"When I was protesting, one passerby suggested that I should be thrown into the Volkhov River," said architect Anton Gorban about his April 11 one-person protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. "People cursed me. One elderly woman said she wanted to kick me."
Leonid Rybakov, a 52-year-old IT entrepreneur in the Siberian city of Tomsk, has had similar experiences after he protested the war by making a Ukrainian flag out of paint and paper and hanging it on his balcony.
"Some people I know well -- people I've known for more than five years, with whom I've spent my free time -- have stopped greeting me," Rybakov told RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities. "I hold out my hand to them, and they ignore me. I've only had one aggressive reaction. An acquaintance struck me on the head with a walking stick. Gave me a bruise."
Polling is imprecise in Russia, where years of authoritarian rule under President Vladimir Putin have left many Russians disoriented and afraid to speak openly, and opinion surveys about the war in Ukraine may be particularly unreliable.
But large numbers of Russians back the war or stay silent about it, and this support -- active or passive -- has been energized by officials and state media aggressively labeling dissenters as "traitors," "extremists," and "enemies." Meanwhile, amid a persistent clampdown on independent voices and critics of state policy, those who do oppose the war may be afraid to protest against it.
According to OVD-Info, which monitors political repression in Russia, of the tens of millions of adult Russians, 15,500 have been detained for anti-war activities since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. Some 400 people have been administratively prosecuted. Tens of thousands of Russians have left the country.
Taken together, all of these factors mean that speaking out publicly against the war is a lonesome and risky endeavor.
Rybakov said even his wife was skeptical about his anti-war activity.
"My wife isn't interested in politics," he said. "But she is afraid…. When the police came to write me up, she hid in the other room and didn't come out until they left."
Rybakov is a longtime liberal activist in Tomsk. He has had a sign reading "Russia Without Putin" hanging from his balcony for four years without incident. On the first day of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, he was moved to act.
"I was terribly upset by the aggression and the fascistic actions of the Russian Army," he recalled. "That very day, I bought some acrylic paints, painted a piece of A4 paper the colors of the Ukrainian flag, and hung it out."
Nothing happened for five weeks. But on March 31, the police arrived. They wrote him up for the Ukrainian flag and the anti-Putin poster. For good measure, they wrote him up for participating in an anti-war protest three weeks previously.
"At the demonstration itself, no one approached me," he said. "I wasn't detained. I wasn't holding any signs. [The police] wrote that I 'expressed silent support.'"
The authorities brought in a cherry picker and removed the flag and the sign from Rybakov's balcony the same day.
"I put them both back up that evening," he said. "They are there even now."
"I don't even know how much they fined me," he said of the court hearing at which he defended himself. The administrative code for "discrediting the armed forces" specifies fines of 30,000 to 50,000 rubles ($360 to $600). "But I have no intention of paying. I don't want the authorities to spend my money on this war. If they arrest me, I don't care if Putin feeds me for free."
In addition to the administrative charge on discrediting the military, Russia has introduced a similar criminal charge, which prosecutors can apply at their discretion and which stipulates a prison term of up to 15 years.
In the northwestern city of Novgorod, architect Gorban was similarly outraged over the war. His father's family still lives there and his great-grandfather, artist Ivan Padalka, was executed by the Soviet authorities in July 1937 on a charge of "propagandizing nationalist formalism." He was posthumously rehabilitated in 1958.
At home, Gorban sewed a makeshift body bag in the blue-and-yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag. On April 11, he went to the monument to the millennium of Russian statehood on the territory of the Novgorod Kremlin, got into the bag, and laid on the ground. Within 20 minutes, four National Guard troops came and took him away. He was charged with "discrediting the Russian armed forces."
He told RFE/RL's North.Realities that he had previously planned to stand with a sign, but that he was moved by other demonstrators in various Russian cities who were lying down as if dead to protest the alleged atrocities by Russian troops against civilians in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha and elsewhere in Ukraine.
"I came up with another idea: I would be a body and feel what it means when you are a body," he said.
The citation against him, which also envisages a fine from 30,000 to 50,000 rubles, states that he "discredited...the armed forces of the Russian Federation outside the territory of the Russian Federation and the armed forces of the Russian Federation themselves, which are being used outside the territory of the Russian Federation on the basis of generally accepted principles and the norms of international law."
It was the fourth citation Gorban has received since February 24.
"All these…risks are incomparably small compared to the chance to clear one's conscience at least a little bit," he said. "To have the right to say: 'I was not for one second in favor of what is being done in my name."
"I have a 3-year-old daughter," he continued. "When all of this is in the history books, she will ask me: 'Papa, what did you do?' And I will be able to explain it to her."
He noted that in Nazi Germany, people were killed for speaking out against its policies.
"So, what is a day of jail by comparison?" Gorban said. "What is a fine of 30,000 rubles? It is a small price to pay."
"It is clear that the majority supports the invasion," he said. "In my circle of friends, a lot of people oppose it. But on the level of the whole city, very few people are doing so."
"I understand that we are somehow cowards," Gorban said. "I am not a very brave person by nature, but if even I managed to go out there, that means maybe a lot of other people are also on the verge of such a decision."
Gorban added that he has considered leaving Russia, although he doesn't know how he would manage it. In Tomsk, Rybakov has no such desire.
"I considered it once, but quickly dismissed the thought," he said. "I love my homeland -- everything in it, except for Putin. My son isn't leaving either."