Widespread Detentions at Central Moscow Protest:
Over two dozen individuals, predominantly journalists, faced detention during a protest in central Moscow on Saturday.
The gathering was organized by The Way Home, a campaign group advocating for the return of Russian servicemen mobilized to fight in Ukraine.
The demonstration unfolded as wives and relatives of these reservists assembled at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, just outside the Kremlin walls.
Background on Mobilization and Unpopularity:
The protest marked 500 days since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order for a ‘partial mobilization’ of up to 300,000 reservists in September 2022, a move triggered by battlefield setbacks in Moscow’s war against Ukraine.
This mobilization faced widespread disapproval, prompting hundreds of thousands to flee abroad to evade the draft.
Relatives of reservists, particularly wives, have been actively campaigning for the discharge of their loved ones and their replacement with contract soldiers.
The Way Home’s Call for Unity:
The Way Home, the organizing group behind the protest, utilized platforms like Telegram to call for the participation of ‘wives, mothers, sisters, and children’ of reservists from across Russia.
Their goal was to ‘demonstrate (their) unity’ and voice their plea for the return of their family members.
The group expressed a collective desire for their husbands to come back alive.
Voices of Protesters:
During the demonstration, one protester, identified only as Antonina, emphasized the emotional toll of separation and her reluctance to live without her husband.
She insisted that she did not seek compensation from the government if her husband were killed, expressing a willingness to either go to a convent or follow him.
Repression and Release of Demonstrators:
Reports from independent Russian news outlets and monitoring organizations indicated that 27 people, mostly journalists, were detained during the protest.
Although most were later released, one male protester, Yaroslav Ryazanov, remained in detention on Saturday evening.
The Moscow prosecutor’s office had issued warnings against participation in ‘unauthorized mass events.’
Military’s Response and Public Backlash:
Faced with public discontent, the Russian military, since late 2022, has increased efforts to bolster forces in Ukraine by enlisting more volunteers.
However, the wives’ and relatives’ calls for bringing mobilized reservists home have been met with resistance from government-controlled media and accusations from pro-Kremlin politicians labeling them as Western stooges.
Protesters Reject Accusations:
Protesters vehemently rejected accusations of being influenced by Western entities.
Maria Andreyeva, a participant whose husband and brother are fighting in Ukraine, conveyed the sentiment that the conflict is a great tragedy between two brotherly peoples.
She emphasized that almost every Russian has relatives in Ukraine, making it a deeply personal and painful situation.
Protest Ahead of Presidential Election:
Occurring just weeks before the Russian presidential election scheduled for March 15-17, the demonstration carried additional significance.
With President Putin expected to secure victory, the protesters, after laying flowers at the monument, proceeded to Putin’s campaign headquarters to present their demands directly.
Public Figures Joining the Cause:
Last month, another presidential hopeful, Boris Nadezhdin, who opposes the war in Ukraine, met with soldiers’ relatives advocating for their return.
He criticized the Kremlin’s decision to keep them in the ranks for the duration of the ongoing conflict, emphasizing the need for humane treatment of those fulfilling their duties.
The evolving situation underscores the complex dynamics surrounding the mobilization, the impact on families, and the broader implications in the context of the upcoming presidential election.