A peaceful protest of more than 2,000 demonstrators took place in Elista, the capital of Russia's southwestern region of Kalmykia, on October 13 to protest the appointment of a former leader of Kremlin-backed separatists as the city's acting mayor.
Organizers had received permission for a rally of 300 people, but Batyra Boromangnaeva of the Yabloko party's local branch said that eight times more people assembled to protest Dmitry Trapeznikov’s September 26 appointment.
As in an earlier September 29 rally, protesters voiced their demand for Trapeznikov’s ouster and for changes to legislation so that the mayor gets elected locally in municipal elections.
Trapeznikov, who was born in the Russian city of Krasnodar but grew up in the eastern Ukrainian industrial city of Donetsk, doesn’t have roots in Kalmykia, which is populated by a Mongol-speaking, predominantly Buddhist ethnic group who live close to Russia’s North Caucasus region.
Some local residents have rejected Trapeznikov’s appointment, often pointing to the destruction that the Donbas war has caused in eastern Ukraine since Moscow-backed separatists took up arms against Kyiv in April 2014.
Others are angered that an outsider who knows little about the region was forced upon them as mayor.
The head of Kalmykia, Batu Khasikov, has defended the Donbas war veteran’s appointment, saying he has an abundance of experience, and has called him a “crisis manager.”
On the day of Trapeznikov’s appointment, an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin who is reported to have oversight over the Donbas conflict, congratulated him.
“I am glad and proud that our Donetsk cadres are in demand. I wish you success,” said Kremlin aide Vladislav Surkov in a congratulatory note.
More than 13,000 people have died in the conflict and 1.5 million more have been uprooted from their homes.
Trapeznikov, 38, was born in Krasnodar. A year after he was born, his family moved to Donetsk where he eventually became part of the management of the Shakhtar Donetsk soccer team in 2001 to 2005.
When war broke out in Ukraine’s two easternmost regions, Trapeznikov joined the anti-Ukrainian side, eventually rising through the ranks of separatist forces.
In 2018, after the assassination of separatist leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko, Trapeznikov was briefly made the acting leader of the part of the Donetsk region that Kyiv doesn’t control.
Meanwhile, a journalist in Elista was fined the equivalent of $312 for taking part at a previous rally held in September that had taken place to call for Trapeznikov’s ouster.
Badma Byurchiev was found guilty on Octobrer 11 of organizing an unauthorized demonstration.
He has denied being the organizer and said people assembled spontaneously through social-media networks.
Police have also pressed charges against two suspects who took part in the September rally.