The widow of poisoned dissident Alexander Litvinenko has said she is “very proud” of hundreds of Russians who marched on their own country’s embassy in central London to mark the first anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine.
Marina Litvinenko said the anti-war protest proved that not all Russians supported the actions of President Vladimir Putin, who she called a “war criminal”.
The demonstrators chanted: “Victory for Ukraine, freedom for Russia”, and: “Stop Putin, stop the war” as they walked from Marble Arch to the embassy in Kensington to protest against the war in Ukraine.
Mrs Litvinenko told the PA news agency: “I’m very proud to see this big crowd of Russian people. They’ve all been very loud in saying how they support Ukraine and how they hate Putin because he is why they might need to have left the country.
“When we talk about Putin now we are talking about a person who started a war but he has committed a lot of crimes against individuals, countries and people.
“He killed my husband Alexander. I believe he gave the order and he has now killed a lot of innocent Ukrainians.”
She added: “We need to be proud to speak the Russian language. We need to use the Russian language to say Slava Ukraini – glory to Ukraine – and say in Russian: ‘Putin is a criminal’. This is very important. Not all of Russia supports this war.”
The story of Mr Litvinenko’s death was depicted in the ITV mini-series Litvinenko in December last year, with Mark Bonnar and David Tennant starring alongside Russian-America actress Margarita Levieva, who played Mrs Litvinenko.
The road outside the embassy remains stained in the yellow and blue of the Ukrainian flag after activist group Led by Donkeys poured 170 litres of paint on it on Thursday.
One man held a poster mocking a packet of cigarettes that read: “Putin kills”, while another cardboard placard that carried pictures of Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny read: “Without victory there can be no survival”.
The crowd then heard speeches from Mrs Litvinenko, opposition leader Mikhail Khodorkovsky and financier Bill Browder, among others.
Mr Browder, who leads the Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign, which is seeking democracy in Russia, told PA the number of Russians present at the demonstration was “unprecedented”.
He said: “Everybody talks about how the Russians are brainwashed. These people aren’t brainwashed. These are Russian citizens and Russian emigres who are saying that Putin’s murderous war in Ukraine is not OK.
“What it tells you is that Putin’s brainwashing doesn’t work outside of his own propaganda bubble inside Russia. These people know the truth and they know the truth is horrific.
“What Putin is doing is criminal, murderous and disgusting, and they don’t want it in their name.”
He added: “I think the number of people here is absolutely unprecedented. There were a number of Russians before who may have been upset about Putin but didn’t want to come out on the streets. But what he’s doing in Ukraine requires people to come out on the street.”
The protesters flew the flags of Ukraine and the Russian democracy movement, which replaces the bottom red stripe of the Russian flag with a white stripe.
Placards on display read: “No to bloody Russian imperialism”, while one showed the face of Russian president Vladimir Putin captioned with: “War criminal”.
The protesters also chanted “Russians against the war”, “hands off Ukraine” and “jets for Ukraine” as they walked.
Ksenia Maximova, the founder of the Russian Democratic Society (RDS), which organised the protest, said in her speech: “This is a time for action and time to come together. Putin’s government spent years instilling hate in people’s hearts.
“We are more united than ever. We are now in nearly every country and growing stronger by the day.”
The RDS was founded in the aftermath of the invasion and has raised more than £18,000 to send generators to Ukraine to limit the impact of blackouts.
It has also donated more than £10,000 to refugee shelters in Kazakhstan, Armenia and Montenegro.