Maria works around the clock to keep Russian war protesters safe

Photo: Nataliia Budantseva.

In front of her computer, with the phone constantly ringing, Maria helps people who have been hurt or arrested during anti-war protests in Russia. 
“Since 24 February, I have been working practically non-stop,” says Maria. 

Since the start of the war, spontaneous protests started erupting across Russia. The response from authorities has been brutal. Maria works on a hotline for protesters being detained or abused by police. The hotline is a part of the human rights organisation OVD info’s work to monitor human rights violations in the country and provide legal advice to people in need.  

“Since 24 February, I have not left the computer for even a minute, working practically non-stop,” says Maria. 

Photo: Nataliia Budantseva.

On the most hectic days there were four to five calls per minute per person. More than 20 people were working on the line at the same time. 

“We spoke non-stop – hanging up and then immediately switching to the next call, and the next. My colleagues and I worked in shifts, we slept for about two hours each, it was just physically impossible to do otherwise,” says Maria. 

Detaining kids from playgrounds 

Maria says that the police detain people for participating in rallies, for being near the rally, for any anti-war or pro-Ukraine signs. People are also being detained in their homes for having published something against the war on social media. There are even parents calling the hotline after their children have been abducted by police. 

“We had a mother calling us. Her son is 15 years old, the riot police detained him and his friends at a playground in the Gorky Park. Wearing bulletproof vests and helmets, police went to the playground to detain children. We have even documented police having detained a 9-year-old girl,” says Maria. 

Photo: Nataliia Budantseva.

Despite the violent response from police, Maria hopes that people will continue to protest. 

“I don’t have the right to appeal to the people to come out on the streets, but I very much want them to get together, gather their courage, and resist the system.” 

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