War in Ukraine has been ongoing for six weeks. Hundreds of civilians have died since and over a thousand have been injured. More than 3 million people have been forced to flee their homes. However, civilians protest for peace are ongoing in many countries worldwide – including Russia, despite the constant threat of punishment and prison sentences.
Even before the invasion, a grand part of Russia’s population was against a possible war in its neighbouring country, Ukraine. Since the beginning of the war, thousands of civilians have been protesting for peace in public. On the first day of the invasion alone, demonstrations took place in 53 different cities across Russia. Thousands took to the streets for peace. However, repression was not long in coming. More than 1,700 Russians were arrested that day, the number now having risen to over 13,000.
An activist in Moscow describes the situation as terrible:
“It’s very painful for me and it’s hard for me to speak and to think these days. It’s difficult to put into words when you realize that your country, your future and your life are heading towards an abyss.”
Despite the risk of imprisonment, thousands of people have taken to the streets all over the country: “The absolute majority are young people. The others do not show their stance publicly. According to polls, about 40 percent of Russians do not support the war in Ukraine. However, over the years, the majority have developed the opinion that nothing depends on them anyway and that their vote has no effect. It is possible that this situation changes when people feel the consequences”, he says.
According to the non-governmental research institute Levada Center, about 60 percent of Muscovites are against the Russian military operation in Ukraine. In rural regions, on the other hand, roughly 70 percent support Putin’s policy. As reported by the researchers, this phenomenon is due to the fact that the majority of Russia’s rural population gets their information from TV, which is regulated by the State. The biggest fear of 53 percent of the Russian population is war. This figure has risen from 37 percent in 2017. Currently, only the fear of illnesses of one’s children or loved ones is bigger (56 percent).
Censorship: The word “war” gets banned in Russia
Russian authorities warn of “unauthorized protests” and threaten with criminal proceedings. Moreover, on March 4, a censorship law came into force, according to which “wrong news” about the Russian military as well as its “discretization” is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Among other things, the operation in Ukraine must not be described as a “war”. Officially, it is declared a “special military operation”. Still, thousands of civilians protest for peace.
In mid-March, for example, a picture of Russian journalist Marina Owsjannikowa went around the world. Right in the middle of the news broadcast on state television, she held up an anti-war poster in the background holding the message “Stop the war. Don’t believe the propaganda. You are being lied to.”. Owsjannikowa was arrested immediately and sentenced to a fine of 30,000 rubles (226 euros) on the next day. According to her lawyer, she now faces charges under the new media law and thus a prison sentence of several years.
1.2 million petitioning for peace
The opposition party named “Apple” has published a petition censoring the word “war” in it in order to avoid prosecution. It has been signed by over 87,000 people so far. Meanwhile, 1.2 million have signed the Russian petition “Stop the war in Ukraine” on Change.org. The petition demands “an immediate ceasefire on the side of the Russian armed forces and their immediate withdrawal from the territory of the sovereign state of Ukraine” and calls for support for the anti-war movement.
Students, graduates as well as staff of Moscow State University – Russia’s oldest university – have written an open letter too. “War is the most brutal act of inhumanity, which, as we have learned in our schools and universities, must never be repeated”, they write in their plea, which has been signed over 7,500 times. For protection against criminal prosecution, the list of names of those who signed is only available on request and not open to the public.
The open letter reads as follows:
Community of the Lomonosov Moscow State University Against the War
We, students, doctoral students, lecturers, staff and graduates of Russia’s oldest university, the Lomonosov State University in Moscow, strongly condemn the war that our country has unleashed in Ukraine.
Russia and our parents have given us a solid education, the true value of which is our ability to critically assess what is happening around us, to weigh arguments, to listen to each other and to be committed to the truth – scientifically and humanistically. We know how to call a spade a spade, and we cannot stand by and watch.
Actions on behalf of the Russian Federation, referred to by its leadership as a “special military operation”, are war, and in this situation there is no room for any euphemisms or excuses. War is violence, brutality, death, loss of loved ones, powerlessness and fear, which cannot be justified by any purpose.
War is the most brutal act of inhumanity which, as we have learned in our schools and universities, must never be repeated. The values of sanctity of human life, humanism, diplomacy and peaceful settlement of differences that we learned at university were trampled underfoot and thrown away in the blink of an eye when Russia treacherously invaded Ukraine.
Since the invasion of Ukraine by the armed forces of the Russian Federation, the lives of millions of Ukrainians have been under threat each and every hour.
We express our support for the people in Ukraine and strongly condemn the war that Russia has unleashed against Ukrainians.
As graduates of Russia’s oldest university we know that the losses suffered in six days of bloody war – primarily human, but also social, economic and cultural – are irreparable. We further know that war is a humanitarian catastrophe, but we cannot imagine the severity of the wound that we, as the Russian people, are inflicting on the people of Ukraine and on ourselves right now.
We call on the Russian leadership to cease fire immediately, to leave the territory of the sovereign state of Ukraine and to end this shameful war.
We call on all citizens of Russia who care about its future to join the peace movement.
We are against the war!