More than 1,700 people detained in widespread Russian protests against Ukraine invasion

Shocked Russians turned out by the thousands Thursday to decry their country's invasion of Ukraine as emotional calls for protests grew on social media and around 1,745 people in 54 Russian cities were detained, at least 957 of them in Moscow, according to OVD-Info, which tracks Russia's opposition.

Protests decrying invasion of Ukraine took place in 54 Russian cities and around the world

Shock and protests in Russia after Ukraine attacked

1 year ago
Duration 2:25
More than 1,000 people were reportedly arrested during protests across Russia following the invasion of Ukraine, while some residents were shocked the attack happened. Meanwhile, the government worked overtime to keep control of the message surrounding the incursion.

With files from CBC's Briar Stewart, Corinne Seminoff and Dmitry Kozlov in Rostov-on-Don, Russia

Shocked Russians turned out by the thousands Thursday to decry their country's invasion of Ukraine as emotional calls for protests grew on social media.

Around 1,745 people in 54 Russian cities were detained, at least 957 of them in Moscow, according to OVD-Info, which has documented crackdowns on Russia's opposition for years.

Hundreds of posts came pouring in condemning Moscow's most aggressive actions since the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

President Vladimir Putin called the attack a "special military operation" to protect civilians in Eastern Ukraine from "genocide" — a false claim the U.S. had predicted would be a pretext for invasion, and which many Russians roundly rejected. Late Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr  Zelensky said 137 civilians and military personnel had been killed in the first day of the attack.

A person carries a banner during a protest in Moscow against the Ukraine invasion. The banner reads 'No war. Freedom for political prisoners.' (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)

Tatyana Usmanova, an opposition activist in Moscow, wrote on Facebook that she thought she was dreaming when she awoke at 5:30 a.m. to the news, which she called "a disgrace that will be forever with us now."

"I want to ask Ukrainians for forgiveness. We didn't vote for those who unleashed the war," she said.

'I'm worried about the people very much'

As sirens blasted in Kyiv, Ukraine's capital, and large explosions were heard there and in other cities, Russians were signing open letters and online petitions demanding the Kremlin halt the assault, which the Ukrainian health minister said had killed at least 57 Ukrainians and wounded dozens more.

Police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest against Russia's attack on Ukraine in St. Petersburg, Russia, Thursday. Similar protests took place in at least 54 Russian cities. (Dmitri Lovetsky/The Associated Press)

"Public opinion is in shock; people are in shock," political analyst Abbas Gallyamov told The Associated Press.

One petition, started by a prominent human rights advocate, Lev Ponomavyov, garnered over 150,000 signatures within several hours and more than 330,000 by the end of the day. More than 250 journalists put their names on an open letter decrying the aggression. Another one was signed by some 250 scientists, while 194 municipal council members in Moscow and other cities signed a third.

A person is detained by police during an anti-war protest in Moscow. About 957 of 1,745 people arrested were in Moscow, according to OVD-Info, which documents crackdowns on Russia's opposition. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)

"I'm worried about the people very much. I'm worried to tears," said Zoya Vorobey, a resident of Korolyov, a town outside Moscow, her voice cracking. "I've been watching television since this morning, every minute, to see if anything changes. Unfortunately, nothing."

Several Russian celebrities and public figures, including some working for state TV, spoke out against the attack. Yelena Kovalskaya, director of a state-funded Moscow theater, announced on Facebook she was quitting her job, saying "it's impossible to work for a killer and get paid by him."

Moscow-based opposition activist Marina Litvinovich was one of the people detained after she called for anti-war protests in the country.

"I was detained on my way out of the house," Litvinovich wrote on Telegram.

Police detain a demonstrator holding a sign reading 'No war' during a protest against the invasion of Ukraine in Moscow. (Denis Kaminev/The Associated Press)

Russia's Investigative Committee issued a warning Thursday afternoon reminding Russians that unauthorized protests are against the law.

Roskomnadzor, state communications and media watchdog, demanded that Russian media use "information and data they get only from official Russian sources." Some media reported that employees of certain state-funded companies were instructed not to comment publicly on the events in Ukraine.

WATCH | How the assault on Ukraine unfolded:

What happened on the 1st day of Russia's invasion of Ukraine

1 year ago
Duration 4:56
Ukrainian forces battled Russian invaders as hundreds of thousands of people fled their homes in the biggest attack in Europe since the Second World War. Here’s how the assault unfolded and world leaders reacted.

