Hurling each other with snowballs is great fun and literally the only sport one can afford when everything around is blanketed in white cover. However, the sport was used a mode of protest in Russia by those seeking release of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Protesters hurled snowballs at the police as they demanded Navalny's release.
The video of the unique protest was shared by a journalist on Twitter showing cops being hurled with snowballs. The form of protest seemed totally harmless as the police too did not resort to offensive mode.
Meanwhile, Russian police arrested more than 3,000 people Saturday in nationwide protests demanding Navalny's release. He is being seen as Kremlin's most prominent foe, according to a group that counts political detentions.
The protests in scores of cities in temperatures as low as minus-50 C (minus-58 F) highlighted how Navalny has built influence far beyond the political and cultural centers of Moscow and St. Petersburg.
In Moscow, an estimated 15,000 demonstrators gathered in and around Pushkin Square in the city center, where clashes with police broke out and demonstrators were roughly dragged off by helmeted riot officers to police buses and detention trucks. Some were beaten with batons. Navalny’s wife Yulia was among those arrested.
Some later went to protest near the jail where Navalny is held. Police made an undetermined number of arrests there. The protests stretched across Russia’s vast territory, from the island city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk north of Japan and the eastern Siberian city of Yakutsk, where temperatures plunged to minus-50 Celsius, to Russia’s more populous European cities. Navalny and his anti-corruption campaign have built an extensive network of support despite official government repression and being routinely ignored by state media.
“The situation is getting worse and worse, it’s total lawlessness," said Andrei Gorkyov, a protester in Moscow. "And if we stay silent, it will go on forever.”
The OVD-Info group, which monitors political arrests, said at least 1,167 people were detained in Moscow and more than 460 at another large demonstration in St. Petersburg.
Navalny was arrested on January 17 when he returned to Moscow from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a severe nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin and which Russian authorities deny. Authorities say his stay in Germany violated terms of a suspended sentence in a 2014 criminal conviction, while Navalny says the conviction was for made-up charges.
The 44-year-old activist is well known nationally for his reports on the corruption that has flourished under President Vladimir Putin's government.
(With inputs from AP)