Documentary about the protest of soldiers’ wives, sisters and mothers created in Russia

Screenshot from the YouTube video of a documentary about the relatives of conscripts by Vazhnye Istorii. Fair use.

Public protests by the relatives of soldiers that were drafted and sent to the front lines with Ukraine have been going on in Russia since the “partial” military draft began in September 2022. However, if in the beginning they were concentrating on “helping” the drafted soldiers with demands to provide them with ammunition and “better” conditions to fight,  now some women publicly express a clear anti-war position.  

On November 7, around 30 of these women participated in a demonstration organized by Communist Party in Moscow.  They came uninvited, and their protest lasted roughly five minutes, the BBC reported, before they had to put their posters away.  Later on, the participants tried to organize protests in several Russian regions, but local governments of Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Novosibirsk and other cities refused to allow them, according to TV Rain

The latest protest happened in the wake of Orthodox Christmas, on the January 6, when several women went out on single pickets near the Ministry of Defense and the Presidential Administration.  For the first time in the past two years in Russia, no one was detained, although the guard in Presidential Administration did call the police, who, according to the Telegram channel Put Domoi (“The way home”), where relatives communicate and organize, “upon arrival confirmed that single pickets are a legal form of protest.”

The poster says “Our government has turned my life into hell since 15 months ago civilians were taken to the front. We demand demobilization!” Screenshot of the Telegram post from the Channel Put Domoi (“The way home”). Fair use.

With over 38,000 participants, the Telegram channel of these women is regularly attacked by pro-government bots, and, due to the flagging by those, it was labeled fake by Telegram on the December 1, 2023. Although the participants mostly demand that their relatives are sent back home from the front, they are saying that “we do not want and do not ask to exchange our mobilized relatives for someone else [to be sent to the front lines]. We want demobilization!”  They are also asking to end the war, and in some posts blame “the governments and not in the last place, our president for starting the war in the first place. 

Opposition media outlet Vazhnye Istorii (“Important Stories”) made a documentary featuring several of the women.   At the moment of writing this article, it has over 700,000 views on YouTube. 

The video starts with an activist Maria Andreeva saying:

Наша тема, она какая-то запретная, понимаете? Мне страшно сказать, что я думаю. Мне страшно, что я могу не увидеть больше своего мужа. Вы чего, хотите всех мужиков там перебить? Я уже устала бояться. Мы жили, жили, не задумываясь, пока вот нас не клюнуло. Если люди будут продолжать бояться, эта беда обязательно постучит к ним в дверь. С нами будут действовать  достаточно жестко, чтобы другим не было повадно. Лодку раскачиваем не мы. У людей когда-нибудь мозги включатся? Они увидят, что это такое, или нет?

Our topic, it's kind of forbidden. Do you understand? I'm scared to say what I think. I'm scared that I might never see my husband again. What do you want, kill all the men there? I'm already tired of being afraid. We lived, lived, without thinking, until we were bitten. If people continue to be afraid, this trouble is sure to knock on their door. They will act on us quite tough so that others don't feel bad about it. We are not the ones rocking the boat. Will people's brains ever turn on? Will they see what it is or not?

The video has timecodes for episodes, where the titles speak for themselves.  Women talk about fear, injustice, lost hope, the PTSD of their relatives, distrust of the government.  But still, some of them are saying that the war was Russian “answer” to “aggression,” which is the main narrative of the latest Russian propaganda. 

00:00 “Our topic is forbidden”

00:45 Ukrainian woman with Russian citizenship, whose husband is fighting for the Russian Armed Forces

03:54 “Now you don’t even belong to yourself”

05:08 “It’s scary to give birth in this country. Especially boys”

07:33 “I didn’t believe in mobilization until the last moment”

09:03 “We must do everything so as not to kill other people”

10:58 “There is no one left from my husband’s military unit”

11:59 “It’s hard to imagine with what mentality they will return from there”

15:08 “No complaints, everything is on time, everything is on the line”

16:58 “We are ready to sell our souls to the devil just to return home”

17:40 “They will act harshly so that others don’t have to”

18:50 “We are called agents of Kyiv and the decaying West”

19:32 Why the wives of conscripts will not vote for Putin

21:49 “I didn’t dare ask him if he killed”

22:23 “What really are our goals regarding Ukraine?”

24:39 “We will leave a terrible country to our children”

There are currently 12,595 comments under the video. One user said: 

Ничего плохого о женщинах я не думаю.Я думаю они слишком скромны в части возврата мужей.И очень долго 2 года они молчали – за молчание похоронками платили.Выходить на улицы городами.Я в такой день к ним присоединюсь.За вывод войск .Я за победу Украины с 1 х дней вторжения моей страны .И да – за возврат ей территорий .Не понимаю мужчин которые пошли …Мало нам чеченской было ?

I think nothing bad about women. I think they are too modest when it comes to getting their husbands back. And they were silent for too long, two years, paying with funerals for their silence. Coming out onto the streets of the cities. I will join them on such a day. For the withdrawal of troops. I have been for Ukraine's victory since the first days of my country's invasion. And yes – for the return of its territories. I don't understand the men who went… Wasn't the Chechen [war] enough for us?

A few days ago, Maria Andreeva went on a one-person picket to the Presidential Administration in Moscow once again. This time, she describes on her YouTube channel, a policeman tried to detain her rather brutally but let go when another policeman arrived. 

In March 2024, there will be presidential elections in Russia, where Vladimir Putin will once again be an uncontested winner. As the Guardian explains, the elections are a formality, because Putin has dominated Russian political system and the media for over 20 years, and all kind of dissent has been criminalized.

However, the Presidential Administration is concerned that even “non-elections” elections have to be conducted in a situation when parts of society protest.  According newspaper Kommersant, cited by RTVI, the topic of the “moods” of the relatives of the mobilized was discussed at a seminar for representatives of regional electoral commissions and deputy governors responsible for internal politics. The seminar took place on November 16–18, 2023, and was dedicated to the Russian presidential election in March 2024. At the seminar, it was opined that society currently does not need “political shows,” hence the campaign should be “simple and understandable,” the publication's sources assert.  One of the informational risks identified by the seminar organizers was the “moods of women whose loved ones are in the Special Military Operation (SMO) [war] zone.” According to a newspaper source, participants at the event noted that it is necessary to “be in contact with these women, pay attention to their problems, and facilitate their resolution.” This might be why the women picketing Presidential Administration have not been arrested just yet.

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