Despite fears of arrest, some Russians refuse to stop anti-war protests

Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine, Anastasia has started her day by drafting an anti-war message and placing it on the entrance wall of her apartment block in the industrial city of Perm, in the Ural Mountains.

“Don’t believe the propaganda you see on TV, read independent media!” read one. “Violence and death have been with us constantly for three months, take care,” reads another.

The 31-year-old teacher, who asked to be identified only by name because she fears for her safety, said she wanted “a safe and simple method of getting a message across”.

“I couldn’t do something huge and public,” he told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “I want people to think. And I think we should influence any space, any way we can.”

Despite the government’s massive crackdown on such acts of protest, some Russians have persisted in speaking out against the invasion, even in the simplest of ways.

Some have paid a high price. In the first wintry days of the invasion in February, authorities moved quickly to quell demonstrations, arresting people who were marching or even holding up blank signs or other oblique references to the conflict. Critical media outlets were shut down as the government sought to control the narrative. Political opponents were singled out by President Vladimir Putin or commentators on state television.

Lawmakers passed measures that banned the spread of “false information” about what the Kremlin called a “special military operation” and disparaged the military, using them against anyone who spoke out against the attack or spoke of atrocities the troops allegedly committed. russians they have committed.

As the war drags on into the languid days of a Russian summer, some, like Anastasia, feel guilty that they cannot do more to oppose the invasion, even within the constraints of the new laws.

When Russian troops entered Ukraine on February 24, Anastasia said her first thought was to sell all her possessions and move abroad, but she soon changed her mind.

“It’s my country, why should I leave?” he told the AP. “I understood that I needed to stay and create something to help from here.”

Sergei Besov, a Moscow-based printer and artist, also felt that he could not remain silent. Even before the invasion, the 45-year-old made posters reflecting the political scene and posted them around the capital.

When Russians voted two years ago on constitutional amendments allowing Putin to seek two more terms after 2024, Besov used his old printing press with large wooden Cyrillic letters and old red ink to print signs that read simply: “Against.”

During the 2020 unrest in Belarus over a disputed presidential election and the subsequent crackdown on protesters, he made signs that read “Freedom” in Belarusian.

After the invasion of Ukraine, his project, Partisan Press, started making posters saying “No to war”, the main anti-war slogan. The video of the printing of the poster became popular on Instagram and the demand for copies was so great that they were given away.

After some of his posters were used in a demonstration in Red Square and some people who displayed them were arrested, it became clear that the police “would inevitably come to us,” Besov said.

They appeared when Besov was not there, accusing two of his employees of participating in an unauthorized demonstration by printing the poster used in it.

The case has dragged on for more than three months, he said, causing everyone a lot of stress about whether and how much they will be punished.

Besov stopped printing “No War” posters and opted for more subtle messages like “Fear is not an excuse to do nothing.”

Consider it important to keep talking.

“The problem is that we don’t know where the lines are drawn,” Besov said. “It is known that you can be prosecuted for certain things, but some manage to go unnoticed. Where is this line? It’s very bad and very difficult.”

Sasha Skochilenko, a 31-year-old artist and musician from St. Petersburg, did not go unnoticed and is facing serious consequences for what she thought was a relatively safe way to spread the horrors of war: she was arrested. her for replacing five price tags in a supermarket with tiny tags containing anti-war slogans.

“The Russian army bombed an arts school in Mariupol. About 400 people were hiding in it from the bombing,” said one.

“Russian recruits are being sent to Ukraine. The life of our children is the price of this war,” said another.

Skochilenko was really affected by the war, said her partner, Sophia Subbotina.

“She had friends in Kyiv who were taking shelter in the subway and they were calling her to tell her about the horror that was happening there,” Subbotina told AP.

In 2020, Skochilenko taught acting and film at a children’s camp in Ukraine and was concerned about how the conflict would affect his former students.

“She was very afraid for these children, that their lives were in danger because of the war, that the bombs would fall on them and she couldn’t keep quiet,” Subbotina said.

Skochilenko faces up to 10 years in prison on charges of spreading false information about the Russian military.

“It was a shock to us that they started a criminal case, and a case that involves a monstrous prison sentence of 5 to 10 years,” Subbotina said. “In our country, shorter sentences are given for murder.”


Associated Press reporter Francesca Ebel contributed.


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