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‘We won’t be destroyed. And we won’t be silenced’ A guide to the most important anti-war initiatives in Russia and abroad
Russia has been waging an all-out war against Ukraine for more than four months. During this time, many Russian citizens have openly supported the so-called “special military operation,” but an anti-war movement has also been growing across Russia and abroad. The combined audience of Russian Telegram channels that oppose the war is more than 250,000 people (according to data from Antiwarriors, an independent anti-war project). Together with the editors of the capacity building project Teplitsa: Technologies for Social Good, Meduza rounds up the most significant anti-war initiatives that have emerged since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Overview: Media Partisans was created on February 27, 2022 and within three months had already launched several projects (e.g., “Information War” on VKontakte and “Quiz for Real Patriots”). They make anti-war posters and flyers, write articles and safety recommendations, support decentralized peaceful protest, and provide resources to share information.
In May 2022, “Media Partisans” activists launched “Navigator #notowar” — an information resource aimed at supporting and systematizing protests in Russia. And in June 2022 they launched the Media Partisan Library, which contains information about methods of resistance and security measures that should be taken both online and offline.
What the creators say: “One of the Kremlin’s main instruments of coercion is to create the appearance of our people’s support and unity. It’s important to remember this is merely a method of manipulating public opinion. One of our main tasks is to show that protest in Russia has always existed.” — Olga Demidova
Feminist Anti-war Resistance
Overview: A horizontal movement launched by activists on February 25, 2022. They call on feminists around the world to unite against the war and regularly engage in various methods of protest: writing anti-war slogans on banknotes; installing art-objects and memorials in city spaces; posting information about war crimes in Ukraine and anti-war campaigns; wearing all black in public as a sign of mourning; handing out flowers; and making viral anti-war postcards for broadcast lists on WhatsApp.
FAR activists inform Ukrainians located in the Russian Federation about their rights, help put people in contact with independent human rights organizations, and provide free humanitarian and psychological assistance. Together with other anti-war projects, they founded the “Anti-war Fund,” which helps Russian citizens who have experienced workplace discrimination due to their anti-war beliefs.
What the creators say: “Today feminists are one of the few active political forces in Russia. For a long time, Russian authorities did not perceive us as a dangerous political movement, and therefore we were temporarily less affected by state repression than other political groups. Currently more than forty-five different feminist organizations are operating throughout the country, from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok, from Rostov-on-Don to Ulan-Ude and Murmansk. We call on Russian feminist groups and individual feminists to join the Feminist Anti-war Resistance and unite forces to actively oppose the war and the government that started it.”
Anti-war Sick Leave
Overview: This initiative was launched by an anonymous group of friends on February 25, 2022. The original idea was to call for strikes, particularly mass sick leaves, to disrupt the work of the state and its war machine. Anti-war Sick Leave collaborated with Antijob and the Feminist Anti-war Resistance to create the “Anti-war Fund” (described above).
What the creators say: “Any strike during wartime is anti-war. Of course, for now strikes with openly anti-war demands are not being organized. But soon, individuals picketing will lead to breadlines — and that’s when the X-hour will come for labor activists.” — Mulan, an Anti-war Sick Leave participant.
Overview: A youth movement that brings together liberals, democrats, and human rights activists. It began in 2013 in Saint Petersburg. On February 25, 2022, the movement announced the start of an anti-war campaign and initiated the first anti-war protests. Over the course of three months, Vesna activists organized many different protest actions and launched the street agitation project “Visible Protest.” The movement also began public campaigns to repeal the “law on fake news,” to drop all criminal charges brought under the new article of the Criminal Code, and to impeach Putin.
What the creators say: “We’ve entered a difficult period. People have grown tired of lengthy anti-war campaigns without reaping tangible results today. However, it’s important to remember that the goal of the anti-war movement is not to stop the ‘special operation,’ but to change public opinion and lay the groundwork for further regime transformation. War is a symptom of the usurpation of power, so we must fight first for democracy. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” — Timofei Martynenko, Vesna activist.
Overview: Antijob was created in the early 2000s by several members of the “Autonomous Action” movement. This project’s goal is to help workers defend their rights and interests in labor conflicts. They host a platform that publishes reviews of employers, and they also publish materials on social, economic, political, and other issues concerning hired labor. Together with Anti-war Sick Leave and Feminist Anti-war Resistance, Antijob co-founded the “Anti-war Fund.” Additionally, Antijob actively sheds light on layoffs, wage reduction, and the general deterioration of workers’ positions due to the war.
