Interviews with volunteers
from St. Petersburg and Moscow who are helping Ukrainian refugees leave Russia for Europe show that the opportunity to help Ukrainians has become their “salvation,” “an escape from the cognitive dead end,” “a resolution for the state of shock” in which they found themselves after the outbreak of the war. While humanitarian in form, aid to refugees often has a deep anti-war motivation.
Although well-known civil organizations, such as the one established by Dr. Lisa or the Civic Initiative (recognized as a foreign agent) continue to offer aid to refugees, numerous networks of volunteers have emerged and are growing at an unusually fast pace. For example, between April and July 2022, the number of members in a Telegram chat for helping refugees in St. Petersburg went from 100 people to more than 10,000. This explosive growth is typical for similar chat rooms in other Russian cities, such as Moscow. Today, communities of volunteers helping Ukrainians can be found in all areas with temporary accommodation centers for refugees, although, of course, we cannot claim that all volunteers are driven solely by anti-war sentiment.Providing Other Types of Assistance
Another form of opposition is assistance for those who have been repressed for expressing their anti-war stance. This includes providing both legal and financial aid for those arrested at protests. In addition to well-known human rights organizations such as OVD Info and Agora, which exist in large part due to charitable donations, various grassroots fundraising initiatives have been founded during the war, such as RosShtraf
, created to help pay fines for politically motivated legal charges, including expressing an anti-war stance and participating in protests, or Antifond
, created to support people who have suffered professionally for their anti-war position.Ethnic Protests
Ethnic protests have emerged as the result of the mobilization of ethnic groups who oppose the ethnic discrimination that has intensified since the beginning of the war. Among the list of casualties is a disproportionate number
of people drafted from North Ossetia, Buryatia, Tuva, Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chukotka. One particularly notable actor in these ethnic protests is the Buryats Against War Foundation
, which was created by a small international group of Buryats to express their disagreement with the war, but under the influence of grassroots initiatives, quickly turned into a public organization of experts helping conscripted Buryats fight for their rights. The anti-war movement is also very active in Tuva
, which is the leader among the Russian regions in number of deaths of Tuvans per 100,000. Following the announcement of the partial mobilization, mass anti-war rallies were held in the republics of the North Caucasus
There are two main branches of women’s protests — those led by feminists and those led by mothers. The Feminist Anti-War Resistance (FAR), a horizontal movement launched by activists on February 25, 2022, which loudly declared its position from the very first days of the war with art protests and other guerrilla activist projects, is perhaps the most visible player in the anti-war protest landscape today, as well as the one most covered by the media, thanks to its provocative art installations. Today the FAR community is said to unite 38,000 members throughout the country. They call on feminists around the world to unite against the war and regularly engage in various methods of protest.
A less visible, but clearly more massive part of women's resistance is made up of numerous social movements and associations of mothers, which deserve a separate category. Among them are:
● Women's human rights organizations that provide legal assistance to conscripts. Many existed long before the war, have many years of experience and have become more active following the outbreak of hostilities, especially after the announcement of the partial mobilization. Examples are the "Soldiers' Mothers of St. Petersburg
", the "Committee of Soldiers' Mothers
,” founded in 1989.
● Communities and movements that emerged with the outbreak of the war in order to unite efforts to protect children, visit the areas where hostilities are ongoing, collect information about the dead and missing, organize assistance to those drafted who do not want to participate in the war, organize protests, and spread truthful information about the war and number of casualties. "The Union of Mothers,” a social movement led by mothers of conscripted soldiers in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, was created on February 24, 2022. The "Council of Mothers and Wives
," an organization created in anticipation of Putin’s meeting the mothers of servicemen, have demanded their own meeting with Putin.
● Political women's associations that emphasize the role of women in politics. An example is the women's political movement "Soft Power
,” founded by Yulia Galyamina two days before the start of the war, which promotes the ideas of “soft change, women's leadership and putting a female face on politics.” So far, this is the only example of such an organization, but the political trend may continue to grow.
● Numerous informal local groups and associations of mothers who have united their efforts to protect their sons from the draft, shelter conscripts and help their sons flee.
The composition of these volunteer movements is always heavily dominated by women. This is also true of the communities of volunteers helping refugees, which became especially noticeable after September 21, 2022, when many male volunteers left the country.Economic Protests
Economic protests may include a (covert) refusal to economically support the state and pro-military policies, a refusal to work in organizations that openly declare a pro-military position, or the use of legal leverage on organizations that actively support the special operation.
In interviews we conducted with business owners, many discussed closing their businesses due to their unwillingness to pay taxes to the state, which are likely to be used for military purposes. The same logic was cited as a motive for refusing to participate in the protests — a reluctance to pay fines that would certainly go to finance the war.
Another form of economic protest is voluntary dismissal from organizations that openly declared support for the war. The previously mentioned list of people fired for expressing an anti-war stance published by Paper contains many scientists and cultural figures who decided to quit their jobs in protest of the pro-war position held by the leaders of their organization.
