Russian Diaspora Finds Ways to Protest Putin’s War

Russians around the world took to the streets of more than 100 cities to voice their opposition to the grueling war initiated by the Kremlin against Ukraine a year ago, with rallies on Sunday culminating four days of protests.

The main point of the protests was twofold, participants said: to express solidarity with Ukraine for the widespread death and destruction and to underscore that not all Russians support President Vladimir V. Putin’s war.

“I think most Russians living abroad are against the war,” said Roman Shor, 34, a software engineer from the former Soviet republic of Moldova, who attended the protest in Santa Monica, Calif., with his wife amid scattered showers and unusually cold temperatures.

“It is good to be together somehow during this time, to see that there are lots of people who have the same ideology, who don’t support violence, who don’t support imperialism.”

The protests were not particularly large, with hundreds turning out in the main cities where Russian exiles have settled since the war began — Tbilisi, Georgia; Vilnius, Lithuania; Berlin; Barcelona; Paris; and London. Most others were more modest, provoking some grumbling among participants about apathy, especially since parallel rallies by Ukrainians were larger.

Other protests in Europe and North America called for a cease-fire and an end to supplying weapons to Ukraine.

Analysts and organizers of the Russian diaspora’s protests considered their global reach — in about 45 countries total and about 120 cities including Buenos Aires, Chicago, Melbourne and Milan — a sign that the notoriously fractious opposition was capable of working together.

“Any Russian protest is important,” said Abbas Gallyamov, a political analyst and former Kremlin speechwriter. “Putin is doing his best trying to convince Russians that they all support him, so any proof that it is not true will hamper his game.

“If protests are numerous enough, the undecideds in Russia — and they are the majority — will shift toward the opposition.”

Not everyone was that optimistic, especially about the ability of protests outside Russia to sway events inside the country.

“These demonstrations cannot influence the situation in Russia right now, but it can influence the future of the country,” said Arkadiy E. Yankovskiy, 64, who was a member of the national Parliament, or Duma, from 1995 to 1999.

Mr. Yankovskiy, part of a group of former elected officials working to create a united opposition movement, spoke on the sidelines of a rally outside the United Nations’ headquarters in New York on Friday.

“These groups are starting to talk to each other because they sense the moment is coming closer when the power struggle will be real,” he said.

There were also protests in Russia, mostly by people laying flowers or stuffed animals at monuments dedicated to Ukrainian historical figures. Some expressed their thoughts with banners, and postings about them were published by the Russian news agency Meduza.

In the central city of Perm, Russia, someone hung a black-and-white banner that said, “Year of Disgraze,” using the letter Z, an official symbol for the war. Another banner hung in Ivanovo, northeast of Moscow, read, “Enough of this ‘bloodshed for peace!’” mocking the Kremlin line.

Any expectations that demonstrations in Russia might resemble the global protests were quickly dashed earlier this month with the arrest of an activist, Maksim Lypkan, who had brazenly sought a permit for a public protest on Friday in Moscow’s Lubyanka Square, outside the main security police headquarters.

Mr. Lypkan, 18, was accused of discrediting the military and trying to organize an unauthorized rally, according to OVD-Info, a rights organization that tracks court cases. As of Saturday, at least 65 people had been detained across Russia for antiwar actions, the organization reported.

Outside Russia, at least one confrontation was reported: A man who emerged from the Russian Consulate in Rio de Janeiro and hit a demonstrator on Friday was detained by the police, the Globo television network reported.

The most common element marking the worldwide demonstrations was the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag, along with the banner of the Russian opposition, a light blue stripe on a white background.

“Victory for Ukraine! Freedom for Russia!” was a common chant in Russian and the local languages. Some posters displayed the names of destroyed Ukrainian cities.

Aleksei Bolshakov, 36, attended one protest in frigid weather in Chicago’s Daley Plaza. He arrived in the United States two weeks ago with his wife and two small children after a circuitous route through Kazakhstan, Turkey and Mexico.

He said it was only a matter of time before he would have been mobilized to fight in a war that was meant to keep Mr. Putin as Russia’s president. “The invasion was an excuse to increase his power,” he said.

Various demonstrations included effigies of Mr. Putin either behind bars or on the gallows. One, pulled along the main shopping street in Düsseldorf, Germany, depicted him as a six-armed demon accusing everyone of being Nazis — Ukrainians, Americans and Europeans included. A picture of Mr. Putin was burned in Yerevan, Armenia.

Among the prominent Russia figures addressing the rallies was Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the formerly jailed oil tycoon turned dissident exile. He told the gathering outside the Russian Embassy in London: “We all are against Putin, against this aggressive war, and we understand very well that the end of this war will be the end of Putin’s regime. Russia will be free.”

The war was not the sole focus of the rallies. Members of Russia’s minority groups showed up with signs reading, “No to Russian Imperialism.” Alex Choybsonov, 40, who attended the protest in London, said it was important that minorities be heard about the future of Russia.

“We will have to take responsibility for all the invasions and acts of aggression, for the blind spots in our vision that allowed the imperial consciousness to strengthen and for violence to spill out of our state,” Inna Berezkina, of the Moscow School for Civic Education, and one of the coordinators of the protests, told the gathering in Vilnius.

Some Russians who attended protests said they were trying to assuage both their sense of shame and their personal loss, as their lives have been upended.

“I am still in shock; it seems that I am in a dream, as though the whole world appeared to be different from the way I knew it,” said Aleksandra Khadzhieva, who had traveled from St. Petersburg to Tbilisi.

In countries that have remained neutral, like Brazil, protesters said it was important to remind the local residents of the conflict.

“Most of them don’t seem to know what is happening,” said Anna Smirnova Henriques, an organizer of the rally outside the Russian Consulate in São Paulo, while a loudspeaker blared air-raid sirens.

Dmitri Valuev, an organizer of the rally outside the Russian Embassy in Washington on Friday, wrote on social media afterward that he hoped there would be no such events marking the war’s second anniversary.

“We need to become stronger as a community of Russians for democracy, freedom and against war, and to do more together,” he said.

Reporting was contributed by Alina Lobzina, Milana Mazaeva, Ivan Nechepurenko, Oleg Matsnev, Robert Chiarito, Seth Gilbert, Elissa Maudlin and Laís Martins.

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