Human rights advocates warn of crackdown

Human rights advocates warned of a new wave of repression on dissent.

But despite the pressure from the authorities, more than 1,000 people gathered in the centre of Moscow Thursday evening, chanting "No to war!" as passing cars honked their horns.

Hundreds also took to the streets in St. Petersburg and dozens in Yekaterinburg.

Many young people were among those out demonstrating in Russian cities Thursday. Here, a young woman in St. Petersburg is detained by officers. (Dmitri Lovetsky/The Associated Press)

"This is the most shameful and terrible day in my life," Yekaterina Kuznetsova, 40-year-old engineer who joined the demonstration in St. Petersburg, told The Associated Press.

"I even was not able to go to work. My country is an aggressor. I hate Putin. What else should be done to make people open their eyes?"

Protests against the invasion also took place in cities around the world, including in the U.S., Canada, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Greece, Israel and elsewhere.

PHOTOS | Images from protests around the world:

Russia's official line in the meantime remained intransigent. The speaker of the upper house of parliament, Valentina Matviyenko, charged that those who spoke out against the attack were only caring about their "momentary problems."

State TV painted the attack in line with what Putin said in his televised address announcing it. Russia 1 TV host Olga Skabeyeva called it an effort "to protect people in Donbas from a Nazi regime" and said it was "without exaggeration, a crucial junction in history."

Police officers detain a demonstrator in St. Petersburg. (Dmitri Lovetsky/The Associated Press)

In Rostov-on-Don, some tell CBC they support Putin's move

In Rostov-on-Don, about 120 kilometres from Russia's border with Ukraine, some residents told CBC they were supportive of Putin's decision to invade while others were hesitant to weigh in at all.

The city of more than a million people is one of the staging grounds where Russian troops amassed in lead-up to Thursday's attack and is one of the areas to which civilians from Donetsk, one of the two breakaway regions in Eastern Ukraine, were evacuated ahead of the invasion.

A young couple from Donetsk, the territory controlled by a pro-Russia separatist government in Eastern Ukraine, fill in documents after evacuating to the Rostov-on-Don region, near the border with Ukraine Sunday, ahead of the invasion. (The Associated Press)

A war between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk, the other separatist-controlled region, has been going on since 2014 and has claimed around 14,000 lives, according to Ukrainian government estimates.

The Donbas region in eastern Ukraine is currently split into territory controlled by the government, in yellow, and that held by Russia-supported separatists, in orange. The opposing sides have been fighting since 2014. (CBC)

Rostov-on-Don resident Natalia Mickiewicz, 56, sees the invasion as necessary in order to get control of that ongoing conflict.

"Рeople have been suffering there for eight years," she said. "We have many relatives there. Imagine — children who are eight years old now were born under the bombing and went to school under the bombing. Such a situation should have been ended long ago. I am very sorry for the people and the fact that a lot of time has been lost and the infrastructure has been destroyed."

She said she and her friends and acquaintances support Putin's decision.

Natalia Mickiewicz, 56, supports Putin's decision to invade Ukraine because she thinks it will put an end to the eight-year-long conflict in the Donbas region. (Dmitry Kozov/CBC)

"Look how diplomatically he does everything," she said of Putin.

"He explains everything in detail. Have you ever seen an American president explain something to someone before bombing someone? But he explained everything, even to the Ukrainian side. He said that in no case is he going to bomb civilians."

Mickiewicz said Russians have no enmity toward Ukrainians.

"Ukrainians do not need to be afraid of Russia," she said. "We used to live together. We were like brothers and sisters … and we were torn apart from each other. Capitalist countries have divided us and are rejoicing. But we are the closest people — Belarus, Ukraine, we have a lot of relatives both there and here. My soul aches for everyone."

WATCH | How propaganda played a part in Putin's invasion of Ukraine:

How Putin used propaganda to justify invading Ukraine

1 year ago
Duration 8:08
Elaborate state-media vilification of Ukraine and a lengthy personal essay about history are just part of the propaganda campaign Russian President Vladimir Putin has used to lay the groundwork for the invasion of its neighbour.

Another resident of Rostov-on-Don didn't want to talk about the invasion when approached by a CBC crew Thursday,

"I don't have time to think about this situation. I'm working," said 36-year-old Roman, who did not want to give his last name. "I have no opinion on this. The people in power will sort it out."