What the creators say: “Real antifascism and internationalism can be based only on respect for other peoples and their choices. [The idea of the] ‘Russian World’ doesn’t include such respect. It doesn’t recognize that Ukrainians, Belarusians, Georgians, Kazakhs, and Armenians have the right to determine their own fate. Right now, Ukrainian workers could be struggling against their bosses [for workers’ rights], but instead they’ve been forced to wield weapons to defend even the possibility to pursue such a struggle.”
Overview: A podcast chronicling anti-war resistance in Russia, founded by former culture workers. Its goal is to increase the visibility of various anti-war initiatives, and to assist those who want to help activists.
What the creators say: “It’s important for us to go beyond our own social bubble […]. We’ve been having conversations for more than 100 days with the same people who agree on practically everything. It’s far more valuable to disrupt the information vacuum […]. For this reason, one of our main principles is to give the floor to everyone.”
A Call to Conscience
Overview: A coalition of lawyers and experts from Russian human rights organizations, advocating for the conscientious objection to military service. The project emerged in early March 2022 to help conscripts who want to stay out of the army, and soldiers who don’t want to participate in hostilities. They promptly respond to all requests submitted to their Telegram hotline, and have so far advised more than a thousand people.
What the creators say: “If a citizen has anti-war convictions, then he has the right to civil service in lieu of military service. Everyone has this right — conscripts, military personnel, and military reserves. And this right applies to any situation: in peacetime, during war, in the event of military mobilization. Arming a person against his will is prohibited.”
Media Resistance Group
Overview: A guerilla initiative launched on February 26, 2022. They fight against disinformation, strive to provide real data through social media about the scale of the war, and advocate for regime change in Russia. Participants include anarcho-feminists and anti-imperialist activists.
What the creators say: “We accuse Putin of supporting and inciting conflicts and waging wars, of annexing the territory of other states, and of repressively governing the country. However, we don’t believe that his overthrow will bring real change to Russia. The patriarchal-oligarchic totalitarian regime he built will not collapse with his departure. We need to deconstruct and reorganize the entire state system.”
Overview: #WakeUp!’s goal is to become “a place of strength and motivation” for those opposed to the war, and “a home for like-minded people” where participants feel they are not alone. They publish articles and guides; manuals on nonviolent resistance, security best practices, and how to help; stories about people who have spoken out against the war; newsletters; and announcements about activist events and actions.
What the creators say: “Remember — we’re on the side of truth, justice, and common sense. On the side of life. The world in which we’ve found ourselves is so flip-flopped, so unbelievable, that we need to remind ourselves this. […] I embrace everyone who remains a human being in a world of zombies, who every day affirms his humanity, even if only in a small way. You are not alone!”
Overview: This project was created on March 26 by #WakeUp! Activists. It is an interactive map of anti-war protests across Russia. It aims to publicize the many anti-war activities [that have occurred] and to show their scale.
What the creators say: “I was pleasantly surprised by how extensive the world of protest is today. Our people are incredible! I am grateful to everyone who hasn’t given up and continues to act. This motivates me and our entire team to grow our project and do better.”
Eighth Initiative Group
Overview: This project emerged in 2018 as a horizontal association of St. Petersburg-based feminist activists. Since that time, they have organized street actions, including marches, meetings, and performances. Even before the war the association launched an anti-war campaign, which resulted in several activists becoming suspects in criminal cases over “telephone terrorism.”
What the creators say: “Since we’re a horizontal movement, we won’t be destroyed. And we also won’t be silenced. No matter how much security officials want to ‘chop of the head’ of the Eighth Initiative Group, they won’t succeed. We don’t have a ‘head.’ We don’t have leaders or bosses — this is something they’ll never understand.”
Flag of Free Russia
Overview: At the end of February 2022, activists from Moscow and Berlin came up with the idea to create a symbol of a peaceful Russia. So they removed the red strip from the current Russian flag. The new white-blue-white flag symbolizes a country without blood, imperialist ambitions, and dictatorship. The idea was quickly supported by the Russian diaspora in various countries, and an action group was formed. One of the group’s members, Yuri Terekhov, spoke in Vilnius on March 5, 2022 at the anti-war conference organized by the Free Russia Forum, and invited all activist to use this flag as a symbol of peace.
