More than 1,700 people were arrested in Russia for joining anti-war protests condemning President Vladimir Putin’s military attack on Ukraine, which is by far the biggest number of arrests since the crushing of the network of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
OVD-Info, an agency that tracks arrests at opposition rallies, said around 1,700 protesters were detained in 53 Russian cities, more than 900 were arrested in Moscow and more than 400 were also detained in Saint Petersburg.
“Who are you fighting with? Arrest Putin!” shouted a young man while he was being dragged away by three police officers.
Marina Litvinovich, an activist based in Moscow, said she was detained on her way out of her house.
Litvinovich was arrested after she posted a call on Facebook asking Russians to join a protest Thursday evening.
On Thursday, the Investigative Committee, a government body that investigates major crimes, warned to file criminal charges or imprisonment to those who are calling for or taking part in protests.
“One should be aware of the negative legal consequences of these actions in the form of prosecution up to criminal liability,” the committee said.
Authorities had also threatened to block media reports that contain what the Russian government describes as “false information,” saying it only considers information from Russian official sources as reliable.
The Russian government has toughened its laws on protests and demonstrations, which often led to mass arrests.
But hundreds of people in dozens of cities defied the committee’s warning as they trooped to the streets to denounce Putin’s move to attack Ukraine, which happened during the government’s unprecedented crackdown on Russian oppositions with some protest leaders either assassinated, jailed or forced out of the country.
People bravely gathered near Pushkin Square in central Moscow, at the former imperial capital Saint Petersburg, and in Yekaterinburg, chanting “No to war!”
One person was even seen waving a Ukrainian flag.
Viktor Antipov, a resident of Saint Petersburg, said he did not support Putin’s tactics.
“No one in his right mind wants war. It looks a lot like it has not been thought through. Putin was not thinking of the long-term,” Antipov said.
The “No to war” slogan was also painted on the front gate of the Russian parliament’s lower house.
Similar protests were also held in dozens of other Russian cities.
Navalny, who used to mobilize Russia’s largest protests against Putin, condemned the Ukraine attack, saying it was an attempt by Russia to distract from its own domestic problems.
“I am against this war, which was unleashed to cover up the theft from Russian citizens and divert their attention from problems that exist inside the country. This war will lead to an enormous number of victims from both sides, ruined lives and a continuation of the impoverishment of Russian citizens,” said the 45-year-old Navalny, who is serving a two-and-a-half-year jail term in a penal colony outside Moscow.
Many famous Russians are also skeptical of Putin’s move to attack Ukraine.
Ivan Urgant, a famous Russian television comedian, wrote on his Instagram account: “Fear and Pain. NO TO WAR.”
Maxim Galkin, a television presenter and singer, also denounced Putin’s war on Ukraine.
“I’ve been in touch with my relatives and friends from Ukraine since morning. I can’t explain in words what I feel. How is this possible? No war can be justified. No to war!” Galkin said.
Some famous Russian figures like Fedor Smolov of the national soccer team, former no. 1 tennis player Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Nobel laureate Dmitry Muratov also aired their opposition to the Ukraine attack, with many of them posting a blank, black picture on Instagram.