The region’s biggest protest, ever Tens of thousands rally in Khabarovsk to defend their arrested governor
Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Russia’s Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk on Saturday, July 11, for an unpermitted protest against the arrest of their governor, Sergey Furgal. It was the biggest public assembly of its kind in the region’s history. Before the rally, messages circulated on social media and on public announcement boards in apartment lobbies, urging people to attend, reports the local news site DVHAB.RU. The city’s authorities tried to prevent the demonstration by fencing off Khabarovsk’s main square, where organizers planned to stage the protest, under the pretext that the area was being disinfected. This police tactic failed, and protests poured in not just from all around the city but from neighboring towns, as well.
The demonstration began around noon, local time. Journalists at DVHAB.RU estimate that tens of thousands of protestors reached the city’s center by the start of the rally. The Khabarovsky Krai Segodnya news agency reported that the number of demonstrators possibly exceeded the crowd size of the city’s annual “Immortal Regiment” march, when as many as 60,000 people assemble to honor relatives who died in the Second World War. Both media outlets described the rally as the single largest protest in the region’s history.
According to the newspaper Kommersant, between 30,000 and 35,000 people demonstrated on Saturday in Khabarovsk, where the population is just 616,000 people. To put Kommersant’s numbers in perspective, consider that Moscow has roughly 12.5 million residents and a protest of relative size would be nearly 710,000 people.
In the end, the police let the demonstration go ahead. There were zero reported arrests, according to Mediazona. The region’s Interior Ministry later claimed that no more than 12,000 people demonstrated throughout the Khabarovsk Territory on Saturday.
Protesters not only marched through the city’s center, blocking traffic as they went, but also passed through the fences erected in the central square. Demonstrators carried signs that read “Freedom for Furgal!” and “I/we = Sergey Furgal.” The crowd also chanted slogans like “Freedom!” “Moscow, get out!” “The Far East is ours!” “Putin, step down!” and “Putin is a thief!”
There were protests in other cities throughout the region, as well. On the day of Furgal’s arrest, people in Komsomolsk-on-Amur staged the region’s first demonstrations. “We had a series of one-person pickets and there was also a small rally near the central mall,” Vyacheslav Zhidkin, the head of a local printing office, told Mediazona. On July 11, more than a thousand people in Komsomolsk-on-Amur attended a full-fledged protest and march in the governor’s defense. This event was also unpermitted, but there were no arrests reported. Locals in several other parts of the region also held marches on Saturday. In Nikolayevsk-on-Amur, for example, motorists staged a flashmob, using their cars to spell the phrase “I/we = Furgal.”
Despite the fact that the protests were technically illegal, the Khabarovsk governor’s office thanked the public. “Thank you for your support. Neither the Khabarovsk Territory, the Far East, nor Russia itself has ever witnessed such unanimity. We are confident that you will be heard. All this began with a peaceful demonstration of support, and your march through the city’s central streets has already been compared to the ‘Immortal Regiment.’ We’re now appealing to you and asking you to avoid rioting and arrests. You’ve made your position clear. We stand with you and we respect you, and it means a lot. But we urge you to be reasonable. Aggression can harm everyone, including Governor Sergey Furgal. We ask you to disperse and return home and go back to your families and loved ones. Ignore the provocateurs and their incitements,” Furgal’s press service said in a public statement. After roughly four hours, the demonstration ended as it began: peacefully. Protesters signed a petition demanding the governor’s release and went home.
Law enforcement might be trying to police the movement behind the scenes. According to the local Telegram channel Komsogram, Furgal’s press secretary, Nadezhda Tomchenko, says she received a phone call from someone with close ties to local law enforcement who threatened a felony investigation against her in connection with Saturday’s protest. The call reportedly happened as the governor’s Instagram account was live-streaming the footage from the demonstration in downtown Khabarovsk. Tomchenko says she worries that she and Zakhar Sinyagovsky (the regional coordinator of LDPR, which is Furgal’s political party) might soon be arrested.