What the creators say: “We want our protest against the war in Ukraine to be understood and visible to the entire civilized world. We are Russian citizens, but not supporters of the regime. We must find our own banner […] Now people all around the world are going to peaceful protests with this flag. It has become a symbol of the anti-war movement, giving people hope for another world.” — Activist Yuri Terekhov.
The Voice of Russia (TVOR)
Overview: The dual-language project #TheVoiceofRussia is an international nonprofit association of artists, producers, journalists, and other professional creatives living in Russia and abroad. They are united by a common goal: to make Russian-language anti-war protest visible throughout the world and create a future democratic Russia. They have developed a platform to support independent anti-war cultural projects.
What the creators say: “Our culture, our language, our very civilization cannot have a future if we don’t recognize how we’re responsible for what’s happened. If we want to preserve our own identity and hope that Russian culture will be a part of world heritage, then we need to be honest and open — with ourselves first of all — and begin a deep and difficult conversation about why this war was even possible. Silence and inaction are tantamount to self-elimination.” — Anastasia Vitts, TVOR Producer.
Overview: This project began on February 24, 2022. Its aim is to study what Russian citizens really think about the war, and to explain opinion poll data. To this end, the project’s authors — who are professional sociologists — conduct research that differs from standard surveys, then publish their results. They believe that answers to the standard]question “Do you support the ‘special operation’?” not only fail to elucidate the situation, but also befuddle an understanding of it. The project’s researchers therefore ask different questions, ones with clear practical implications. For example, “Do you think the government’s priority should be to achieve military objectives or save the economy?”
What the creators say: “36 percent of Russian citizens believe that the ‘special operation’ should continue until the surrender of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and 32 percent believe that the war should be stopped as soon as possible, whether or not any military objective is achieved. This doesn’t really look like unanimous support for the war, does it? And if we subtract from the ‘supporters’ those who believe that the government’s priority should be the economy rather than a military objective, then supporters of the war drop to 24 percent.” — Alexey Minyaylo, politician, activist, and former defendant in the “Moscow Case.”
Peace, Progress, and Human Rights
Overview: Veteran human rights activist Lev Ponomarev and his team came up with the idea for this project in 2021. It is an online community of democratically minded people, analogous to the “Democratic Russia” movement of the 1990s. Since the start of the “special operation” they’ve focused on anti-war initiatives.
What the creators say: “Let’s remember the words of Pierre Bezukhov from War and Peace: ‘My whole thought is that, since vicious people band together and constitute a force, honest people need only do the same. It’s that simple.’ Well no, it’s not simple at all. But it’s possible, and that’s the most important thing. And this means we aren’t allowed to give up.”
Overview: An online service through which you can send messages/petitions to legislators. Reception is the brainchild of the political activist Mikhail Pletnev. In the first days of the so-called “special operation,” he sent 450 anti-war letters to the State Duma. Pletnev then decided to simplify and automate this process. By the end of April his team, organized with the support of the activist Alexey Minyaylo, launched a website where anyone can write to a legislator in just a couple of minutes.
What the creators say: “Our task is to continuously lower the level of indifference to what’s happening. The objective is not to give additional paperwork to legislators and their assistants. These powerful people […] discuss between themselves how many letters/appeals they receive, and they understand when people don’t like something. At the same time, people who were previously afraid to express their opinion can begin to do so. Everything with us is completely legal; the texts are checked by lawyers, so it’s completely safe to send them.” — Mikhail Pletnev, political activist.
Overview: Nowar was launched in early March 2022 by a team of left-wing politicians, activists, journalists, and sociologists. They work to understand the causes of the war and its consequences, and to capture the experience, interests, and evolving views of citizens. They analyze public sentiment through the lens of social inequality, which likely harbors the reasons for what’s happening today.
What the creators say: “As long as Russia’s fate is determined by all kinds of ‘elites,’ it will remain a tragic one.”
Overview: A project engaged in online campaigning and pamphlet publishing. They compose anti-war messages that speak to people from a wide variety of social groups. In their materials, they use verified open data and reliable opinion poll results.
