MOSCOW, June 3 — A group of women knelt outside the Russian defence ministry in Moscow today, demanding the return of partners drafted to fight in Ukraine.

Around 15 women, some with small children, assembled outside the building holding up hand-written placards saying “Bring my mobilised husband home” and posting images of themselves on social media.

The protest took place after Russia branded the organisation “Put Domoy” (The Way Home) — a movement to bring back men mobilised in the wake of a September 2022 draft — a “foreign agent” last week.

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The women, who wished to remain anonymous, told AFP they were not part of Put Domoy and were relatives of men fighting in Ukraine.

They held the protest without inviting the media, after journalists were arrested at previous protests organised by Put Domoy.

Paulina, one of the protesters, said the women were “angered” that Put Domoy and one of its leaders — Maria Andreyeva — were labelled foreign agents.

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“It was scary (to protest) of course. But when they start calling wives ‘foreign agents’, then there is no other choice,” she told AFP.

“The wives and mothers of mobilised (men) are tired,” Paulina said.

A ministry spokesman came out to meet the women, in a highly unusual move as Russian authorities almost never engage with protesters.

Paulina posted an audio file of the unnamed spokesman’s conversation with the women.

He said he could not bring back their relatives “because the decision of mobilisation was the president’s, the commander-in-chief’s.”

“I will give you a military-political piece of information... The state that we are bordering, called Ukraine, has created a security threat to a country called Russia,” he said.

Asked if his relatives were also in Ukraine, he said: “My son is there, fighting severely wounded, with a prosthetic leg, any more questions?”

He accused the women of wanting to create a show for “opposition” media, to which the women replied in chorus: “Our husbands are fighting!”

‘Political decision’

Several women came with young children in buggies and one held a small baby in her arms.

They dispersed due to heavy rain.

Maria, another woman whose boyfriend was mobilised, said the protest went “not badly”, saying at least they were “noticed.”

“We do not intend to give up. It’s possible that we will have to come out again,” she added.

She said she was “more scared than normal” to join the protest after Put Domoy was labelled a foreign agent, denouncing it as a “political decision.”

Maria said “many women now don’t want to associate themselves with this movement... We are just wives, mothers, sisters of mobilised.”

Russia had previously allowed Put Domoy to stage protests in central Moscow, seemingly unwilling to antagonise relatives of men fighting in Ukraine.

But its branding of the women as a “foreign agent” — a label it uses to stigmatise Kremlin critics — indicated a likely change in tactic.

The Kremlin’s 2022 mobilisation drive was unpopular and provoked a mass exodus of men from the country. — AFP