Thousands of supporters of Russia’s jailed opposition figure Alexei Navalny rallied in Moscow and other cities on Saturday, answering his call for nationwide protests against President Vladimir Putin’s rule.
Demonstrators gathered at Moscow’s central Pushkin Square and nearby streets despite a heavy police presence and detentions, holding signs that read “Russia will be free” and chanting “Putin is a thief.”
Some then marched towards the Kremlin, while others blocked Tverskaya Street, the Russian capital’s main thoroughfare.
Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny’s wife, wrote on Instagram that she had been detained at the Moscow rally, sharing a photo from inside a police van.
More than 350 people were detained in protests in the Far East and Siberia, according to the arrests-monitoring group OVD-Info.
Several thousand people turned out for a protest in Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, and demonstrations took place in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok, the island city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, and the country’s third-largest city of Novosibirsk, among other locations.
Thirteen people were reported arrested at the protest in Yakutsk, a city in eastern Siberia where the temperature was -50 Celsius (-58 Fahrenheit).
At least 2,000 of the prominent political activist’s supporters gathered in Russia’s second city Saint Petersburg, chanting “Putin is a thief” and “freedom.”
— Mike Eckel (@Mike_Eckel) January 23, 2021
Navalny, 44, called on his allies to take to the streets after he was detained in a Moscow airport last weekend. He was arrested moments after arriving from Germany, where he had been flown in August to recover from a near-fatal poisoning with the Soviet-designed nerve agent Novichok.
Moscow police, which the opposition says downplays turnout at anti-government demonstrations, reported that around 4,000 people had gathered in the center of the capital.
Some protesters threw snowballs at heavily armed riot police, who responded by drawing their batons on the demonstrators.
Nadezhda Golova, a 70-year-old protester, said she joined the protests because of the standard of living in Russia, complaining that only police are looked after.
“There is no work, so people are leaving,” she said.
Lyubov Sobol, a prominent aide to Navalny who was fined this week for calling on Russians to protest Saturday, was detained on Pushkin Square.
Several of Navalny’s aides were handed short jail terms and prison sentences on the eve of the protest for urging people to take to the streets.
This week Navalny released a video investigation alleging that Putin was the owner of a palatial property on the Black Sea worth more than $1 billion.
The video report has been viewed more than 66 million times.