As the crowd swelled, police swept in. Some protesters told Russia’s TV Rain the detentions seemed random and heavy-handed. Protesters were shouting “shame on you” at police officers as people were being taken away.
Artist Ekaterina, 36, who also didn’t want her last name shared, said she hoped the government would hear them.
“There is a big chunk of people who don’t agree with what’s happening in the country, who didn’t go out to vote, and who don’t consider the elections legitimate,” she said.
Many told the media they were inspired by the events in Armenia, where a nationwide campaign of civil disobedience caused the long-time leader of the small Eastern European state to step down.
“Armenia has shown the people get to decide,” one protester in Pushkinskaya Square told TV Rain.
Navalny had previously said Armenia should set “a good example for Russia” on how the persistence of people taking to the streets can drive change.
In a YouTube video viewed by nearly 3 million people ahead of the protests, the 41-year-old lawyer said 53 million Russians didn’t vote for Putin in March and their interests need to be taken into consideration.
“They are different people, with different views, but as a whole, they have thoughts and ideas about Russia’s future that differ from that of Putin,” Navalny said. “Their opinions must be heard because they are the citizens of Russia too. Right now, they… we… are being ignored.”
Rallies were expected to take place in 97 cities around Russia, with a number of them unsanctioned by authorities — including the protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Navalny claims the rallies comply with the Russian constitution, but have been “illegally banned” by authorities.
Russian media reported Saturday that detentions took place at rallies throughout the country before the protest in the capital even began. Interfax news agency reported a number of Navalny’s supporters were detained on Friday — a day ahead of the protests.
Overall, more than 1,200 people were detained at anti-government rallies across Russia on Saturday, nearly half of them in Moscow, according to OVD-Info — a group that monitors political repression in Russia.