More than 1,300 people were arrested at demonstrations across Russia against President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of a partial mobilization of civilians to fight in Ukraine, a police monitoring group said on Wednesday.
The monitoring group OVD-Info counted at least 1,332 people detained at rallies in 38 different cities across the country after Putin’s morning address to the nation.
The protests were the largest in Russia since the demonstrations that erupted following Moscow’s announcement of military intervention in Ukraine in February.
AFP reporters in the center of the Russian capital, Moscow, said at least 50 people were detained by police in riot gear on the main shopping street.
In Russia’s former imperial capital, St. Petersburg, AFP reporters saw police surround a small group of protesters and detain them one by one, loading them onto a bus.
Demonstrators chanted “No mobilization!”
“Everyone is scared. I’m for peace and I don’t want to shoot. But going out now is very dangerous, otherwise there would be many more people,” said protester Vasily Fedorov, a student wearing a pacifism symbol on his chest.
“I went to the rally planning to participate, but it seems they have already arrested everyone. This regime has condemned itself and is destroying its youth,” said Alexei, a 60-year-old resident who declined to give his last name.
“Why do you serve Putin, a man who has been in power for 20 years!” a young protester shouted at a police officer.
“I came to say that I am against war and mobilization,” Oksana Sidorenko, a student, told AFP.
“Why are they deciding my future for me? I’m afraid for myself, for my brother,” she added.
Alina Skvortsova, 20, said she hoped Russians would soon understand the nature of the Kremlin’s offensive in neighboring Ukraine.
“As soon as they really understand, they will go out into the street, despite the fear,” she said.
The Interfax news agency quoted the Russian Interior Ministry as canceling attempts to “organize unauthorized gatherings.”
All demonstrations were stopped, and those who committed “offences” were arrested by the police and taken to investigation and prosecution, it added.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Wednesday that Russia would initially mobilize around 300,000 reservists, after Putin warned Moscow in a televised address that he would use all available military assets in Ukraine.
Flights from Russia were almost fully booked this week, data from airlines and travel agencies showed on Wednesday, in an apparent exodus of people unwilling to join the conflict.