Protesters in Moscow have chanted “send Putin to the trenches” amid widespread disapproval of Russia’s biggest conscription drive since World War Two.
Within hours of president Vladimir Putin ordering a partial mobilisation of reservists on Wednesday, rare protests were reported across the country that led to almost 1,200 arrests.
Shortly after Putin’s address, Russian media reported a spike in demand for plane tickets abroad as some draft-age men headed for the border.
In the capital Moscow, hundreds of people gathered on the central Stary Arbat street amid heavy police presence. Protesters could be seen chanting “No war”, “Send Putin to the trenches” and “Let our children live” in videos published to social media.
Putin’s risky order follows humiliating setbacks for his troops nearly seven months after they invaded Ukraine.
The first such call-up in decades heightened tensions with Ukraine’s Western backers, who derided it as an act of weakness and desperation.
Liz Truss accused Putin of “sabre rattling” as the UK prime minister addressed the United Nations General Assembly, aded that the Russian president is desperately trying to justify a “catastrophic failure” in Ukraine.
The total number of reservists to be called up could be as high as 300,000, officials said.
Despite Russia’s harsh laws against criticising the military and the war, protesters outraged by the mobilisation overcame their fear of arrest to stage protests in cities across the country.
Nearly 1,200 Russians were arrested in anti-war demonstrations in cities including Moscow and St Petersburg, according to the independent Russian human rights group OVD-Info.
As protest calls circulated online, the Moscow prosecutor’s office warned that organising or participating in such actions could lead to up to 15 years in prison.
The Associated Press news agency witnessed at least a dozen arrests in the first 15 minutes of a nighttime protest in the capital.
“I’m not afraid of anything. The most valuable thing that they can take from us is the life of our children. I won’t give them life of my child,” said one Muscovite, who declined to give her name.
Asked whether protesting would help, she said: “It won’t help, but it’s my civic duty to express my stance. No to war!”
In Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, police hauled onto buses some of the 40 protesters who were detained at an anti-war rally. One woman in a wheelchair shouted, referring to the Russian president: “Goddamn bald-headed ‘nut job’. He’s going to drop a bomb on us, and we’re all still protecting him. I’ve said enough.”