Happy International Women’s Day! Today Great Falls Rising celebrates women everywhere not afraid to stand up every day.
On the day that Russia invaded Ukraine, Yulia Zhivtsova knew that she needed to do something, observing that “it’s quite a horrible thing to realize that one day you wake up, and your tanks are going into Kyiv…. It’s just like a very, very bad dream.” For years, Russia has passed increasingly restrictive laws that have made it virtually impossible for citizens to hold protests without facing immediate arrest; as Yulia told NPR, “if you have a poster you get arrested right away, even if it’s just a blank piece of paper.” So instead of a sign, she went to Moscow’s Pushkin Square with two Harry Potter books, one with a yellow cover and one with a blue cover — the colors of the Ukrainian flag. Due to the subtle nature of her protest, Yulia says that “for about an hour, the police did not know what to do with me because it was quite unusual. But then yeah, they decided to just take me to the police station. I was just reading about the Dark Lord ascending. And I think it’s quite well, funny. If we may call anything funny these days.”
While Yulia was released that night and is now facing a hearing, she says that over the past ten days, the crackdown on protestors has become far more intensive. The country is currently holding over 4,300 protestors in detention across Russia. On Friday, Russia implemented more extreme measures in an effort to stifle criticism of its invasion of Ukraine, blocking access to Facebook and foreign news websites. The Russian Parliament also passed a new law targeting the media that criminalizes the spreading of what the government deems to be “false information” about the military; violators face potential prison sentences of up to 15 years. As a result, multiple Russian independent media outlets were forced to shut down and many journalists are now fleeing the country fearing persecution.
When asked if she’s worried about the risk of repercussions for speaking out, Yulia observes: “On one hand, yes, of course. But on the other hand, the situation has changed dramatically over the past few years. So now, unfortunately, you can’t say that you are safe if you don’t speak out. Unfortunately, now, it’s kind of a lottery. And you can get detained somewhere near the protests if you’re not participating in them for real… And more and more people are realizing now that keeping silent doesn’t actually help.” And while she doesn’t have high hopes that Putin will listen to those Russians opposing the invasion, she still believes it’s important to speak up: “When I go and protest, it’s not because I think Putin will look down at me and say, ‘Oh, there are too many people, I’ll stop.’ Well, that’s nonsense. We won’t have enough people because everybody’s too afraid. So it’s more for the future generations like, ‘You see? I was out there. I was protesting. I was against this.'”
From “A Mighty Girl,” March 6, 2022.
Categories: Womens History