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World Headlines

Russian citizens continue to protest war with Ukraine despite threat of punishment

ELISSA NADWORNY, HOST:

We start this hour by taking a look at the invasion of Ukraine by hearing how Russian citizens have been responding. Despite controls on the flow of information inside the country and the threat of punishment, many Russians have taken steps to protest their country's aggressive actions. Fifteen thousand people have been detained in over 100 Russian cities since the war broke out late last month. That's according to OVD-Info, an independent media project that has been monitoring human rights in Russia for more than a decade.

Leonid Drabkin is OVD's general manager and joins us now. We're not disclosing his location in order to protect his personal safety. Leonid, welcome to the program.

LEONID DRABKIN: Hi.

NADWORNY: Could you give us a sense of what the mood is like in Russia right now?

DRABKIN: So I think it's changing every day, and over the last three weeks, unfortunately, it's becoming more and more scareful (ph) to protest, to say something against the war. And we see that all the people who, for example, go on the street or just post something on Facebook or do something which is not in line with the government opinion, they are politically prosecuted. And the more people see how others are being prosecuted, the more scareful for them to continue.

NADWORNY: So on Friday, some 200,000 people attended a patriotic rally at a Moscow stadium, where President Vladimir Putin spoke. I'm wondering, how do we square that with the mood you've just described?

DRABKIN: So first of all, it's quite important to understand that these are the people who were paid to go to this public rally, or they were made to go by their companies because most of them or even all of them are now working for the government companies. That's why it's quite important to understand that it's not real support.

NADWORNY: Leonid, how do you know that?

DRABKIN: We know, like, there are many journalistic reports where you can see, like, advertisements on internet that you can earn 1,000 rubles, which is, I guess, 10 euros, if you go there. Or, like, we see a lot of photos from companies when there is a statement that you should go there instead of work, like, or you can be fired. And so there are quite a lot of evidence. And this is not something new, I can say.

NADWORNY: What sort of punishments are the protesters getting for speaking out as they have, or even the bystanders? What's been happening to them?

DRABKIN: So most of people - well, first of all, you get detained by police. And sometimes it's brutal detentions, and you can be kicked. And then you'll be - you would be under pressure, both physical and psychological. Then when you're detained on the public rally, then you will probably spend from three to 10, 15 hours in a police station, and you'll spend the night there sleeping on chairs. And I think in 10 to 20% of cases, you are arrested for the term up to 15 or even 30 days.

NADWORNY: Why are people willing to risk all that? That sounds like a lot.

DRABKIN: There's something going wrong in our country and in the neighbor country, so everyone weighs, compares their own risk with the risks the people of Ukraine bearing. And some of them decide to - well, some of them can risk. Some of them can't. But, of course, people want to stop this war.

NADWORNY: The Russian parliament passed a law recently threatening up to 15 years in prison for anyone who spreads what the government considers to be false information. What effect did the law have on Russian media?

DRABKIN: This has an immediate effect on Russian media. Like, many media were closed down. For example, the only independent TV channel in Russia, TV Rain, was closed down. The most famous radio station was closed down - independent radio station - Echo of Moscow. And other media, smaller media were also closed down, like, because of their own decision. They decided to close down because the risks are too high.

NADWORNY: There are still a few independent media organizations operating, including yours. How have they survived?

DRABKIN: Well, it's a difficult question, actually. So we're just trying to do our best. And yeah, like, we don't have a choice either to continue or not. We just do it. But, of course, I can say that a lot of people are allocated to other countries.

NADWORNY: Yeah. They do it from outside of Russia.

DRABKIN: Yeah.

NADWORNY: Leonid Drabkin is the general manager of OVD-Info, an independent Russian media project. Thanks so much for being with us today.

DRABKIN: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for talking. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.