Protesters in Moscow have chanted “Send Putin to the trenches” amid widespread disapproval of Russia’s biggest conscription campaign since World War II.
In the hours after President Vladimir Putin ordered the partial mobilization of reservists on Wednesday, rare protests were reported across the country that led to nearly 1,200 arrests.
Shortly after Putin’s address, Russian media reported an increase in demand for plane tickets abroad as some draft-age. Men headed for the border.
In the capital Moscow, hundreds of people gathered on the central Stary Arbat street amid a heavy police presence. Protesters can be seen chanting “no war”, “send Putin to the trenches” and “let our children live” in videos posted on social media.
Putin’s risky order follows a humiliating setback to his troops nearly seven months after invading Ukraine.
The first such call-up in decades raised tensions with Ukraine’s Western supporters, who saw it as an act of weakness and desperation.
Liz Truss accused Putin of “sabre rattling” when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly, adding that the Russian president was trying hard to justify the “catastrophic failure” in Ukraine.
The total number of reserves to be called up could be as high as 300,000, officials said.
Despite Russia’s draconian laws against criticizing the military and the war, protesters outraged by the mobilization overcame the fear of arrest to stage protests in cities across the country.
According to the independent Russian human rights group OVD-Info, around 1,200 Russians were arrested in anti-war demonstrations in cities including Moscow and St. Petersburg.
As the protest call circulated online, the Moscow prosecutor’s office warned that organizing or participating in such actions could lead to up to 15 years in prison.
The Associated Press news agency reported at least a dozen arrests in the first 15 minutes of the overnight protests in the capital.
“I am not afraid of anything. The most valuable thing they can take from us is the life of our children. I will not give them my child’s life,” said one Muscovite, who declined to give his name.
Asked if protesting would help, she said: “It won’t help, but it is my civic duty to express my views. No to war!”
In Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, police bussed some of the 40 protesters detained at an anti-war rally. A woman in a wheelchair shouted, referring to the Russian president: “God bald ‘nut job’. He’s going to drop a bomb on us, and we’re all still protecting him. I have said enough.”