Following Putin’s announcement of a partial military mobilisation against Ukraine, anti-war protests broke out across Russia, with at least 2,300 people being arrested by this morning. The strife was palpable across 43 cities throughout Russia, as protesters were beaten by police and taken into crowded prisons.
Russia is notoriously strict about silencing dissent, and when Putin’s invasion of Ukraine began in February, new laws were enacted to ensure Russians weren’t speaking out against the inhumane actions of their Armed Forces. The “fake news laws” promote state censorship: those showing “blatant disrespect” for the state, the public, the Russian flag or the constitution can be fined up to 100,000 rubles under the new legislation. Repeat offenders can be jailed for up to 15 days. These laws are particularly punitive towards journalists, which led to over 150 reporters fleeing Russia within the week it was passed.
One of the people being arrested under the fake news laws is Dmitry Skurikhin, a business owner outside of St. Petersberg. Skurikhin has covered the outside of his store with anti-war protests since the invasion began and he has already been hit with heavy fines for “discrediting” the Russian Armed Forces. Now, Skurikhin is facing up to five years in prison for hanging the sign, “”Go to hell with your mobilisation. That’s where the road leads for such management of the country,” following Putin’s draft announcement. When Russian police came to arrest him, they raided his home and apartment where his two young children live.
“I think about my safety every day,” said Skurikhin. “But it’s more important that people come around to my point of view. I’ll do all I can to achieve that. What can happen to me? I might go to prison. That’s OK.”
Arguably the most unpopular aspect of Putin’s September 21 announcement is the draft, the first of its kind since World War II. Following its announcement, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu stated that they will draft 300,000 Russian men to fight in the invasion, which has already killed or wounded 80,000 Russian soldiers. However, unconfirmed reports from several Russian outlets abroad have revealed the true goal of the draft is 1 million men, specifically targeting ehtnic minorities and those in rural areas where there is less media, less opposition, and more support for the invasion.
On September 24, acknowledging the draft would be met with resistance, Putin passed new amendments punishing those who refuse to fight in the war, or those who willingly surrender to Ukrainian forces, with up to 10 years in prison.
These circumstances have pushed many Russians to desperation. Flights and trains out of the country have been completely sold out and borders crossing at surrounding countries are at a stand-still for miles. Satellite images have captured a dire scene at the Georgian border with Russia, as hundreds attempt to flee the country, either in fear of the draft or what Putin’s regime might do to those who oppose the militant actions he is set upon.
President Zelensky has continued to echo the same encouragement he’s had for Russian citizens since the invasion began: to protest at home, or to lay down their arms upon arriving in Ukraine. “Fight so that they do not send to their deaths your children and those whom they may take as part of this criminal Russian mobilisation. Because if you come to take the lives of our children—I tell you this as a father—we will not let you out alive,” Zelensky said.
Let us not forget that these cruel new measures by Putin are only in response to the recent wins secured by Ukrainian forces, regaining thousands of kilometres in the Kherson and Kharkiv regions. Putin would sooner doom his own countrymen to death than admit what the rest of the world already knows: invading Ukraine was a mistake, with its consequences growing deadlier by the day.
We haven’t seen protests of this scale since the invasion was announced on February 24. At that point, protests took place across the globe and online dissent has stayed consistent. Below are images from protests in Moscow, Toronto, London, Vienna and Tokyo, respectively.