December 5, 2023

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Anastasia began her day writing an anti-war letter and posting it on the wall at the entrance to her apartment in the industrial city of Perm in the Urals.

“Don’t believe the propaganda you see on TV, read the independent media!” One reads. Another says, “Violence and death have always been with us for three months – take care of yourself.”

The 31-year-old teacher, who asked to be identified only by her first name out of fear for her security, said she wanted “a safe and simple way to get the message across”.

“I couldn’t do something so massive and public,” she told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “I want to get people to think. And I think we should influence anywhere and in any way we can.”

Despite intense government suppression of such acts of protest, some Russians insisted on speaking out against the invasion – even in the simplest ways.

Some have paid a heavy price. In the early winter days of the invasion in February, the authorities moved quickly to quell the demonstrations, arresting people who marched or even carried blank banners or other slanted references to the conflict. Critical media outlets were closed as the government sought to control the narrative. President Vladimir Putin or commentators singled out political opponents on state television.

Measures sanctioned by lawmakers prohibited the dissemination of “false information” about what the Kremlin called a “special military operation” and disparagement of the military, using it against anyone who spoke out against the attack or spoke of the atrocities of which Russian forces were allegedly committed.

As the war drags on in the weak days of the Russian summer, some like Anastasia feel guilty that they cannot do more to oppose the invasion, even under the constraints of new laws.

When Russian troops arrived in Ukraine on February 24, Anastasia said that her first idea was to sell all her property and move abroad, but soon changed her mind.

“It’s my country, so why should I leave?” She told The Associated Press. “I understood that I needed to stay and create something to help out from here.”

Sergei Besov, a typist and artist from Moscow, also felt that he could not be silent. Even before the invasion, the 45-year-old was making posters reflecting the political landscape and pasting them around the capital.

When the Russians voted two years ago on constitutional amendments allowing Putin to seek two more terms after 2024, Bisov used his old woodblock Cyrillic printing press and old red ink to print posters that simply said “against.”

During the 2020 unrest in Belarus over the disputed presidential election and the ensuing crackdown against protesters, he made posters saying “freedom” in Belarusian.

After the invasion of Ukraine, his project, Partisan Press, began making posters saying “No to War” – the main anti-war slogan. Poster video being printed became popular on Instagram, and the demand for copies was so great that they were distributed free of charge.

Bessov said that after some of his posters were used at a demonstration in Red Square and some of the people who were displaying it were arrested, it became clear that the police “will inevitably come to us.”

They appeared when Besov was not around, and two of his employees were accused of participating in an unauthorized rally by printing the poster used on it.

He said the case has been going on for more than three months, causing them all a lot of stress about whether and to what extent they will be punished.

Bessoff stopped printing “No to War” posters and went for more subtle messages like “Fear is no excuse for doing nothing.”

He considers it important to keep talking.

“The problem is we don’t know where to draw the lines,” Bessoff said. “It is known that they can sue you for certain things, but some manage to fly under the radar. Where is that line? It is really bad and really difficult.”

Sasha Skochilenko, a 31-year-old artist and musician in Saint Petersburg, fails to stay under the radar and faces dire consequences for what she thought was a relatively safe way to spread the word about the horrors of war: She was arrested for exchanging five price tags in a supermarket with small ones containing slogans. anti-war.

The Russian army bombed an art school in Mariupol. About 400 people were hiding in it from the bombing.”

Russian conscripts are sent to Ukraine. Another said.

Her partner, Sofia Subbotina, said that Skolchenko was really affected by the war.

“She had friends in Kyiv who were sheltering in the subway and they called her, and they talked about the horror that was happening there,” Subbotina told the Associated Press.

In 2020, Skochilenko studied acting and filmmaking at a children’s camp in Ukraine, worried about the impact of the conflict on her former students.

“She was really afraid for these children, that their lives were in danger because of the war, that bombs were falling on them, and she couldn’t be silent,” Subbotina said.

Skochelenko faces up to 10 years in prison for spreading false information about the Russian military.

“It was a shock to us that they filed a criminal case, and one that carries a brutal prison sentence of 5 to 10 years,” Subbotina said. “In our country, shorter sentences are given for murder.”


Associated Press contributing writer Francesca Ebel.

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