Around two dozen protesters gathered in front of Russia’s consulate in Montreal on Sunday, joining sister demonstrations in cities around the world against the detention of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was arrested upon his return to the country from Germany earlier this month.
Organizer Vesta Zvedochkina said the crowd had one message: “to show (the) Russian government that we are against political suppression, and we want them to release all politically-arrested people in Russia.”
Zvedochkina, who organized a similar protest in front of the consulate last week, said she was impressed with the turnout given the frigid weather Sunday, with windchill making the air feel like -17C.
However, she said braving the cold of Montreal in January pales in comparison to the bravery shown by protesters back in Russia, where thousands were reported arrested this weekend alone.
“People there who go out on the streets are really brave,” she said. “For us, here, we’re just showing and stating our opinion. People there really risk their freedom when they do the same.”
Many of the demonstrators once called Russia home, but said they did not feel they could return unless things there change dramatically.
Expat Youri Goussev said he wanted Russia “to be a free country”, and expressed sadness with what he considered a still-unrealized promise of freedom, three decades after the fall of the Soviet Union. “Russia didn’t overthrow a communist dictatorship for this to happen,” he said.
Maria Sourjko, said her children, while born in Canada, still felt a strong connection to her home country, and wished to one day return there. But she said they could not return there right now.
“We want to be able to return to a free Russia, where we can express ourselves and freely tell what we think without being persecuted,” she said.
Global News reached out to the consulate-general of the Russian Federation in Montreal for comment on the protest, but did not receive a response by deadline.
Similar protests took place at the same time in front of Russia’s consulate in Toronto and embassy in Ottawa, as well as in front of the Alberta legislature in Edmonton and near the Vancouver Art Gallery.