‘We want our husbands back’: Wives of Russian troops sent to fight in Ukraine turn on Putin during Moscow protests – with dozens arrested in rally marking 500th day since mobilisation order

More than two dozen people, mostly journalists, were detained Saturday during a protest in central Moscow, as wives and other relatives of Russian servicemen mobilized to fight in Ukraine called for their return, according to independent Russian news reports.

The relatives gathered to lay flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, just outside the Kremlin walls.

They marked 500 days since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a “partial mobilization” of up to 300,000 reservists in September 2022 following battlefield setbacks in Moscow’s all-out war against Ukraine.

The call was widely unpopular and prompted hundreds of thousands to flee abroad to avoid being drafted.

Wives and family members of some of the reservists called up in 2022 campaigned for them to be dismissed and replaced with contract soldiers.

Wives of Russian troops sent to fight in Ukraine called for their return at a protest in Moscow on Saturday

Wives of Russian troops sent to fight in Ukraine called for their return at a protest in Moscow on Saturday

Members of the 'Go home' movement are surrounded by police officers in central Moscow

Members of the ‘Go home’ movement are surrounded by police officers in central Moscow

A protester is detained by police during Saturday's demonstrations in the Russian capital

A protester is detained by police during Saturday’s demonstrations in the Russian capital

Dozens gathered to lay flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin wall on the 500th day since Vladimir Putin ordered the partial mobilization of up to 300,000 reservists.

Dozens gathered to lay flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin wall on the 500th day since Vladimir Putin ordered the partial mobilization of up to 300,000 reservists.

One man holding a slogan on a ribbon that read: 'They paid their debt.  Is demobilization coming soon?'

One man holding a slogan on a ribbon that read: ‘They paid their debt. Is demobilization coming soon?’

Saturday’s protest was organized by one such campaign group, The Way Home, which on Friday called on Telegram for “wives, mothers, sisters and children” of reservists from across Russia to come to Moscow to “(their) to demonstrate unity’.

“We want our men to be alive again,” one of the protesters, who gave her name only as Antonina for fear of reprisals, is heard saying in a video published by independent Russian news outlet SOTAvision.

Antonina insisted she did not want compensation from the Russian government if her husband was killed, and said she would rather ‘either go to a monastery or follow him’.

‘I don’t want to live alone! And if (Russian authorities) don’t understand it… I don’t know. God be their judge,’ she told a SOTAvision reporter, struggling to hold back tears.

Saturday’s demonstration was the ninth and largest of similar weekly gatherings organized by The Way Home.

One popular Russian Telegram news channel estimated that about 200 people showed up.

Allies of jailed Kremlin foe Alexei Navalny and Russian opposition politician Maksim Kats expressed support for the demonstration on Friday, while the Moscow prosecutor’s office warned Russians early Saturday not to participate in “unauthorized mass events.”

According to OVD-Info, an independent website that monitors political arrests in Russia, police detained 27 people during the demonstration, mostly journalists.

According to SOTA, most were later released, although a male protester, Yaroslav Ryazanov, was still in custody Saturday night.

Aware of the public backlash, since late 2022 the Russian military has increasingly sought to bolster forces in Ukraine by enlisting more volunteers.

The authorities claimed that some 500,000 signed contracts with the Ministry of Defense last year.

Yet calls by the wives and family members to bring home mobilized reservists have been stonewalled by Russia’s state-run media, and some pro-Kremlin politicians have tried to cast them as Western stooges.

Protesters on Saturday angrily rejected the accusation.

A soldier's wife holds the sign 'Send my husband back'

A soldier’s wife holds the sign ‘Send my husband back’

More than 200 people showed up to protest, one news channel estimated

More than 200 people showed up to protest, one news channel estimated

The police reportedly detained 27 people during the demonstration, mostly journalists

The police reportedly detained 27 people during the demonstration, mostly journalists

Maria Andreyeva, whose husband and brother are fighting in Ukraine, told SOTAvision that she sees the fighting in Ukraine as “a great tragedy that happened between two brotherly people.”

‘Almost every Russian has family members in Ukraine, near and far, so… it’s a situation that has hit us to the core. After the Second World War, it seemed to us as if our grandfather had just died so that there would never be another (conflict),’ Ms Andreyeva said.

The protest came just weeks before the Russian presidential election, scheduled to take place in three days on March 15-17, that Mr. Putin is almost guaranteed to win.

After Ms. Andreyeva and others laid flowers at the monument, they were taken to Mr. Putin’s campaign headquarters to present their demands to him.

Last month, another Russian presidential hopeful met with Ms Andreyeva and other soldiers’ relatives campaigning for their return.

Former local lawmaker Boris Nadezhdin, who openly opposes the war in Ukraine, criticized the Kremlin’s decision to keep them in the ranks as long as the fighting continues.

“We want (the authorities) to treat people who are doing their duty in a decent way,” Mr Nadezhdin said.