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Over 3,000 detained in Russia for protesting against Ukraine invasion

Anti-war demonstrations held in 34 cities and petitions garner hundreds of thousands of signatures, as official rhetoric against dissent grows more harsh

Police detain a demonstrator during an action against Russia's attack on Ukraine in St. Petersburg, Russia, February 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)
Police detain a demonstrator during an action against Russia's attack on Ukraine in St. Petersburg, Russia, February 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

More than 3,000 Russians have been detained for holding anti-war protests since President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine three days ago, an independent monitor said on Saturday.

“In the last 3 days, at least 3,052 people were arrested,” the independent OVD-info monitor that keeps tracks of arrests during protests said.

It said 467 people were arrested in 34 cities on Saturday alone, including 200 protesters in Moscow.

More and more Russians spoke out Saturday against the invasion, even as the government’s official rhetoric grew increasingly harsher.

Street protests, albeit small, resumed in Moscow, the second-largest city of St. Petersburg and other Russian cities for the third straight day, with people taking to the streets despite mass detentions on Thursday and Friday.

Open letters condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine kept pouring in, too. More than 6,000 medical workers put their names under one on Saturday; over 3,400 architects and engineers endorsed another while 500 teachers signed a third one.

Similar letters by journalists, municipal council members, cultural figures and other professional groups have been making the rounds in Russia since Thursday.

Demonstrators shout slogans in St. Petersburg, Russia, February 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

A prominent contemporary art museum in Moscow called Garage announced Saturday it was halting its work on exhibitions and postponing them “until the human and political tragedy that is unfolding in Ukraine has ceased.”

“We cannot support the illusion of normality when such events are taking place,” the statement by the museum said. “We see ourselves as part of a wider world that is not divided by war.”

An online petition to stop the attack on Ukraine, launched shortly after it started on Thursday morning, garnered over 780,000 signatures by Saturday evening, making it one of the most supported online petitions in Russia in recent years.

Statements decrying the invasion even came from some parliament members, who earlier this week voted to recognize the independence of two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, a move that preceded the Russian assault. Two lawmakers from the Communist Party, which usually toes the Kremlin’s line, spoke out against the hostilities on social media.

Oleg Smolin said he “was shocked” when the attack started and “was convinced that military force should be used in politics only as a last resort.” His fellow lawmaker Mikhail Matveyev said “the war must be immediately stopped” and that he voted for “Russia becoming a shield against the bombing of Donbas, not for the bombing of Kyiv.”

A couple stand and embrace during a gathering in St. Petersburg, Russia, February 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

Russian authorities, meanwhile, took a harsher stance toward those denouncing the invasion, both at home and abroad.

Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council chaired by Putin, said Moscow may respond to Western sanctions by opting out of the last nuclear arms deal with the US, cutting diplomatic ties with Western nations and freezing their assets.

He also warned that Moscow could restore the death penalty after Russia was removed from Europe’s top rights group — a chilling statement that shocked human rights activists in a country that has had a moratorium on capital punishment since August 1996.

Eva Merkacheva, a member of the Kremlin human rights council, deplored it as a “catastrophe” and a “return to the Middle Ages.”

Cracking down on critics at home, Russian authorities demanded that top independent news outlets take down stories about the fighting in Ukraine that deviated from the official government line.

Russia’s state communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor, charged that reports about “Russian armed forces firing at Ukrainian cities and the death of civilians in Ukraine as a result of the actions of the Russian army, as well as materials in which the ongoing operation is called ‘an attack,’ ‘an invasion,’ or ‘a declaration of war’” were untrue and demanded that the outlets take them down or face steep fines and restrictions.

On Friday, the watchdog also announced “partial restrictions” on access to Facebook in response to the platform limiting the accounts of several Kremlin-backed media.

On Saturday, Russian internet users reported problems with accessing Facebook and Twitter, both of which have played a major role in amplifying dissent in Russia in recent years.

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