunday, many Russians also arrived at a bridge across from the Kremlin to lay flowers at the place where Boris Nemtsov, a prominent Russian opposition politician, was brutally murdered. Shot do death Seven years ago. Throughout his political career, Mr. Nemtsov has spoken out against any form of Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Some people who took part in the first wave of protests on Thursday, were unable to get out again to avoid committing the same crime twice. Alexei Kudasov, for example, was arrested on Thursday and later released, so he decided not to risk, but said that he was ready “to do everything to stop this nightmare.”
He said Putin’s decision would bring “nothing but grief to both sides of the conflict,” adding that he would donate to human rights organizations and help spread honest information about the conflict.
“People should not spend their nights on the metro for another head of state carrying tin soldiers on a map,” said copywriter Mr. Kodasov, 31. “Many of us have relatives and friends in Ukraine – and attacking such a neighbor is an absolutely brutal decision.”
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