What the creators say: “The war shocked us, but even more shocking was the absence of a hundred thousand protests on the first day of the war — in Russia there was no one to organize them. It became clear that everyone needed to do something more than simply go out to the square.”
Overview: Initially, a group to help emigrants who left Russia because of the war, launched on March 10. Today it is also an anti-war project that unites diasporas.
What the creators say: “Russian citizens who have openly opposed the war are people capable of transforming our country. Only by uniting and acting together will we be able to stop the war and see a democratic Russia — a Russia that’s a full member of the international community. Today we support those the regime forced to leave, so that they can help the country find freedom.” — Anastasia Burakova, founder of The Ark.
Overview: Launched in April 2022, an independent initiative that helps students, instructors, and employees of educational and cultural institutions in Russia who fear persecution. The creators of Golden Key believe that people in academic environments are in the most vulnerable position: they can easily be expelled or fired for any careless remark or detained at an unauthorized protest. Golden Key provides financial and psychological help to these people, and if necessary, provides shelter.
What the creators say: “Activism in Russia today resembles a snowflake fighting a fire. Independent grassroots initiatives help the resistance grow. And the activity of this community — a community that exists and works for free, for the benefit of others — proves that there is sense in this resistance.”
Stylized as “Demokrati-Я” in Russian
Overview: An initiative by Russian emigrants in Berlin, which grew out of the January 2021 pro-Navalny protests and the March 2021 democracy camp “Stop Putin’s terror” at the Brandenburg Gate. They organize political and cultural rallies and actively participate in the anti-war movement. They have launched separate projects related to the support of political prisoners and the culture of historical memory. Their plans include the formation of a unified protest community of Russians abroad, as well as collaboration with German, Belarusian, and Ukrainian projects.
What the creators say: “Under [today’s] conditions, when international media no longer operates in Russia, it is often only through anti-war Russians abroad that European and, in particular, German society can see that many [Russians] don’t support the war and won’t be silent.” — Dasha D., Demokrati-JA volunteer.
SmoRodina: For democracy in Russia
Overview: A community of Russian emigrants that emerged in Norway amid the persecution of Alexey Navalny in 2021. At first it was a group of concerned people organizing meetings and rallies; later it registered as an NGO.
What the creators say: “We are shocked by the violence and brutality, the use of prohibited weapons, and the murder of innocent people in this war. Millions have been forced to flee. This is an incredible human tragedy. We condemn the repressions of Putin’s regime directed at people who have protested in Russia. For innocent actions, they have been subjected to disproportionately severe punishment and violence. The Russian authorities understand perfectly that they are violating human rights, not only by invading Ukraine but also by terrorizing their own population.” — Evgeniia Khoroltseva, SmoRodina activist.
Overview: An online platform that catalogues all the cases against those involved in anti-war activities. The project was launched by activists Alexey Belozerov, Sergey Drugov, Sasha Starost, and Margarita Zhentsova. At first, they created a website to support Sasha Skochilenko — an artist and musician from St. Petersburg, who faces up to ten years in prison for putting up anti-war stickers in a supermarket. The activists soon realized that there were many such cases and decided to reorganize the project to create a single database of political prisoners. The platform also collects publications, petitions, and brochures about problems prisoners face; information about new articles of the Russian Federation’s Criminal Code and their enforcement; and instructions on how to protect oneself.
What the creators say: “Our platform contains all the cases of political prisoners charged under the new articles of the Criminal Code. It’s important for people to see the full scale of the problem, and for the attention of journalists to not ‘collapse inward’ on two or three media personalities.” — Sasha Starost, Black February co-founder.
Overview: A project to support the LGBTQ community and non-white people in Eastern European countries. The initiative began in early March thanks to a London-based team consisting of two Russian-African women, a Ukrainian woman, and a Ukrainian man. Soon they were joined by their activist friends and volunteers. Together they help people from Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus who Russia’s war forced to move to other countries. They provide shelter, advice on legal matters, and financial support.
What the creators say: “We have made great strides in three months. With our small group (12 coordinators and 60 volunteers), we’ve advised more than 500 people. Thanks to us, people have been able to move and find safety. And this is the most important thing — to see that you really helped someone.” — Anna-Maria, Queer Svit co-founder.
Do you want Meduza to add information about your project to our anti-war guide? Fill out this form.
Abridged translation by Meghan Vicks
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