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Hundreds are arrested as shocked Russians protest Ukraine attack

Police officers detain demonstrators in St. Petersburg, Russia on Thursday. Hundreds of people gathered in Moscow and St.Petersburg to protest against Russia's attack on Ukraine.
Dmitri Lovetsky
/
AP
Police officers detain demonstrators in St. Petersburg, Russia on Thursday. Hundreds of people gathered in Moscow and St.Petersburg to protest against Russia's attack on Ukraine.

MOSCOW — 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. Some 1,745 people in 54 Russian cities were detained, at least 957 of them in Moscow.

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

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.

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.

"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 more than 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.

"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."

"I know that right now many of you feel desperation, helplessness, shame over Vladimir Putin's attack on the friendly nation of Ukraine. But I urge you not to despair," human rights activist Marina Litvinovich said in a video statement on Facebook, calling for mass protests Thursday evening.

"We, the Russian people, are against the war Putin has unleashed. We don't support this war, it is being waged not on our behalf," Litvinovich said.

But the authorities were having none of that.

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