Several hundred women formed Sunday human chains in Moscow and Saint Petersburg using Valentine’s Day to express support for the wife of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny and political prisoners.
Around 300 women gathered on Arbat Street in Moscow’s historic city centre holding a long white ribbon in temperatures of minus 13 degrees Celsius.
The gathering came after authorities last week sentenced Navalny, president Vladimir Putin’s top critic, to nearly three years in prison and unleashed a crackdown on his supporters.
Female activists said they wanted to express solidarity with Navalny’s wife Yulia and other women who have become victims of the crackdown.
‘By forming a chain we want to show that we are for love and against violence,’ Darya Obraztsova, a 22-year-old student, told AFP in Moscow.
‘Very brave and nice young women have gathered here,’ she said, adding she wanted ‘freedom and justice’ for Russia.
In the second city Saint Petersburg some 100 women formed a similar chain near a monument to victims of political repression. Some clutched flowers, while others recited poems by Anna Akhmatova, one of Russia’s most beloved poets.
‘Only love can win over evil,’ 25-year-old Valeriya Stepanova told AFP in Saint Petersburg.
The new form of opposition rallies is similar to human chains formed by female activists in neighbouring Belarus.
Navalny was arrested and jailed upon returning to Russia last month following treatment in Germany for a nerve agent poisoning.
His jailing sparked widespread protests across Russia that have seen at least 10,000 people detained.
After the crackdown Navalny’s team has postponed mass rallies until the spring or summer but urged supporters to use Valentine’s Day to try out new—and safer—forms of protests.
Navalny’s right-hand man Leonid Volkov has called on Russians to also stage courtyard protests on Sunday evening, lighting their phone flashlights for 15 minutes.
Authorities have warned that anyone violating the law would be punished.
‘We will not play cat and mouse with anyone,’ Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Europe