Russian protesters have been gathering in the streets to speak out against their government's invasion of Ukraine on Thursday, despite the likelihood of being arrested for doing so.
The demonstrations — which have broken out in dozens of cities across Russia — sought to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin for launching the attack that has caused thousands of Ukrainians to flee their homes and put millions more at deadly risk.
On Thursday afternoon, hours after Ukrainian residents awoke to the sounds of missiles falling as the military invasion began, Russia's Investigative Committee released a statement warning citizens not to participate in demonstrations "associated with the tense foreign policy situation." The federal office added that those who chose to protest risked "severe punishment," including possible imprisonment.
Years of oppression under Putin’s government have made the risks of taking part in any anti-Kremlin activities very high for public and private citizens alike. Still, thousands of Russians across the country are defying their government's warning and have organized and attended large protests in cities that include Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Novosibirsk.
The exact number of arrests made wasn't immediately clear, but OVD-Info, a civil rights group that monitors protests in Russia, estimated Thursday afternoon that more than 1,700 had so far been detained in connection with the demonstrations. That number was expected to increase.
Many of them were arrested within moments of beginning their protest. At a gathering in Moscow's Pushkin Square, a short distance from the Kremlin, one woman was taken into police custody immediately upon displaying an anti-war sign.
The crackdown is so intense that it's not just demonstrators who are getting arrested. Members of the press have also been detained, and video showed a uniformed delivery worker being hauled away by police in Moscow.
Some Russians are still choosing to speak out about Ukraine even if it means doing it alone. Sofya Rusova, a journalist and union leader, was photographed staging a one-person protest outside the Kremlin.
And after posting a video urging Russians to protest, human rights activist Marina Litvinovich was reportedly arrested outside her home.
Russian celebrities — including athletes, actors, and Eurovision stars — have also publicly denounced the invasion, putting their careers at great risk due to the government's heavy influence in the entertainment industry. In an Instagram video, popular singer Valery Meladze pleaded for an end to the invasion.
"History will be the judge of these events," Meladze said. "But today, I beg you, please stop the war.”
On Wednesday, just before the invasion began, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made a televised speech calling for peace and highlighting the close ties between Russia and Ukraine.
“This is our land. This is our history. What are you fighting for and with whom?” Zelensky said. “Many of you have been to Ukraine. Many of you have relatives in Ukraine. Some have studied in Ukrainian universities. Some have made friends with Ukrainians. You know our character. You know our people. You know our principles.”
Zelensky also directly addressed the people of Russia, urging them to stand with Ukraine and let their own government know they don't want war.
“I know that my address to you won’t be shown on Russian television, but the citizens of Russia should see it. They should know the truth, and the truth is that this needs to stop before it’s too late," he said. "And if the leadership of Russia doesn’t want to sit down at the table with us for the sake of peace, maybe they will sit down at the table with you. Do Russians want war? I would like to answer that question, but the answer depends only on you.”