Russian police detain close to 400 anti-war protesters in several cities

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

Russian police detained at least 389 people at anti-war protests that took place in 39 Russian cities in the wake of Thursday’s early-morning attack on Ukraine, the OVD-Info protest monitor said.

The OVD-Info monitor has documented crackdowns on Russia’s opposition for years. 

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.

She confirmed her detention separately in a message to Reuters.

Police officer detain a demonstrator holding a sign reading ‘No war’ during a protest against the invasion of Ukraine in Moscow. Hundreds of people gathered in the centre of the city to protest against Russia’s attack on Ukraine. (Denis Kaminev/The Associated Press)

President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he had no other option but to order what he has called a special operation against Ukraine, saying all of Moscow’s previous attempts to change the security situation had come to nothing.

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.

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 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.

“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.”

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)

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.”

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.”

Russian armoured vehicles are loaded onto railway platforms at a railway station in the Rostov-on-Don region Wednesday. (The Associated Press)

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.”

“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.”

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

CBC News on the ground in Ukraine and Russia

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. 9:17

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, said he was speechless when he woke up to the. news

“Every [piece of] information from epicentre 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, and 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

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. 1:59

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.”

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.”

Putin seeks to calm business fears

In Russia, Putin tried to reassure the business community in the face of broad, punishing sanctions announced by the G7 countries.

In a televised meeting with business leaders, Putin told Alexander Shokhin, the head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, that Moscow had been forced into taking action and knew that sanctions would follow.

“We all understand the world we live in and were prepared in one way or another for what is now happening from the point of view of sanctions policy,” Putin said. “Russia remains a part of the global economy.”

WATCH | Earlier Thursday, life went about as normal in Moscow:

Muscovites go about their business in wake of Ukraine invasion

Hours after their country invaded Ukraine Thursday, some people in the Russian capital, Moscow, were going about their day in seemingly normal fashion. 0:40

Shokhin said Russia should stimulate extra demand for government debt from private investors, given new Western sanctions on Russian state bonds, warning new sanctions would be tougher than previous ones and may disrupt logistics and supply chains.

He also urged Western nations not to apply sanctions on climate projects.

“I want to thank you for what has been done so far in rather difficult conditions,” Putin told Shokhin.

PHOTOS | Cities around the world see protests against Russian invasion:

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