RFE/RL – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Autor)
In Moscow, police detained a man holding a sign that read: “Arrest me, Russia. I don’t care.”
In Yekaterinburg, a small group of peace protesters were charged with “discrediting the armed forces” for releasing origami swans into the Iset River.
They were among the dozens of Russians who used the occasion of Victory Day in Russia to speak out publicly in myriad ways against the war in Ukraine, which was in its 75th day on May 9.
In Novosibirsk, activist Vladimir Saltevsky was arrested for holding a poster with a photograph of a Soviet Red Army soldier from World War II with the caption: “I’m ashamed of you, grandchildren.”
“Why did I protest?” Saltevsky told Current Time. “I did it for myself…. I understand that I cannot change the situation in this country by myself. But at least I won’t have the shame of having been silent at this moment…. I won’t have to be ashamed to look my children in the eyes.”
According to OVD-Info, an independent group that monitors political repression in Russia, 125 people were detained on Victory Day, which President Vladimir Putin’s government has molded into a highly militarized, uber-patriotic remembrance of the Soviet contribution to victory over Nazi Germany.
Eighty-two people were reported detained for displaying anti-war slogans or images, while 43 were detained for previous anti-war protests or because the police believed they intended to protest, OVD-Info said.
Many of the detentions, like Saltevsky’s, came during the annual Immortal Regiment ritual, in which people are encouraged to parade while holding pictures of their relatives who fought or died during the war. Hundreds of thousands of people participated in the event this year in all major cities and countless smaller settlements. In Moscow, Putin once again participated, carrying a portrait of his father.
Kremlin critics say the government has co-opted the Immortal Regiment marches, which began as a grassroots movement.
The anti-war organization Vesna and other similar groups had called for public demonstrations against the war in Ukraine in the run-up to Victory Day.
“We understand that anyone who tried to do anything against the war…is in one way or another in danger,” said Vesna coordinator Bogdan Litvin. “But in this case, we think we hit a sensitive spot [for the authorities]. May 9 is an important part of the agenda that the authorities are manipulating. We think it is base hypocrisy…when people who say they are fighting against Nazism are in fact acting just like Nazis themselves.
“They are exploiting the memory of people who fought for peace in order to propagandize hatred, enmity, and war,” he said.
Police in St. Petersburg on May 9 searched the apartment of Litvin’s parents, the last place in Russia where he was registered before he left the country after the regional offices of opposition politician Aleksei Navalny were closed down last year.
Vesna encouraged Russians to submit photographs of their protests, which they then posted on the organization’s Telegram channel.
“There is a spiral of silence that we are breaking down,” Litvin said, noting that the Russian government’s crackdown on the use of terms like “war” and “invasion” had made people more afraid to post anti-government statements online than they had been in the run-up to the February 24 attack on Ukraine.
Vesna’s website was blocked without explanation on May 10, the group reported on Telegram.
In St. Petersburg, district council member Sergei Samusev was detained and charged with “discrediting the armed forces” for attempting to participate in the Immortal Regiment march carrying a photograph of Boris Romanchenko, who was a prisoner in four Nazi concentration camps and who was killed in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv in March. An unidentified man was seen in a video being detained while holding a sign reading, “No new war”:
At a bus station in the northwestern city of Severodvinsk, the regional representative of the liberal Parnas political party, Yury Shcherbachyov, was detained as he was getting on a bus to conduct a protest at the Immortal Regiment march in Arkhangelsk. He was written up for “discrediting the armed forces” for a social media post he wrote in March.
In Samara, on the Volga River, Aleksandr Yakovlev was detained for holding a sign reading: “Russia has blood on its hands up to its elbows.”
In Tatarstan’s capital, Kazan, local activist Iskander Gabrakhmanov was detained while holding a sign with the slogan “No to war!”
In Ufa, the capital of the Bashkortostan region, Yulia Samoilova was detained while holding a sign reading, “My grandfather fought against fascism.”
In Novosibirsk, a man who asked not to be identified was detained holding a sign reading, “This isn’t the future my grandfather fought for,” OVD-Info reported.
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