Zelensky Urges Russian Soldiers to Surrender as Moscow Broadens War

Credit…Associated Press
Credit…Associated Press
Credit…Associated Press

Opponents of Vladimir V. Putin’s call-up that could sweep 300,000 civilians into military service continued to show their disapproval across Russia on Saturday, with at least 745 people detained, according to OVD-Info, a human rights watchdog that monitors police activity.

Members of the Vesna, or Spring, movement, who called for the protests on Saturday under the slogan “No Mobilization to the Grave,” had their homes searched in St. Petersburg, as did several activists and journalists working for independent news media outlets. Such protests are effectively criminalized in Russia, and video on social media networks depicted riot police beating demonstrators in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other large cities including Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude, Tomsk, Chita, Khabarovsk and Saratov.

In the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, riot police moved in on a group of protesters who were holding hands in a circle and singing an antiwar song popularized in the 1960s called “May There Always Be Sunshine.” About 70 people there were detained. In Tomsk, a man stopped traffic as he screamed, “A peaceful life for our children” and “Don’t watch television,” a reference to the stream of propaganda on state networks. He was arrested within minutes.

In the Siberian city of Omsk, conscripts brawled with police officers, according to footage that has been widely shared on social networks. Thousands of men already have been mobilized across Russia in a chaotic process that is happening for the first time since World War II. The policy, announced on Wednesday by Mr. Putin, has generated resistance from urban activists and rural ethnic minority communities that had previously tried to stay out of politics.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine encouraged the protesters directly, speaking in Russian during his nightly address on Saturday. “Russian commanders do not care about the lives of Russians — they just need to replenish the empty spaces left by the dead, wounded, those who fled or the Russian soldiers that were captured,” he said, adding, “The key moment has come for you: Right now it is being decided whether your life will end or not.”

Fears of conscription increased after independent news outlets, including Meduza and Novaya Gazeta, reported that sources close to the Kremlin had told them that the administration planned to mobilize up to 1.2 million people.

Thousands more have fled since then, and many flights to destinations where Russians are not required to have a visa have sold out. Border crossings with Finland and Georgia are clogged with cars.

Russians are assembling to protest despite a warning from the general prosecutor’s office, issued on Wednesday, that unsanctioned protests could result in punishment of up to 15 years of prison for “spreading false information” about the military, which became a criminal offense in March.

Despite the Kremlin’s crackdown on dissent, people flooded the streets in protest. More than 1,300 demonstrators were detained on Wednesday, according to OVD-Info, while several protests were reported on Thursday, including in Dagestan, an impoverished southern region where anti-draft protesters blocked a federal highway.

Russian authorities have discovered a novel way to try to quell the protests: by giving detained male demonstrators draft summonses. Several protesters apprehended on Wednesday told The New York Times they had been handed notices during their detention.

Margarita Simonyan, the editor of the state-run television network RT, wrote on Twitter that at least 200 summonses had been issued this way so far, with more being prepared. Referencing a Russian city bordering Ukraine, she wrote, “Better them than the Teacher of the Year from Pskov, if you ask me.”

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