Forms of economic sabotage similar to the “Italian strike” are being proposed by left-wing groups. The political group Socialist Alternative is implementing the Anti-War Sick Leave
project, which encourages workers in key industry sectors to take sick leave en masse, or to sabotage work without violating established rules (“work badly, work slowly”).
Another example of a protest involving legal economic activity is the “City Without Z
” initiative. Participants are invited to collect reports of conduct violations committed by organizations that hang posters with the letter Z (a Russian military symbol) on their buildings. These reports may include any violations observed in the company’s operations, from environmental to labor laws. They subsequently write appeals and complaints to the relevant inspection agencies. After that, the company is subjected to many additional inspections and are generally fined.Compassionate protest
Finally, a relatively recent form of “silent protest” is the so-called folk memorials of flowers, candles, and toys set up at monuments associated with Ukraine. Anthropologist Aleksandra Arkhipova calls this form of resistance "flower protests" or "compassionate protests
." According to her, more than 100 spontaneous folk memorials have cropped in 63 Russian cities at monuments associated with Ukraine after the destruction of a residential building in the Dnieper by a rocket on January 14, killing at least 46 people, including children. In Moscow, a spontaneous memorial arose at the monument to Lesya Ukrainka, and in St. Petersburg — at the monument to Taras Shevchenko.
Spontaneous memorials in and of themselves are not a new phenomenon in urban spaces. People bring flowers and children's toys, if children died, to places where tragedy occurred in order to express condolences and mourn the dead. However, in the context of a repressive regime, where there is no opportunity to express outrage openly, spontaneous memorials serve to express protest against the actions of the authorities (for example, the creation of a memorial at the site of the murder of the oppositional politician Boris Nemtsov). It is noteworthy that in those cities where there are no monuments in any way connected with Ukraine, flowers are brought to the monuments to the victims of political repression, or any other victims, thereby confirming the protest character of the memorials.
A new wave of "compassionate protests" swept through the cities of Russia on February 24, 2023, on the first anniversary of the start of the war. People across more than 20 Russian cities once again carried flowers and toys to monuments associated with Ukraine or political repression.Distinctive Features of Russian Anti-War Resistance
The true scale of the anti-war resistance (the number of anti-war initiatives, the number of people who support them) has yet to be determined, but we can already articulate some important features of the Russian anti-war landscape.
1. Covert forms of resistance, such as sabotage, evasion, disobedience, avoidance, exchange of alternative information and other forms of indirect resistance, dominate the protest landscape, as opposed to direct demonstrations of protest.
2. The Russian anti-war protest movement does not have a systemic, organized character, but is represented by a multitude of decentralized initiatives that have a horizontal structure and largely rely on informal networks.
3. A significant number of anti-war initiatives are organized at the local level, focused on local communities (city-wide or regional), and therefore remain unseen from a federal or international perspective.
4. Following the outbreak of war, many new players appeared in the field of civic activism. As a rule, they do not take the shape of organizations, but operate in community networks, many of which reach impressive sizes and show impressive displays of self-organization (such as the networks providing aid to Ukrainian refugees mentioned above).
5. The Russian anti-war resistance would not have been possible without digital technologies and the internet. It is difficult to overestimate the role of the Telegram, which remains accessible in Russia and allows the opponents of the war to overcome isolation, and thereby gives the anti-war protest movement a collective character. This opportunity to communicate with like-minded people inspires protest solidarity and a sense of unity, as well as faith in one's own power and ability to influence the situation.
6. Although the protest landscape is clearly dominated by virtual spaces, it would be more correct to speak of the hybrid nature of the anti-war resistance. Digital space prolongs physical life and expands the audience of in-person protests. Photos of art pieces and folk memorials, as well as other forms of protest are instantly circulated through Telegram channels. Conversely, initiatives that arise in Telegram chats are later implemented in physical space.
7. The transnational nature of the protest is more evident than ever before. Activists who left the country continue to work abroad and maintain ties with those who remain in Russia. It is often difficult to determine the location of anti-war initiatives, since members are located on different sides of the border.
8. In light of the nearly complete lack of protest demonstrations held by the “systemic opposition” (Yabloko is the only party that has openly declared an anti-war stance, but they utilize only legal methods of protest — collecting signatures, holding sanctioned rallies — and therefore are practically invisible in the protest landscape), the political anti-war protest as a continuation of the fight against the Putin regime is represented by the Anti-Corruption Foundation, the “Vesna” Youth Democratic Movement, left-wing political groups calling for sabotage, and anarchists conducting radical guerrilla demonstrations.
9. Considering the full spectrum of Russian anti-war resistance, it can be said that the protest has a “feminine face.” The NGO and volunteer sector has always been characterized by a gender imbalance, but in the landscape of anti-war resistance, where hidden forms of protest dominate, and given the outflow of the male population following the announcement of the draft, women have become the main initiators and executors of anti-war movements.