On 6-9 March 2016, protests around the world were held in support of Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, who was saying her last word in court of Russian Donetsk. The 34-y.o. pilot has been held over 631 days in captivity in Russia on charges that she denies. Protesting Russian justice, Savchenko was on her 84th day of hunger strike and 6th day of dry hunger strike, meaning she did not drink any water for 6 days. The call to action was posted by her lawyer Mark Feygin on twitter, and many people joined in.
Ukrainian and human rights activists worldwide came to Russian consulates to protest against the illegal imprisonment of the Ukrainian woman. The activities were coordinated in the fb event bit.ly/freesavchenko. Options for joining were: to sign an open letter to European leaders, to participate in a twitter storm, to reach out to the press, and organize a protest. At least 130 protests were held worldwide, making it the most massive #FreeSavchenko support action to date (the previous ones being 22 January 2015, 1 March 2015, 11 May 2015.) This map shows their locations worldwide:
Apart from rallies, support was shown by political and civic organizations and individuals, and in social media with selfie flashmobs and a twitter storm.
What is noteworthy, many rallies took place in South-eastern Ukraine, some in cities that were one year ago under the occupation of Russia’s hybrid army. Odesa, Kharkiv, Kherson, Kramatorsk, Kurakhove, Mykolayiv, Nizhyn, Shchastia, Severodonetsk, Sumy, Zhytomyr, Kyiv, and others joined the protest. Single pickets even took place in Simferopol, occupied Crimea, where harsh Russian anti-protest laws allow single pickets only without special permission.
A series of pickets and rallies took place across Russia. Traditionally, their participants were detained and fined. At least 39 people were detained in Moscow and after undergoing trials fined as much as RUB 20,000 ($286, which is more than half the average Russian monthly salary). Knowing that they would be arrested and fined, they were not intimidated and still came out to protest in defense of an innocent woman. Despite individual pickets being allowed, picketers were arrested also, for standing closer than the allowed 50 m. You can watch the police arresting the activists in Moscow and St.Petersburg below:
— Protest SPb (@ProtestSPb) March 8, 2016
Activists in Limassol (Cyprus), Hamburg, Berlin, Bochum, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Munich, Leipzig, Kassel (Germany), Antwerp (Belgium), Athens (Greece), Bratislava (Slovakia), Brussels (Belgium), Budapest (Hungary), Bucharest (Romania), Geneve (Switzerland), Gothenburg, Stockholm (Sweden), Haague (Netherlands), Krakiv, Warsaw (Poland), Marseille, Lion, Paris, Strassburg (France), Milan, Rome (Italy), Minsk (Belarus), London (Great Britain), Lisboa (Portugal), Madrid (Spain), Oslo (Norway), Prague (Czech Republic), Sofia (Bulgaria), Vienna (Austria) came out, mainly to Russian embassies and consulates, to demand the release of Nadiya Savchenko.
Caucasus, Asia, Middle East, Oceania
A 7 km human chain in Tbilisi linked protesters that were against deals with Russia’s Gazprom. Many were holding signs to #FreeSavchenko:
Communities in Australia, Egypt, Malaysia, Turkey, Australia, Georgia, Israel, Japan, and China joined the protest. A special thanks goes to separate activists in Iran and India, who were brave enough to go protest by themselves.
North & South America
Many rallies traditionally took place in many cities of USA and Canada, but one took place also in Argentina.
Thinking outside the box
I would like to specially highlight the creative solutions that activists found for conveying their message. As many activists know, getting media coverage can be quite a challenge if you don’t have an eye-catching element. Here are some decorations that #FreeSavchenko protesters used to attract attention.
#FreeSavchenko sky lanterns were sent to the sky above Tbilisi, Georgia:
At the same rally, projectors decorated a building with signs “indifference kills” and “Free Savchenko.”
Shackles as a symbol of imprisonment were also seen in Tbilisi:
Chains were also used by activists in Berlin:
Protesters in Valletta, Malta, made a street exhibit with Savchenko leaflets:
An educational component was also present in Milan – protesters handed out leaflets to passerbyers:
A call to Free Savchenko ended up even in a mobile wifi hotspot in New York – creator unknown.
— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) March 10, 2016
The Boryspil airport, meanwhile, showcased #FreeSavchenko signs.
Support from politicians/organizations
MEP Petras Auštrevičius urged EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to impose personal sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin and 28 other individuals over the “illegal” treatment of Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko. The letter is gathering signatures, with 57 being the latest number. Then Members of the European Parliament had a flashmob and demanded freedom for Nadia Savchenko. Meanwhile, the EPP group called upon the European Council to urgently take up Nadiya’s case.
On March 7 and 10, The European Union’s Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini issued statements calling to release Savchenko.
Polish parliamentarians adopted a resolution calling to release Savchenko. The MPs claim that detaining Savchenko is a prime example of Russia’s violation of all human rights. They also call to free all Ukrainians held captivate in Russians prisons and by Kremlin-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Ambassador Power called upon Russia to release Savchenko at once, as well as Secretary Kerry.
Meanwhile, US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton also called to release Savchenko, saying that she is held on trumped-up charges, which Russia should drop immediately and release her.
How does this all help release Savchenko
Support from friends all over the world keeps Nadiya going, as she’s said multiple times. So every bit of support is precious! It’s also clear that public pressure is creating political pressure and that amounts in pressure on Russia to release the pilot. However, it’s also becoming clear that the pressure could be much larger if the protests of the activists were covered in local media of the respective countries. Achieving this would bring the Ukrainian message to a new level. The next #FreeSavchenko day of support has been announced on 21-22 March, when the Russian court will pass the sentence on Nadiya Savchenko, who has started drinking water but announced that she will resume her strike after the announcement of the verdict. It is on this day that Ukrainians and their supporters worldwide have the opportunity to try reaching out to the local press to bring their efforts to a new level. As only international pressure can help release Savchenko and the other 24 Ukrainians illegally jailed in Russia, it would be a perfect time to try. Apply for the urgent workshop for activists on working with media before March 17.