Russia Ukraine War

Writing On The Wall: The Activists Tallying Russia’s Anti-War Protests

In the spring of 2023, Aleksei Dozorov pulled on a shirt in the colors of the Ukrainian flag and attached a bib with the message “If you’re for peace, give me five!” then set off to run the Moscow Half Marathon.

“I received a flood of emotion,” Dozorov later wrote, describing spectators smiling and stretching out their hands, and competing runners patting him on the shoulder as they passed. Near the finish line, however, policemen seized the runner and pulled him off the road. He was later taken to a nearby police station for questioning before being released without charge.

Aleksei Dozorov running the Moscow Half Marathon
Aleksei Dozorov running the Moscow Half Marathon
A Moscow confectioner was detained by police in April icing her cakes with "anti-war" designs.
A Moscow confectioner was detained by police in April icing her cakes with “anti-war” designs.

One of the anonymous volunteers behind the project to document the anti-war actions told RFE/RL that she takes the time and risk to help compile the list because “it’s scary to go to protests, but it’s unbearable to do nothing.”

“It’s also an opportunity to show people in other countries, especially in Ukraine, that there are people in Russia who do not accept this war.”

As well as listing protests, the Memorial initiative details the often life-changing consequences for those caught.

Lyudmila Razumova and Aleksandr Martynov
Lyudmila Razumova and Aleksandr Martynov

“Lyudmila Razumova and Aleksandr Martynov, a couple from the Tver region, were sentenced to 6 1/2 and 7 years in prison,” one entry in the Memorial catalog of protests reads, “due to posts on [Russian social media] and anti-war inscriptions on the walls of buildings.”

“Vladislav Kraval was sentenced to 6 years in prison for a sign saying “F**k the war,” and a hoax phone call reporting a fire at the local military administration,” another entry reports.

“The airline Pobeda fired pilot Vladimir N. for calling the war in Ukraine a crime in his address to passengers,” reads yet another entry detailing the personal aftermath of speaking out inside Russia.

Stenciled anti-war protest art seen in Novosibirsk, Russia
Stenciled anti-war protest art seen in Novosibirsk, Russia

Perhaps more chilling are the entries in the Memorial catalog describing pro-government Russians snooping on their fellow countrymen and women.

“A passenger was detained for reading a book in Ukrainian on a plane,” one report on the Memorial page says. “The girl was flying from Moscow to Vladikavkaz. One of her fellow passengers reported her, and she was detained by police on arrival.”

Another entry details the fate of Yury Samoilov, who received 14 days in prison after another passenger riding the Moscow metro looked over his shoulder at images that “discredit the Russian military.” The unnamed passenger phoned police who then searched Samoilov’s phone.

A protest mural with the words "Meat-grinder politics" in Russia's Kaluga region
A protest mural with the words “Meat-grinder politics” in Russia’s Kaluga region

Anna Krasnikova, a Memorial volunteer who has lived in Italy since 2014, says the sources for the monthly compilations of protests that she helps to prepare come from a constantly expanding list of Telegram channels, and “sometimes our friends and relatives that are in Russia take photos and send them to us.”

“I don’t live in Russia, and here [in Italy] it’s very simple, even comfortable, to protest against the war,” Krasnikova told RFE/RL. “My family goes to the rallies, on our balcony we put a flag of Ukraine, we openly express our position. But all those who are in Russia and do not want or cannot remain silent really risk a lot.”

“I don’t want to leave them alone in their desperate protests, I want to spread the voice of all these very brave people,” she added.

Workers paint over graffiti saying "#No to war" in Lipetsk, western Russia.
Workers paint over graffiti saying “#No to war” in Lipetsk, western Russia.

Stepan Cernousek, a volunteer for the Czech branch of Memorial who translates the monthly protest reports into Czech, told RFE/RL, “Sadly we very often hear the opinion that all Russians are pro-war and we need to fight against Russia and all Russians, so I feel it’s very important to show that many are against the war.”

The Czech volunteer believes polls indicating widespread support in Russia for the invasion of Ukraine are hard to rely on in the current climate of fear, especially those conducted by telephone.

The Memorial project to chronicle protest actions show “there are people who feel strongly enough to risk protesting. Even if that is only 1 percent of the population of Russia, that’s still hundreds of thousands of people, and these people will be our partners one day, I hope,” Cernousek says.


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