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The Ukrainian people have repeatedly shown awe-inspiring resolve and heroism in the face of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of their country. The Russian government rightfully has been vilified for its objectively villainous actions in attacking a neighbor.
Many Russian people, however, have also shown remarkable bravery by standing up to their own government. As Russians continue to protest Putin’s regime and actions, such as his recent “partial mobilization” of as many as 300,000 more men to fight in Ukraine, it is perhaps clearer than ever that an autocratic government, not the Russian people, is at war with Ukraine.
So far, it seems that Putin’s push to mobilize more reserves for his stagnant but brutal invasion has backfired. If anything, he seems to have mobilized stronger domestic opposition. Protests have taken root, Russian men have sought ways to leave the country and avoid conscription into the military, and the line of traffic heading for the Georgian border even grew so long that it could be seen from space.
Protests, which have occurred at various points throughout the 7-month long Ukraine invasion, have intensified across Russia since Putin’s recent announcement. Anti-war demonstrations have occurred, and so have actual confrontation with security forces, as Russians understanbly bristle at the notion of continuing to bear the burden (at least domestically) of their government’s imperial-like reach into Ukraine.
As it turns out, many Russians aren’t thrilled about sending their family members to die in a war of Putin’s making, even if he refuses to call it a war. Often the protests have been led by Russian women.
“I haven’t heard the word ‘war’ out of Putin’s mouth. And if there’s no war then how can we have a mobilization?” retired Russian professor Natalya Zurina told NPR recently at a protest in Moscow. “He’s calling up our young boys to die for nothing. I just couldn’t stay home.”
That same NPR report contained details that are both outrageous and unsurprising glimpses into an authoritarian country in the midst of a state-manufactured conflict. Protesters and others were arrested, seemingly at random, and video shows security forces attacking a protestor while he was on the ground. In a particularly haunting instance, a young man in Moscow was telling NPR about Putin’s falsehoods and escalation of the conflict, only to be quickly taken away by troops.
There is a steep price to pay for dissent in Russia, and it is only getting steeper with the government approving a new law that punishes refusal to serve in the military with up to 10 years in prison. According to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as of Sept. 26, over 2,300 demonstrators had been arrested across Russia since last Wednesday.
With this backdrop, it is even more impressive to see individual Russians stand against war and stand up to Putin’s government.
“I’m not afraid of anything. The most valuable thing that they can take from us is the life of our children. I won’t give them [the] life of my child,” a woman told the Associated Press in Moscow, declining to give her name.
“It won’t help,” she said when asked about the effectiveness of the protests. “But it’s my civic duty to express my stance. No to war!”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told CBS News on Sunday that Putin’s attempt to mobilize more troops proves that the Russian leader “knows that he’s losing the war.” To us, the response to that order shows Putin is not only losing the war, but he may also be losing the Russian people.