‘We were born in a situation of hellish urgency’: How the Russian Feminist Anti-War Resistance Movement works

The FAS cell in the Netherlands is holding a protest action “Voices” near the Trade Representation of Russia in Amsterdam. Photo: FAS, taken from Teplitsa with permission

The independent media about activism “Teplitsa” published in November 2022 a long read (authored by Anna Bobrova) on Feminist Anti-War resistance, interviewing many activists, which Global Voices has translated. 

The Feminist Anti-War Resistance (FAS) operates both in Russia and abroad: this grassroots horizontal movement appeared in February 2022 as a reaction of various feminist groups and activists to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Feminist Anti-War Resistance is organized into “cells” working autonomously, so the activists within each one set tasks independently. There are four major directions in which they focus their help: legal support on labor issues (“Anti-Fund”), psychological help, assistance to Ukrainian refugees (deported and voluntary migrants), and evacuation from the country. FAS also supports anti-war media. The media part of the FAS is also divided into several focus areas: decolonization, agitation and anti-war social networks — Telegram, Twitter , Facebook and a newspaper. 

FAS operates via open communication and information channels, mainly through messenger chats and phone calls. All the decisions are taken together, via voting during the call or afterwards in the chat.

FAS's presence outside and inside of Russia

One of the main tasks of cells functioning outside of Russia is to carry out actions that cannot be done in Russia for security reasons. “It is important for us to establish communication between FAS cells abroad and Russian-based activists who have ideas for actions and an understanding of the domestic Russian context,” Anna [last name omitted for security reasons], an FAS activist, explains. Activists abroad do not just speak publicly on behalf of the emigrant community in a particular country, but become true heralds of the anti-war movement from Russia.

The international cooperation within FAS involves devloping connections with activists on the ground, and establishing cooperation with Ukrainian and Belarusian feminist organizations, strengthening their voices.

Cells operating inside Russia apply their own security protocols and act anonymously: they hang leaflets on how to avoid mobilization, distribute the newspaper  “Truth for Women” which FAS publishes, and sometimes carry out anti-war actions of resistance, producing graffiti and leaflets, usually at night, since all kind of anti-war dissent is prohibited by law in Russia.

Here is a map of cities where FAS cells operate in western Russia.

Places in the Western part of Russia where FAS is active. Image from FAS, used with permission.

Becoming a part of the FAS is quite simple: you simply write to the bot and share what kind of help you can provide. There are currently 20 coordinators and several dozen volunteers in the FAS movement. Each “position” in the organization is clearly described: volunteers share the values of the FAS, and help the movement with professional skills; activists are engaged in anti-war actions; activists of each cell build their own work in their city; and coordinators oversee the work of a certain direction. Roles may change over time; for example, a volunteer may become a coordinator.

This is what happened to Anna: she came to activism from the beginning of the war in February 2022. On March 6, she was arrested at a rally and detained for 13 days. When she was in the detention center, she decided to leave the country to be able to publicly speak out against the war. “I would like to have the strength and courage for anti-war resistance in Russia, but I am not a person who can do partisan acts, hide in different apartments or run from city to city. I left Russia thinking that I was doing this to be able to act upon what I believe in,” she said.

In Yerevan, Anna joined the FAS cell and plunged into activism. Later, she left Yerevan for Tbilisi and turned from an activist of a regional cell into the coordinator of the entire international direction.

An example of one of FAS's anti-war actions in Russia: a poem for the beginning of school is written in front of the school building; but words say that schools are not teaching kids to be at war. FAS, taken from Teplitsa with permission.

Expanding to non-activists and reaching out to the public 

In Russia, the cell format is not safe for novice activists. In the summer, the FAS launched a new format, anti-war awareness growth groups, or GRAS. “As activists, we are well aware that the call to ‘establish an anti-war cell’ in conditions of fear, pressure, and dictatorship is bad advice, and it won't work so easily,” the movement's coordinators write in their manual.

The purpose of these groups is to bring people together who have anti-war views but don't feel they can express them, supporting them as they find the initiative to become activists. Many don't understand security or how the police work. “GRAS groups can be perceived as a stage on the way to the anti-war movement,” says FAS coordinator, activist Dasha Serenko. There may be several of those groups within one city but they may not know about each other’s existence because they unite people who are closely connected to each other.

One of the main goals of FAS at the moment is to reach outside the “activism bubble.” They are printing a newspaper, called Zhenskaya Pravda (Truth for Women), which is directed at common citizens who may not be interested in politics or activism. The  first published issue (in May 2022) had features, crosswords, astrological reviews, and popular music news.  The next issues will also feature recipes, jokes and interviews with “celebrities.”  Editor Lena (name changed), says that the goal is to reach out to older people who prefer print and are cut off from independent media.

This screenshot of Truth for Women says “Love will win over everything,” and describes a criminal case for the anti-war repost of Marina Novikova from Tomsk region. It emphasizes how her husband is helping her to fight the system. Taken from Teplitsa with permission.

The newspaper uses simple language and does not try to force a change in reader views. Articles are respectful of those of whom independent media often is not.

“Women are closing off from the outside world, they don’t want to hear anything about the war. Their lives became harder, because there is less money, and goods are becoming more expensive. They are tired. So we try talking about the war, while not talking about the war,” says Lena.

After the newspaper is published, the most dangerous stage begins. FAS activists throughout Russia print and distribute the newspaper to shops, mailboxes in multi-story houses entrances, clinics and playgrounds. In the same way, other FAS anti-war materials — leaflets and stickers — are distributed in  cities all over Russia.

In addition, since the beginning of the war, FAS designers have been drawing anti-war postcards for Odnoklassniki (a popular social media in Russia) and WhatsApp, and activists have been sending them to older people.

FAS is unique but we need more of them

“FAS is a rather unique thing,” historian Sofia Shirogorova said in an interview with Teplitsa. “Because in Russia the opposition has been almost wiped out.”

Despite this uniqueness, the founding activists do not strive for publicity or boast of achievements — on the contrary, they prefer to emphasize the anti-hierarchical nature of the FAS. It is not yet known how effective their methods of resistance will eventually turn out to be, but the very style of interaction and mutual assistance is already a model to follow in Russia, where usually all the collectives are permeated with violence: from kindergarten to funeral homes.

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