He said he talked to family members in Ukraine Thursday and that while they were shocked that the bombing had started, "They're all right."

'The people in power will sort it out,' said Roman, 36, a resident of Rostov-on-Don, Russia. (Dmitry Kozlov/CBC)

"I have relatives in Ukraine, we treat them normally, and they treat us normally," he said of relations between the two countries. "Everything that happens is politics. Ordinary people, friends, relatives do not experience any aggression towards each other. The attitude of Ukrainians to Russians will not change."

Another resident who agreed to speak with CBC, but did not want to give his last name, said he doesn't always agree with Putin but does support him on foreign policy and agreed with his justification that Russia needs to keep NATO at bay and prevent the alliance from making Ukraine a member.

"How long can we tolerate the approach of the West to our home?" said Dmitry, 50. "Thirty years ago, the flight time of missiles to our borders was 30 minutes. Now, it is less than five. They will put it here, it will be three. What am I, living in Rostov, to do?"

Dmitry, resident of Rostov-on-Don (Dmitry Kozov/CBC)

When asked whether he was worried about the impact of the sanctions the West said it will impose in response to the invasion, Dmitry said it won't be easy but that Russians will make do.

"We are already tired of worrying about sanctions," he said, referring to those already in place over Russia's annexation of Crimea and its alleged role in the poisoning of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny.

"How much can you still worry about? I don't see any real leverage on us. Yes, we will live without parmesan, yes we will live without any clothes....Yes, it will be hard, not easy.

"We are used to the good [life]. But I still remember how to plant and grow potatoes for my needs. I'm already too lazy, but I'll remember. We will survive, but what will they do without our gas?"

WATCH | CBC correspondents report from two sides of the conflict:

CBC News on the ground in Ukraine and Russia

1 year ago
Duration 9:17
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine begins, the CBC's Margaret Evans reports from the streets of Kyiv, while Briar Stewart details the situation in Russia from Rostov-on-Don.

Watching in disbelief from Crimea

Farther south in Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea that Putin seized from Ukraine in 2014 in the wake of the ousting of pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych, there was fear and disbelief.

Rustam Aslanov, who was born in Crimea and runs his own pizzeria in the resort city of Yevpatoria, told CBC he was speechless when he woke up to the news of the invasion.

Rustam Aslanov, 24, runs a pizzeria in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014, and is watching in disbelief as Russia attacks Ukraine, where he has friends and relatives. (Dmitry Kozlov/CBC)

"Every [piece of] information … today is like a knife in my heart," the 24-year-old told CBC by phone Thursday.

"From morning to evening, these explosions, panic. This is real war. And several weeks ago, it was hard to believe ... not weeks, even yesterday. And now, it's a real invasion here ... and my friends and relatives there in Ukraine right now, they can't even escape."

WATCH | What it looks like in the parts of Ukraine hit by Russian missiles:

The scene on the streets of Kyiv as attack continues

1 year ago
Duration 2:00
Freelance reporter Jessica Golloher describes what it was like on the streets of Kyiv Thursday, as the Russian attack on Ukraine continued and people fled the capital city.

He said his grandmother in Ukraine is unable to leave because she is taking care of Aslanov's uncle, who is paralyzed.

"It's nowhere to run for them," he said.

"Just sit there, pray and wait the rockets will miss them. And you know, she is the child of war World War II, and imagine how hard for her to see that it's happening again."

WATCH | Kyiv resident describes living through 1st day of invasion:

Ukraine resident describes first day of ‘unthinkable’ invasion by Russia

1 year ago
Duration 1:19
Iryna Dobrohorska, who lives in Kyiv, says she and her neighbours gathered in the basement shelter of their apartment building and discussed how to protect themselves from possible gunfire and shelling.

Aslanov said his Russian friends, meanwhile, are watching in frustration and trying to do what they can to speak out against the invasion.

"I know that many Russian citizens and my friends, they are struggling right now, and a lot of them posting their apologies on social networks," he said.

"I don't see any reasons to do that because it's not their fault. After all, they can't change nothing. But I know that they're trying, and they're trying right now in peaceful demonstrations. But we all know that for Russian government ... they are doing what they want, and citizens' opinion is nothing for them."

The interactive features of this map will be active in future updates. 

With files from CBC's Briar Stewart, Corinne Seminoff and Dmitry Kozlov and Reuters