Russian artist is 76-year-old voice of protest against Ukraine
Yelena Osipova barely slept ahead of the glitzy Victory Day celebrations in Russia on May 9.
The 76-year-old artist got up late, making signs to protest the conflict in Ukraine.
But the moment she emerged from her home in St. Petersburg to protest, two strangers snatched her job and fled.
“It was overwhelming. I had worked half the night and I really liked these signs,” the white-haired painter told AFP.
“It is obvious that this was an organized attack.”
Tireless as always, in less than an hour, the little hunched woman, who moves with difficulty, already had a new poster and was off to protest.
Osipova is well known in her hometown.
It has been dubbed the “conscience of Saint Petersburg”, Russia’s second largest city, after two decades of publicly opposing President Vladimir Putin’s regime.
Since Kremlin forces arrived in Ukraine, she has also become a symbol of Russians standing up against the conflict.
Footage of his frequent detention by riot police has been widely shared on social media.
“The main thing is that people today say these forbidden words: ‘No to war,'” the former art teacher said.
But in Russia, it’s a risky prospect.
Protests have been ruthlessly suppressed and those who criticize the campaign – a “special military operation” in official parlance – risk a 15-year prison sentence.
“Silence Means Agreement”
Osipova began taking to the streets two years after former KGB agent Putin came to power in 2000.
Since then, she has been demonstrating against what she describes as crimes committed by the Russian authorities.
She had protested in 2014 when Moscow seized the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine and against the fighting that broke out in the east of the country.
Now she is focusing on Putin’s full-fledged offensive against pro-Western neighbor Russia.
“If people accept all this, it’s because they don’t think of their children,” she said, showing AFP her work in her apartment.
“I dedicate my signs to this idea: what world are we leaving to our children?”
She displays a poster with the face of a young girl shouting “No to war” on a yellow and blue background, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
Another from a child has the tagline “What world are we leaving behind?”
“Since 2002, I cannot remain silent, because silence means agreement with what is happening in my country,” she said.
“That’s why I’m going to protest.”
Her apartment with decrepit vaulted ceilings sits in the heart of Russia’s former imperial capital and has been home to her family for three generations.
Its two rooms are cluttered with photos and posters with pacifist and anti-Kremlin messages.
“I don’t want to be used as cannon fodder,” read one soldier’s poster. “Wives and mothers, stop the war,” said another.
A third proclaims: “We are all hostages to the provocative policy of imperial power.
On one wall hangs a large photo of a young man: his only son, Ivan, who died of tuberculosis in 2009 at the age of 28.
Osipova was frequently detained by the police, but they now know her so well that they sometimes take her straight home rather than to the station.
“I long ago stopped being afraid for myself,” she said defiantly.
“In your own homeland, you shouldn’t be afraid, but if you love it, you should feel responsible.”