Mothers and wives of mobilised men in Russia have called Vladimir Putin a liar and launched a campaign to get their sons and husbands back from the front line in Ukraine.
A group calling itself The Way Home has built support in 29 cities across Russia since it was established three months ago and has now published a manifesto, accusing the Kremlin of betrayal.
“The promises turned out to be empty,” it said on the Telegram social messaging platform. “We have been betrayed by our own people.”
The women said that when they waved goodbye to their men during a mobilisation round in September 2022, they were promised that they would be home within a few months.
“The president declared 2024 the Year of the Family. This is ironic, given that wives howl without their husbands, children grow up without fathers, and many are already orphans,” said The Way Home.
Anti-war demonstrations are banned in Russia and the group is careful to steer away from criticising Putin’s reasons for invading Ukraine.
On its Telegram channel, the group published photos of car stickers supporting their campaign and said that it had already collected thousands of signatures.
“We will retreat only after our men are safe at home. Here and now, we are creating the foundation of public solidarity against indefinite mobilisation,” it said.
Women hold an important status in anti-war movements in Russia. In the 1980s, the wives and mothers of men sent to fight the Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan were credited with influencing public opinion and persuading the Kremlin to withdraw after a decade of fighting.
The Kremlin has snuffed out other protests by women since it invaded Ukraine last year and analysts said that it was also determined to stop The Way Home gaining momentum ahead of a presidential election in March that Putin wants to use to portray himself as a great Russian war leader.
The Kremlin’s chief propagandists have already accused The Way Home of links to Western intelligence and local and regional governments have also banned its meetings.
‘We were so hurt and bitter’
Most of the supporters of The Way Home have remained anonymous, but Maria Andreeva has been speaking out.
In an interview with the opposition Current Time Russian news channel, she said that she has not seen her husband or brother since they were mobilised last year.
“We were so hurt and bitter, we thought that Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] would speak on the anniversary of mobilisation and say: ‘Thank you to your husbands, I consider their service sufficient’,” she said.
Ms Andreeva briefly held a protest in central Moscow on Nov 7 with a few other women before police broke it up.
The Way Home has said that it is planning flash protests in cities across Russia and a demonstration in Moscow on Dec 16.
The war in Ukraine has bogged down along a 600-mile front line and recruitment has become a major issue. Russia is currently losing around 1,000 soldiers per day and has suffered around 300,000 casualties since invading Ukraine in February 2022.
On Friday evening, Putin signed into law a bill passed by the Russian parliament to expand the Russian army by 170,000 soldiers to 1.3 million. This follows an army expansion in August of 140,000 soldiers and a massive increase in military spending to around a third of total government spending.
Russia’s Ministry of Defence said that the army expansion would not trigger another mobilisation and was driven by “increased threats” and “ongoing Nato expansion”.
Russia already forces criminals and migrant workers from Central Asia to fight in the war.
Police raided a warehouse owned by the retail giant Wildberries near the town of Tula, south of Moscow, on Friday and reportedly rounded up 10 migrants to send to the front line.