Supporters of opposition leader Alexey Navalny held candle-lit gatherings in residential courtyards across Russia on Sunday despite warnings that they could be arrested.
Navalny’s allies have declared a moratorium on street rallies until spring in Russia after police detained thousands of people in the past few weeks at protests against the opposition politician’s arrest and imprisonment.
But they urged Russians to show solidarity with Navalny by gathering outside their homes for 15 minutes on Valentine’s Day evening, shining their mobile phone torches and arranging candles in the shape of a heart.
People on social media posted pictures of themselves holding candles or phones with flickering flashlights across Russia, including in the Eastern Siberia city of Irkutsk, Yekaterinburg in the Urals mountains and Novosibirsk in Western Siberia.
However, the vigils were mostly small and sporadic, unlike the huge street protests in recent weeks.
Navalny was arrested last month on his return from Germany following treatment for poisoning with what many Western countries say was a nerve agent. He was jailed on February 2 for violating parole on what he said were trumped-up charges.
He has blamed President Vladimir Putin for the poisoning, and Western countries are considering new sanctions against Russia. The Kremlin has denied any involvement in Navalny’s poisoning.
“Putin is fear. Navalny is love. That’s why we will win,” Leonid Volkov, one of Navalny’s close allies, wrote on Twitter in a call for people to gather on Sunday.
Volkov, who is based in Lithuania, is one of several Navalny allies now abroad or under house arrest in Russia.
He urged people to flood social media with pictures of Sunday’s gatherings – a new venture for the opposition that resembles political actions in neighbouring Belarus – using the hashtag #loveisstrongerthanfear in Russian.
Another activist called on women to form a human chain in Moscow on Sunday afternoon in support of Navalny’s wife Yulia, who was reported to have flown to Germany this week, and other women affected by the police crackdown against protesters.
More than 100 women turned up at the Arbat in central Moscow to form the chain, braving bitter cold and holding a white ribbon measuring more than 100 metres long.
“I really hope it will change things for the better, I sincerely want it,” a woman in the chain in Moscow said.
Another smaller chain was formed in St Petersburg.
There were no large-scale arrests or clashes with the police.