Massive Protests Rock Russia While Thousands Flee To Escape Being Called Up To Fight In Ukraine


No fewer than 1,000 Protesters have been arrested by Russian police for rallying against the Kremlin’s decision to call up thousands of extra troops to fight in Ukraine, human rights group OVD-Info has said.

Washington Post reports that the largest numbers were in St Petersburg and Moscow, while dozens were held in Irkutsk and other Siberian cities, and Yekaterinburg.

Russia’s president earlier ordered a partial mobilisation, meaning some 300,000 military reservists – but not conscripts – will be drafted to bolster Russia’s forces who have suffered recent battlefield reverses in Ukraine.

The men, mostly reservists under 35 who served in the army and have junior military ranks, were handed written notices in their offices or at their homes. In some cases, they had their identity documents checked on the street and were told to appear for a health check. Others got orders by telephone.

Anxious relatives, meanwhile, began searching for ways to flee the country or otherwise avoid their loved ones being called for service. Flights to the few cities abroad still offering direct service to Russia — most destinations have been cut off by sanctions — were suddenly sold out.

The move came a day after occupied areas of Ukraine announced snap referendums on joining Russia.

And in remarks condemned by Ukraine and its allies, Putin stressed that he would use “all available means” to protect Russian territory, implying this could involve nuclear weapons.

US President Joe Biden accused Russia of making “reckless” and “irresponsible” threats to use nuclear weapons.

However, the Moscow prosecutor’s office on Wednesday warned that calls on the internet to join unauthorised street protests, or participation in them, could incur up to 15 years in jail.

According to the statement, they could be prosecuted under laws against discrediting the armed forces, spreading “fake news” about Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, or encouraging minors to protest.

Russia’s tough penalties for spreading “disinformation” about the Ukraine war and police harassment of anti-Putin activists have made public anti-war protests rare.

But the anti-war opposition group Vesna called for widespread protests, and on Telegram it reported many arrests across Russia. A video clip from Yekaterinburg showed police violently bundling protesters into a bus.

Vesna called its action “no to mogilisation” – a play on words, because “mogila” in Russian means grave.

Pavel Chikov, a lawyer for the Russian human rights group Agora, said Agora had received 6,000 inquiries to its hotline since Tuesday morning, from Russians wanting information about soldiers’ rights.

Meanwhile, flights to popular destinations such as Istanbul in Turkey and Yerevan in Armenia were snapped up, and prices for remaining seats skyrocketed.

The price for flights from Moscow to Istanbul or Dubai reached as high as 9,200 euros (NZ$15,000) for a one-way economy class fare following Putin’s announcement, the Associated Press reports.