Interview Feminist Resistance in Russia

Russian dissident Liliya Vezhevatova: ‘Women are the face of protest in Russia’

Russia's war against Ukraine has given rise to a new political force in Russia: Feminist Resistance Against War. This underground movement is active at home and abroad. Interview with the coordinator, Liliya Vezhevatova.

Published on 4 October 2023 at 15:52

Meridiano 13: What is Feminist Resistance Against War?

Liliya Vezhevatova: Feminist Resistance Against War  is a horizontal movement that arose after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It brings together Russian feminists – both independent organisations and activists. Our Manifesto was published on 25 February 2022.

How is the movement organised? 

We are a horizontal movement, without hierarchy. To make important decisions there are video calls among the coordinators and an anonymous bot on Telegram. Feminist Resistance Against War is a network, with autonomous groups in different cities. To open a group, one only needs to share the ideas of our Manifesto. According to our data, more than 45 feminist groups are active throughout Russia, from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok, and our activists work in 28 countries.

Are the movement and/or activists subject to repression by the authorities? 

Yes, like all other protest movements in today's Russia, our movement is subject to persecution and repression. In December 2022, the movement was given the status of "foreign agent". This is how the government tries to prevent it from working.

Our activists and coordinators are regularly stopped, fined and arrested. Houses are searched and computers seized. The activists most at risk, we try to get them out of Russia.

Feminist Anti-War Resistance
The logo of Feminist Resistance Against War.

After the mobilisation was announced, protests by the mothers and wives of the mobilised happened all over Russia, and the Council of Wives and Mothers was created. What role did women play in the resistance movement in this first year of the conflict?

Thousands of activists have been protesting against the war and dictatorship. Women spread underground pamphlets, organised pickets and peaceful demonstrations. Even before the invasion of Ukraine, female activists regularly took to the squares of their cities to demonstrate against corruption, domestic violence, the blocking of independent media, and to defend political prisoners. This despite being subjected to police repression, public outrage and internet witch-hunts.

After 24 February 2022, women have not only become the face of anti-war protests, but also the main driving force tackling other war-related issues. Women are helping Ukrainians whom Russia has made homeless; they are helping men who do not want to kill and die; they are helping lawyers whom the authorities call "enemies". After 24 February, to many Russian women, all this became more important than their careers and private lives.

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In his speech to the Federal Assembly on 23 February 2023, Putin again emphasised that the family is the union between a man and a woman and that there is no place for "Western Satanism" in a Russian society based on traditional Orthodox values. 

In this war, it is not just mobilisation that threatens the rights, personal safety and economic wellbeing of Russian women – it is also the amplification of traditionalist rhetoric that goes with the war. The large sums of money that are spent on war operations could be invested in the welfare of women and children. The government apparently cares less about the family than about growing the army.

Men are taken away even when they have minor dependent children. In many regions, families have had to equip the mobilised men themselves, buying everything at their own expense, including bulletproof vests. Who will look after the families who have lost their only source of livelihood? All this suffering rests on the shoulders of the women. Many of the surviving men are sick and unable to work, and it is always the women who, due to lack of state support, have to take care of them. 

In addition, economic problems and the social crisis will inevitably lead to a rise in domestic violence. Men returning to civilian life carry with them war-related psychological traumas, which often result in aggression.

On 5 December 2022, Putin signed a new law banning LGBT+ propaganda. Has the war accelerated gender inequality?

The government equates its fight against the LGBT community with defending Russia's sovereignty. Even before the enactment of the law, there were debates in parliament on banning "gay propaganda" in which the "sodomitic ethics of the new man" was discussed. This "sin" is described by parliamentarians as not a private affair, but a matter for the state. "On the ethics of the country at war depends our future common victory," said a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church on that occasion. Those who do not hide their "non-traditional sexual orientation" are persecuted in the same way as activists and opposition politicians. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, many have left Russia, but most do not have this possibility.

What does it mean today to be a representative of the LGBT+ community in Russia during the war? 

The law does not contain a precise definition of "gay propaganda". This increases the likelihood of persecution for a large segment of the population. Militarist rhetoric was already in play during the discussion of the bill: LGBT propaganda was defined as the core of the war – hybrid and spiritual – that the "collective West" has declared on Russia. Failures on the ground in Ukraine are linked to moral degradation; defeating "sodomy" also means victory in war.

What kind of protest actions have you organised?

In more than a year of existence, Feminist Resistance activists have organised dozens of actions: from women's marches at the beginning of the war, to partisan actions when it became impossible to demonstrate against the war. One of the main tasks is to overcome the information blockade in which the Russians have found themselves because of war censorship. Across Russia the groups act according to their own security protocols and anonymously: they give out leaflets on how to avoid mobilisation, they distribute "Ženskaja Pravda" ("Women's Truth"), the movement's newspaper, and they organise acts of resistance.

In addition, in Russia, we have set up groups to raise an anti-war consciousness. The aim is to unite people with anti-war ideas who cannot freely express their position. A psychological support scheme has been set up and has received more than 1,000 requests for help.

Separately, work is carried out on the internet. We create viral content: for example, greeting cards with anti-war phrases that we spread on social networks. On social networks and via Telegram bots we spread important instructions on how to avoid mobilisation, and provide lawyer contacts.

The Feminist Resistance Against War has joined Alexei Navalny's online platform.

The offices of Navalny are successfully using a more secure platform on TOR to connect coordinators with volunteers in Russia. They invited other opposition movements to open their own groups on their platform and we were first to accept. Now our activists in Russia can also stay in touch and coordinate their work via the platform.  

How do you assess the movement in this first year of existence and what prospects do you see for the future?

In that year, our movement established itself as a new political force in Russia. It has done an enormous amount of work. Resistance has become the main focus of life for many of us. As long as Russian missiles fly over Ukrainian cities, as long as women, men, children and the elderly die in Ukraine at the hands of Russian soldiers, we cannot stop.

👉 Original article on Meridiano 13

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