Moscow marchers condemn Kremlin role in Ukraine war22 september 2014, 10:56
Thousands of Russians on Sunday marched through Moscow to protest against the Kremlin's involvement in the Ukraine crisis, in the country's first major anti-war rally since fighting erupted in April, AFP reports.
A huge column of protesters, including prominent opposition activists, moved through the heart of the capital to condemn Moscow's role in a conflict that has claimed nearly 3,000 lives and pitted Russians against Ukrainians.
Many carried blue and yellow Ukrainian flags and placards emblazoned with slogans such as "No to war" and "Putin, stop lying", chanting: "Ukraine, we are with you."
"I believe that the war has been provoked by Putin," said wheelchair-bound protester Vladimir Kashitsyn, aged 44. "I want Putin to stop meddling in Ukraine's internal affairs."
"This war is a madness and crime against Ukraine, residents of Donbass and Russians," added 34-year-old Igor Yasin.
The rally, dubbed "The Peace March", comes amid a Russian media blackout on the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine.
Kiev and the West say the Kremlin has sent in regular troops to prop up separatists fighting against Kiev. Moscow has denied the claim.
Some chanted slogans of Ukraine's popular uprising, which ousted pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych in February, such as "Out with the gang" and "Glory to Ukraine".
One of the organisers, Sergei Davidis, put the turnout at "tens of thousands". Police, which tend to downplay the popularity of opposition rallies, said nearly 5,000 had turned up.
Russian national television has portrayed Kiev authorities as a "fascist junta" bent on persecuting Russian-speakers during the conflict.
Following a crackdown on dissent, opposition rallies have become increasingly rare and anyone who dared to publicly question the Kremlin's Ukraine policy has been pilloried.
Organisers had said some 50,000 were expected to attend Sunday's protest, which was approved by Moscow authorities.
Some 1,000 people also turned up for an unsanctioned rally in Russia's second city of Saint Petersburg, an AFP correspondent reported.
Ahead of the Moscow march prominent Russians took to social networks calling on their compatriots to attend.
Yury Ryzhov, a 83-year-old former ambassador to France, urged Russians to protest the Kremlin's "undeclared war". "The bell tolls for thee," he said in a nod to one of Ernest Hemingway's best-known works.
"What have we come to if in our country peace is considered a shame and betrayal and war a matter of honour, valour and heroism?" said television star Leonid Parfyonov.
"One should never forget who began that war, who annexed Crimea," added poet Igor Irtenyev, asking whether Russians could stand by as soldiers were coming home in "pine boxes".
'Cannot remain silent'
A ceasefire agreed between Kiev and pro-Moscow separatists on September 5 to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine has been punctuated by repeated clashes, and many fear it could easily break down.
Organisers of the march demanded that Russian authorities stop their "irresponsible aggressive policies" that lead the country on a path to isolation, economic trouble and growing "fascist tendencies".
"These policies have brought war to Ukraine and cost the lives of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians," they said on Facebook.
"Russian soldiers including conscripts get killed and taken prisoner on Ukrainian territory. This is already direct, undisguised military intervention, which cannot be justified."
The site of exiled Kremlin opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who announced on Saturday he was willing to lead the country in times of crisis, urged Russians to distribute anti-war leaflets.
"The consequences of the Ukraine war do not allow us to remain silent," said the site, khodorkovsky.ru.
Thousands of Russians took to the streets of Moscow on March 15, a day before a controversial referendum in the Russian-annexed Crimea voted to split from Ukraine.