Hundreds of Russians braved arrest, prosecution and even the threat of being drafted into the army to protest against Vladimir Putin’s escalation of his war in Ukraine.
After Putin announced a “partial mobilisation” on Wednesday and called up 300,000 reservists, people took to the streets across Russia in what is one of the biggest public displays of discontent over the war since the invasion began in February.
According to Russian human rights watchdog OVD-Info, which monitors arrests during mass protests, 1,386 people were arrested on Wednesday night across 38 cities, with the majority of arrests taking place in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
OVD-Info said that in a handful of cases in Moscow, arrested protesters were handed summons to enlist in the army.
It follows reports of the alleged head of private military group Wagner offering prisoners pardons if they enlisted to fight in Ukraine.
In Moscow protesters were heard shouting “send Putin to the trenches,” with footage showing people being dragged away and thrown in vans by riot police
In the Siberian city of Tomsk, a woman was led away after holding a sign that simply said, “hug me if you are also scared,” reminiscent of protests in the early days of the war that saw people detained for holding blank pieces of paper.
Unauthorised protest rallies were already illegal in Russia before the invasion of Ukraine, but earlier this year Russia passed laws that effectively made it illegal to criticise the war, which officially is still only referred to as a “special military operation.”
Protests did take place in the immediate aftermath of the invasion, but they were ruthlessly stamped out by authorities.
In his speech on Wednesday Putin accused the West of using nuclear weapons to blackmail Russia, and said he was prepared to use “all the means at our disposal” in response. Russia is estimated to have around 6,000 nuclear warheads.
Putin’s announcement of a partial mobilisation, something he had previously ruled out, seemed to trigger a mini exodus in Russia, with huge demand for flights to countries where Russians don’t need visas. The reservists being called up include former conscripts and contract soldiers.
The announcement came after Russian forces suffered huge losses in Ukraine, with Ukrainian troops recapturing large areas of territory around Kharkiv in a counteroffensive.
In a statement, anti-war group Vesna said: “Thousands of Russian men, our fathers, brothers and husbands, will be thrown into the meat grinder of the war. What will they be dying for? What will mothers and children be crying for?”