Moscow Russia’s probably youngest anti-war demonstrator has obviously overslept his own arrest. The few-month-old baby lies wrapped up in his pram, surrounded by several police officers. His mother came with the baby to a rally in the Tuva region against the partial mobilization ordered by Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin.
Now she is sitting in a prisoner van and the officials seem visibly overwhelmed as to what to do with the child. The video of the bizarre arrest has been widely shared on social networks in recent days. And elsewhere, too, women in particular are posing particular challenges to Russia’s security apparatus these days.
Putin wants to send around 300,000 reservists to the front in Ukraine in order to hold areas that have just been annexed there, or in some cases even to conquer them in the first place. The only problem is that many Russians don’t see why they should sacrifice their lives for a war that they never wanted and which, from the Kremlin’s point of view, is anything but going according to plan. Because word has gotten that men who are arrested at the police station are immediately threatened with being called up, it is now mostly women who are on the streets.
In Dagestan in the Caucasus, angry mothers, sisters and wives of recruits yell at a police officer until he runs away. In Makhachkala, the capital of the predominantly Muslim region, a woman explains to a man in uniform that nobody is threatening Russia – quite the opposite: Russia has invaded Ukraine. When he tries to object, the surrounding demonstrators drown him out with a chant: “No to war! No to war!” This policeman also leaves without having achieved anything.
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Often, however, the demonstrating women – just like men – are brutally arrested, dragged across the floor to the police bus, and beaten. According to the civil rights group OVD-Info, more than 70 percent of those arrested were women in the last major protests across the country. “The protest now has a clearly female face,” the statement said.
At a rally in the Siberian region of Yakutia, a crowd of women who surrounded several police officers while dancing called out: “No to genocide!” Because: around two weeks after the start of the mobilization, it became apparent that the Russian regions were by no means evenly distributed. Areas in which many ethnic minorities live are particularly hard hit, as research by the Russian media shows.
The Kremlin’s opponents have hopes for women
In Yakutia, for example, almost 1.7 percent of conscript men are said to be affected by forced conscription for military service – almost twice as many as in Kursk in western Russia. In some villages it is said to have hit almost every sixth person. “I look at the figures for mobilization by region and cannot explain the disparity,” writes former Yakutsk mayor Sardana Avksentieva in an open letter.
Buryatia, also in Siberia, is one of the regions from which the first videos of men being transported to the front appeared just a few hours after Putin’s televised speech at the end of September. Activists like those of the Instagram account “Asians of Russia” speak of “ethnic cleansing” and the systematic extermination of indigenous peoples.
The anger is particularly high there, because these people, who are repeatedly exposed to the racism of ethnic Russians, understand even less than others why they should die for Putin. Some observers believe that the Kremlin chief’s mobilization could unintentionally fuel social tensions and instability in his country.
But far beyond Buryatia, Yakutia and Dagestan, the hopes of many Kremlin opponents for political change in Russia now lie with women. “For decades, women in Russia have gotten into the habit of obeying, remaining silent and not contradicting,” said Kira Jarmysch, spokeswoman for the imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in a video message. “But now they’ve risen to protect their men and aren’t afraid to call a spade a spade.”
“I would like to address all women who watch this video: resist,” says Jarmysch. “This is no longer an alien fight. It’s ours. Don’t allow Putin to take away your sons, husbands and fathers.”
This is how the Handelsblatt reports on the war in Ukraine:
And Jarmysch is not the only one appealing. “We must do everything to ensure that the men of Russia stay with us,” says the women’s organization “Soft Strength”. Representatives of the “soldiers’ mothers”, who became famous during the Chechen war in the early 2000s, are now giving well-received interviews again.
At the same time, many women still endure the loss of their loved ones in silence. Her father, her brother and her partner were all drafted, says the employee of a Moscow beauty salon, visibly dejected.
She would have liked the men to at least try to flee abroad, says the young woman. But in her family there is a great sense of duty towards the military. “It says: If you are called, you have to go.” When asked what her relatives are fighting for now, she answers in a shaky voice: “I don’t know. I dont know…”
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