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Police officers detain an elderly woman as she protests against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in central Moscow on March 20, 2022.

Police officers detain an elderly woman as she protests against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in central Moscow on March 20, 2022. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)

Russian Activists Pen Open Letter Demanding End to War on Ukraine

"What's happening is a disgrace," says 76-year-old Elena Osipova, a St. Petersburg artist who has been arrested for protesting Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

Kenny Stancil

Several long-time Russian human rights advocates plan to publish an open letter urging Moscow to end its deadly assault on Ukraine, calling it "our common duty" to "stop the war [and] protect the lives, rights, and freedoms of all people, both Ukrainians and Russians."

As The Guardian, which obtained a draft statement, reported Friday:

The "manifesto," signed by 11 prominent activists including Lev Ponomaryov, Oleg Orlov, and Svetlana Gannushkina, announces the creation of a new anti-war council of Russian human rights defenders and is the broadest collective statement against the war by Russian human rights supporters to date.

"This war has neither just grounds nor a just purpose," says a draft of the letter. "The international court of justice of the United Nations recognized the grounds of the 'special military operation' declared by Russia as illegal and has demanded an immediate end to the aggression and withdrawal of troops. But the fighting, bombing, and shelling continue, leveling cities and vital infrastructure to the ground."

"Russian citizens are being involved in military operations on the territory of Ukraine, where they become accomplices in war crimes and die themselves."

Since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale invasion just over a month ago, the number of individuals who have been forced from their homes is approaching 10 million, nearly a quarter of Ukraine's total population. That includes more than three million refugees who have fled to other countries and roughly 6.5 million internally displaced persons who have been uprooted but remain inside the besieged nation.

The U.N. estimates that up to 90% of Ukraine's population will be living on $5.50 per day or less by the end of 2022—up from 2% at the start of the year—unless the war is brought to a swift end through diplomatic efforts, which have languished so far.

Moreover, "many thousands have died—both civilians (among them more than 100 children) and military personnel from both sides," the letter continues.

"Russian citizens are being involved in military operations on the territory of Ukraine, where they become accomplices in war crimes and die themselves," states the letter. "Our first goal is to help them avoid this, relying on the constitution and Russian legislation, and to assist all those who are illegally forced to participate in hostilities."

While Moscow has officially acknowledged the deaths of just 498 of its troops, Kyiv reports that more than 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed. Reliable data remains elusive, so activists, who intend to provide legal aid to Russian families who "find themselves in an information vacuum," are demanding that the ministry of defense share accurate information about fatalities.

"There is no official updated information about the dead, about the transfer of bodies to families, about prisoners, about their release or exchange," the letter says. "It is difficult or impossible for relatives to find out what has become of their sons and husbands, or to get the bodies of the dead."

The letter echoes a statement released last month by a two million-member confederation of Russian labor unions, which argued that "it is the working people of our countries, on both sides, who are suffering as a direct result of military conflict."

Many Russian peace advocates have put their lives on the line in recent weeks to oppose Moscow's attack on Ukraine.

"The authorities are trying to arouse patriotic feelings in the public. But it's all a deception."

One of them is 76-year-old Elena Osipova, a St. Petersburg artist who has been arrested for protesting Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

"What's happening is a disgrace," Osipova told BBC News on Thursday. "So many people are being killed."

"The authorities are trying to arouse patriotic feelings in the public. But it's all a deception," she added. "And many are deceived by the propaganda that has gone on for years and that has changed people. It's terrible."

The Kremlin has cracked down on dissent with growing ferocity over the past several weeks. In addition to detaining more than 15,000 anti-war demonstrators, Putin's government has effectively criminalized independent reporting on the war, passing legislation that threatens to put those who publicize "fake"—that is, critical—information about the ongoing military offensive behind bars for up to 15 years.

In light of this repressive context, the 11 prominent activists behind the open letter seek to establish a "council of human rights defenders in Russia whose goal is to coordinate the actions under the 'new conditions' of working in Russia," The Guardian reported.

Outside of Russia, eight of the country's leading opposition figures have formed an anti-war committee to protest Putin's assault on Ukraine from exile, The Moscow Times reported earlier this week. 


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