A Russian woman (left and right) has told of how she was apprehended by police who stopped her near a protest in Moscow (Picture: AFP/Supplied)
A Russian protester has told of a climate of fear in Moscow after talking her way out of arrest using a Stephen Hawking book.
Anya was present at the scene of an anti-war rally in the capital when she and a friend were accosted by Vladimir Putin’s security forces.
She gave an insight into life under the grip of the Russian Federation’s increasingly authoritarian rule, where ordinary people can be detained for simply being near a demonstration.
She said society remains ‘split’ over the president, despite mounting evidence of horrific war crimes perpetrated by the Kremlin’s troops.
Anya and a friend went for what they describe as a ‘walk’ to attend a protest in Moscow’s Three Station Square on March 6 and, despite not displaying any banners, placards or signs of dissent, were almost detained.
She told Metro.co.uk that they came out of a metro station to find the square occupied by hundreds of police officers checking everyone in sight.
‘We were shocked but decided to keep on walking as we didn’t do anything wrong and it isn’t prohibited to walk around,’ Anya said.
‘A couple of officers stopped us and asked to check our documents.
‘We played fools, asking what was wrong and why there was no information about the square being closed. We didn’t get any answers from them.
A Russian protester in Moscow has voted against Vladimir Putin for a decade and says he has made his people suffer (Picture: Supplied)
‘They started rummaging our bags and pockets and found a little brochure about “what to do if you get arrested” by OVD-Info [an independent Russian human rights project] in my friend’s bag.
‘When he saw it, he immediately grabbed her and walked her to an avtozak, a police bus for arrested people.’
Anya, who is in her late 20s, ran after her friend and managed to walk between her and the officer.
‘He checked my documents and found out that I was not registered in Moscow and started telling me off, asking me where my tickets home were and how I could prove I live and work in Moscow,’ she said.
‘That was good. I pushed my friend behind me and had a conversation with him. He asked something like, “what are you thinking about coming here, are you stupid or something?” and I was like, “hey I will tell you what I am thinking about”.
‘I got Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time out of my backpack and started telling him about the book, including about singularity theory, and he got really engaged.
‘He suddenly stopped me and asked us to leave the square immediately and never come back or he will arrest us. We didn’t need telling twice.’
Russian president Vladimir Putin addresses the nation from the Kremlin during the sixth week of the invasion (Picture: AP)
Police officers in central Moscow detain a man during a protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (Picture: AFP via Getty)
Another protester at the rally has described how police rounded up and detained demonstrators and people in the vicinity.
The person described being questioned for six hours – longer than is allowed under law – by overworked police officers processing busloads of detainees at a station on the outskirts of Moscow.
The parent, who wrote the account under anonymity on the independent openDemocracy media platform, was released after telling officers that the trip into the city centre had been made to buy children’s toys.
More than 15,000 people were detained across Russia during anti-war protests between the start of the invasion on February 24 and the end of March, according to OVD-Info. Detention at a rally can incur a fine of up to 15,000 roubles, which rises to 300,000 roubles for a repeat offence as well as up to 30 days’ of administrative arrest.
Anya is nevertheless determined to ‘show the truth’ about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has brought about evidence of mass graves and summary executions of civilians by Moscow’s troops.
The Kremlin has clamped down on mainstream and social media, while propagating narratives that include claiming Ukraine has fabricated images of atrocities to smear Russia and act as a provocation.
‘We are split,’ Anya said. ‘There are people who believe everything that is going on is deadly wrong and must be stopped immediately.
‘We do what we can, we go to the streets and try to show the truth through social networking sites, risking what little freedom we have. We support suppressed media and wish we could do more, but with more than 15,000 arrests and 56 people receiving prison sentences, we are tied down.’
A Russian artist lies on a street in Moscow to recreate the horrific images of people slaughtered in the Ukrainian town of Bucha (Picture: Dan Sanderson)
Police officers detain an elderly woman as she protests against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in central Moscow on March 20, 2022 (Picture: Stringer/AFP)
Russia has told its citizens that it is carrying out a ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine, with a state TV talk show claiming killings carried out in the town of Bucha were a ‘provocation plotted by Britain’.
Anya said: ‘The rest of society trust the TV and believe the authorities because they improved their lives once – people still remember the 90s.
‘They were not taught to think, so they take somebody’s opinions as their own and are ready to fight for them.
‘Why? Because they really believe they are doing the right thing. My mum is a smart woman and she can analyse stuff and think with her own mind. But my friends have real problems with their parents.’
Anya, who spoke under an assumed name, told Metro.co.uk that almost all of her friends have left the country and those left behind want to leave.
Swingeing sanctions imposed by Western nations have disrupted the Russian economy, including through the suspension of electronic payment systems, although her work has not been affected.
Major international chains, including McDonald’s and Ikea, have suspended operations in the country since the invasion began six weeks ago.
However Anya described the situation in Moscow as calm, with essential goods available in stores despite runs on salt and sugar.
‘There are lots of police on the streets and sometimes it looks like we are occupied,’ she said. ‘But if you move fast and look like you are extremely busy and in a hurry, like a classic Moscovite, they don’t stop you.
‘But if you hesitate for a second, checking something for too long, they come by, ask for documents, question you. It happens only in the city centre, though.’
Anya views the invasion as one of the gravest mistakes of Putin’s reign, which spans more than two decades and in her eyes has oppressed a country with vast human and natural resources at its fingertips.
‘I’ve been voting against Putin’s party and him in particular for more than 10 years,’ she said. ‘I think this fact from my life says more than any words. Personally, I think he should have left the position a decade ago. He is an old and corrupt scumbag.
‘Despite having all this oil, the natural resources, fantastic lands and amazing human power, we, the common people, are down-and-out.
‘Life is in St Petersburg and Moscow while other cities are dilapidated.
‘Of course there are some islands of culture and history in every Russian city, but the common picture is like this.
‘We could be one of the richest countries in the world and help the world to develop and bring the future closer. Instead, we suffer.’
The Moscovite now wants to study or teach overseas, possibly in the UK or US, although the war has complicated the process of obtaining scholarships and relocating outside her homeland.
‘I’m not going to make any snap decisions,’ she said.
‘As I always say, let’s live and see. Everything changes too fast. I will react to things when it’s time, I always do.’
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