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Russian women pay the price in protests against Putin's war

Russian police officers stand guard during an unsanctioned rally, after opposition activists called for street protests against the mobilisation of reservists ordered by President Vladimir Putin, in Moscow, Russia September 21, 2022. [Reuters]

Women in Russia make up a rising proportion of those being detained in protests against President Vladimir Putin's mobilisation for the war in Ukraine, data show, as many Russian men fear being sent to the frontlines if they demonstrate.

Court documents also show more women in Moscow being charged in relation to anti-war protests in February and March in the early weeks of the conflict than in anti-Putin protests in previous years.

Among women protesters heading to central Moscow on the evening of Sept. 24 was 19-year-old Lisa. Before she joined the crowd a police officer in body armour grabbed her arm and threw her into a van. She spent a week in detention.

Three days earlier Putin announced a partial mobilisation of reservists to fight in Ukraine, prompting tens of thousands of Russian men to flee abroad, often by circuitous routes.

"When the war started, I felt like my future was not happening anymore," said Lisa, who asked to use only her first name for fear of repercussions. "But I also started feeling guilty for thinking about my own future when people in Ukraine felt much more fear every day."

Lisa showed Reuters documents and photos related to her detention.

Russian authorities say protesters are detained because unsanctioned rallies are illegal under Russian law, which also forbids any activity considered to defame the armed forces.

Women made up 51% of 1,383 people arrested in the Sept. 21 anti-mobilisation protest and 71% of the 848 detained on Sept. 24, according to data from OVD-Info, a Russian group that monitors protests.

The group, which described the Sept. 21 and Sept. 24 protests as the largest in a series of anti-mobilisation demonstrations, said the rising share of women detained on Sept. 24 came as some men feared being drafted if arrested.


A Russian male journalist covering the demonstrations and two male protesters told Reuters they received papers summoning them to the military registration office after being detained.

One of them, 30-year-old Vladislav Staf, a historian with no military experience, said he and a dozen men who were put in the same police van were handed draft papers after being arrested on Sept. 21. He was released from detention a week later and fled Russia.

"It felt very dangerous to stay," said Staf, now in Montenegro. He showed Reuters a copy of his draft document.

OVD-Info said male protesters were drafted in at least 17 police departments on Sept. 21 and at least 16 departments on Sept. 24.

Reuters has yet to receive a reply to emailed questions about the OVD-Info figures and Staf's account, sent to the Russian interior ministry and its Moscow department on Thursday.

A Reuters analysis of court documents showed women who protested in the early weeks of the war in February and March made up at least 30% of those charged, up from at least 11% in protests in 2021 and at least 6% in 2019 protests.

Lisa protested for the first time in February, joining in with chants of "no to war".

The proportion of women was likely higher in all three years because Reuters was only able to determine the gender in about 80% of cases from protesters' surnames. Typical Russian surnames have different endings for women and men. Reuters analysed cases of the most common charges used against protesters.


Ella Rossman, a researcher at University College London's School of Slavonic and East European Studies, attributed the rise in the share of women at protests to fears of some men of conscription and to a growing Russian feminist movement.

Rossman, who is mapping out Russian feminist activism, counted 45 Russian feminist groups in 2021, up from about 30 in 2019.

Female protesters in Russia are particularly vulnerable to the threat of sexual violence, said OVD-Info lawyer Daria Korolenko. The group documented about 200 cases of women threatened with sexual violence, deprived of food or sleep or subjected to other mistreatment while detained over protests between Sept. 21 and 26.

Reuters has yet to receive a reply to emailed questions about the data on mistreatment of women, sent to the Russian interior ministry and its Moscow department on Thursday.

Elizaveta, 27, who asked to be identified only by her first name, said she received a 12-day jail sentence after protesting in February. She spent nine of those days at a police station where she slept on the bare floor in a dark cell. There was no hot water and the only food was brought by friends. She showed Reuters documents and photographs relating to her detention.

Reuters has yet to receive a reply to an emailed request for comment, sent to the Russian interior ministry and its Moscow department on Thursday.

Elizaveta protested again on Sept. 22. Most of those with her that day were women, she said.

Women have not only protested the war on the streets.

Shortly after the conflict began Rossman formed a movement with other activists - the Feminist Anti-War Resistance. Its members post about the war on social media and distribute a newspaper in Russia, she said, adding that they also write anti-war slogans on rouble bank notes and on price tags in stores.


(c) Reuters 2022


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