Russian women form human chain following crackdown on Navalny protest
Hundreds of women formed a “solidarity chain” in central Moscow on Sunday to support the wife of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, Yulia and women victims of political repression.
Valentine’s Day protest follows weeks of harsh police repression during the pro-Navalny protests and was inspired by last summer’s protests in neighboring Belarus, where women form human shackles after thousands of people were beaten and detained.
Women of all ages lined up along Old Arbat Street, a tourist pedestrian street in the shadow of the Foreign Office, holding a long white ribbon. Crowd-monitoring NGO White Counter estimated that at least 230 people showed up to protest.
In a nod to the Red dress Navalnaya appeared in court as her husband was sentenced to nearly three years in prison on February 2, protesters were holding red flowers, wearing red scarves and hats, and pinning red paper hearts to their jackets.
Standing in front of a snow-capped statue of the poet Alexander Pushkin and his wife Natalia in temperatures of minus 15 degrees Celsius, they chanted slogans such as “Love is stronger than fear” and “Freedom for political prisoners” .
“It’s painful to see that [protesters] were beaten and arrested for doing nothing and the government instills fear in us, ”said Oksana Klochkova, 28, a Navalny supporter who also attended recent protests that called for his release and criticized the president Vladimir Poutine.
Some held up photos of women threatened with jail for their activism, including Anastasia Shevchenko, who could serve a five-year sentence for her involvement in Open Russia, a pro-democracy group called an “undesirable” organization by the government.
The detention and imprisonment of Navalny after returning from Germany, where he was recovering from poisoning in Novichok, sparked mass protests across the country on January 23, January 31 and February 2 that saw more than 10,000 inmates.
Meanwhile, allies of Navalny Lyubov Sobol, Kira Yarmysh and Anastasia Vasilyeva as well as members of Pussy Riot Maria Alyokhina and Lucy Shtein were accused by violating coronavirus-related bans on mass gatherings by promoting the January 23 protest. Their arrests helped spark Sunday’s protests.
Although the “chain of solidarity” is not permitted, police presence was non-existent compared to previous pro-Navalny protests, where hundreds of heavily armored riot police were deployed to quell protests.
Many women present Sunday had attended these demonstrations and seen their friends arrested. Others, like Albina, 68, were motivated to protest for the first time after seeing the crackdown on peaceful protesters.
“A lot of my acquaintances have been arrested,” said Katya, 19, who attended the rally on January 23. “Some were fined and some were fined even though they didn’t violate the social order, they didn’t shout, they just stood together with everyone.… I’m here to show that there are many of us, that we are one and that we can change something. ”
A similar solidarity chain was held in St. Petersburg with around 70 protesters, locals said the news.
The Moscow event was not without heckles, notably two men wearing fake NATO helmets and carrying inflatable machine guns and activists of a nationalist group. Since the poisoning of Navalny in August 2020, the Kremlin and state media have accused him of being a Western puppet aimed at “destabilizing” Russia from within.
The women-led “solidarity chain” arrived hours before protests called by the Navalny team asking supporters to wield mobile phone flashlights in residential yards. The new tactic is an effort to avoid direct confrontations with riot police that had discouraged many from participating in further protests.
Klochkova said she sees these Belarusian-style protest tactics as the best way forward for the opposition now that Navalny has been jailed.
“I think the recent trend of protest shows that more and more people are interested in politics and getting involved,” she said.
When asked if she was afraid to take to the streets again after the crackdown, Klochkova said she had not been afraid “for a long time”.
“If we let fear take over, the government will crush us. We must fight for our freedom because it will not only be given to us.