For the past 28 days of the war Russian President Vladimir Putin has waged on Ukraine, there has been a wave of resistance. In an earlier installment, The Nation summarized the earliest days of February’s opposition. Here’s a new report about the past month of protests and the government’s retaliation.
While the people continue to protest and to rattle Putin’s inner circle, the administration cracks down harder on those known for opposing it. Just this morning, on March 28, 2022, Novaya Gazeta, one of the last remaining free media outlets in Russia, had to suspend operations upon receiving a second official warning. According to the paper, Russia charged it with not labeling a group a “foreign agent organization” on two occasions, yet the government provided no evidence or further details. The suspension was regarded as necessary to avoid the paper’s closure and revocation of its media license.
In spite of the state’s efforts at suppression, the resistance inside Russia to Putin’s war on Ukraine continues.
Protests, Demonstrations, and Violent Detentions
According to OVD-Info, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting Russian political prisoners, the number of individuals detained for opposing the war in Ukraine rose to 15,000 in the past month. The majority of those protests took place in Russia’s largest metropolitan cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Meanwhile, many people got creative with the way they protested Putin’s “special military operation.” In St. Petersburg, locals hosted a “women in black” protest during which they dressed in the colors of grief and mourning, and stood in front of famous landmarks to express their sadness over the civilian deaths caused by the Russian president’s decision to invade Ukraine. In the 1990s, Russian women led similar demonstrations to show their opposition to the Chechen wars.
Alexei Navalny, a prominent Russian opposition leader, and the Anticorruption Fund he founded pleaded with its supporters to continue coming out to protest the invasion of Ukraine. Supporters and other activists also worked on making the protests a scheduled affair.
To avoid being immediately caught for promoting anti-war protests, many posted about them on social media using code such as “Come out for a walk,” “You know what to do,” and “In the evenings the main squares of Russian cities look gorgeous!” DOXA Journal, for example, uploaded a graphic of an equation, “6/3,” with the caption “a little bit of math” on Instagram. This was a reminder for people to come out and protest against the invasion on March 6, 2022. In response, people have been expressing their desire to support the efforts and commenting along the lines of “It’s springtime, it’s time for long walks!”
The March 6 protests spanned numerous Russian cities, and more than 4,000 people were detained, with many of the arrests becoming notably violent. Numerous protesters were physically injured and subjected in custody to cruelty bordering on torture; one of the detained, feminist activist Aleksandra Khaluzskikh, recorded the officers berating and hitting her to try to get her source for the time and date of the demonstration.
The Unlikely Resistance Inside Putin’s Army
On March 8, 2022, Vladimir Putin announced that he does not intend to send to Ukraine those in reserve or annual conscripts; Russia does have semi-annual conscription for men between the ages of 18 and 27 years—with certain exceptions. His promises were proven empty once conscripts began finding themselves in the Ukrainian army’s custody and speaking up. The young soldiers’ loved ones back in Russia expressed concern after receiving news from family members on the front lines. Vox Ukraine analyzed data available on the captive Russian soldiers and discovered that at least 182 conscripts were in captivity; according to the outlet, this number could be as high as 1,240 if you consider those mobilized only a few months after their actual conscription.
On March 14, 2022, Ukraine organized a press conference with five Russian conscripts, each born between 2000 and 2003. Prior to discussing the soldiers’ dissent to Putin’s war, it’s important to note that the Third Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War from 1949 discourages conducting press conferences or any other public functions with the participation of captive soldiers—in order to protect them. Despite this, the video with the conference remains accessible to the public through YouTube.
- Aleksander Morozov, a conscript born in 2000: “We want to stop this. People are dying here, children, grandmothers and grandfathers are dying here. People are dying for nothing, because of some Putin, who’s lying to the whole world that there are no conscripts here. But here we are, five people, five conscripts, who just want to go home.”
- Andrei Pozdeev, a conscript born in 2003: “The commanding officers just ditched us here and left. Regardless of us being the aggressors and the occupiers we’re being treated well in captivity. Even during the air raids the Ukrainians hide us alongside them.… Here I can only die from the Russian aerial strikes.”
- Nikolai Polsh’ikov, a conscript born in 2001: “Don’t send your sons here because terrible things happen here that nobody is telling you about. Our soldiers are dying here for nothing. There’s no need in a war here. I see no sense in it. No sense at all.”
Propagandists Leave Their Post
Russian propaganda is infamous for the hold it has over the minds of civilians consuming it through different state-owned or -funded media, especially television.
On March 14, 2022, Marina Ovsyannikova, a 43-year-old staffer for Channel One, the most notorious state-led Russian TV channel, ran into the studio during the nightly news broadcast. She held up a poster calling for “no war” and claiming “they’re lying to you on here,” meaning the station. Ovsyannikova managed to stand behind the longtime Channel One anchor for several seconds, making her banner visible and legible to the viewers. Later, Ovsyannikova was arrested and will be most likely charged with an administrative crime, fined or sentenced to a short time in jail.
According to Ovsyannikova, a large number of journalists and staffers at Channel One have been upset with the unraveling war in Ukraine and trying to express their dismay. In an interview with Novaya Gazeta, Ovsyannikova said many of her colleagues turn the sound off once Time, the nightly news broadcast known for its propagandist messaging, comes on. To illustrate her case, one can turn to other Channel One staff members quitting their jobs, including a former correspondent Zhana Agalakova, who left Russia and had been speaking openly about her decision.
Interestingly, Ovsyannikova’s show of protest did have an effect on the Channel One operations. Now, the news broadcast has about a 30- to 60-second delay to avoid similar protests.
Left Behind By His Right-Hand Man
Throughout Putin’s presidential career, Russian oligarch Anatoli Chubais was his trusted adviser. Two days ago, on March 23, Chubais quit his position in the government and fled Russia in a show of disagreement with Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. Importantly, it must be noted that Chubais may have decided to immigrate for a variety of reasons—not only to follow his moral compass. Chubais will no longer be able to monetarily benefit from his close relationship with the president, especially with the slate of globally imposed economic sanctions.
While we might not know if or how this war will end, we’ve seen, time and time again, the way a large number of Russians inside the country and beyond its borders feel about the invasion. They oppose it strongly and, in the face of arrests and potential jail sentences, bravely. Uncertainty has become our new reality. Yet we can nurture hope as we look at those within Putin’s regime attempting to oppose and rattle it.