Russians have revealed they were forced to cram into a packed Moscow stadium for a pro-war rally on Friday to listen to President Vladimir Putin insist the Kremlin would prevail in Ukraine.
In stunning scenes, tens of thousands of people could be seen cheering and waving Russian flags inside Luzhniki Stadium as Putin took to the stage in a rare public appearance amid the war.
But some of those inside the stadium, including many public sector workers, told BBC News that they were pressured into going by their employers.
“I’ll be here for a while and then I’ll leave … I think most people here don’t support the war. I don’t,” said one man who worked for Moscow’s metro transit system.
A group of teachers admitted they were forced to attend, while students said they were given the day off from lectures if they agreed to attend a “concert.”
Some of the students told the outlet that they didn’t know prior to attending the rally that it was designed to show support for Russian troops in Ukraine.
Many Russians who were approached for an interview didn’t want to speak or even show their faces — and some appeared to be “embarrassed” about being there, the outlet reported.
Yet footage from inside the stadium, which was broadcast to the world, showed a different story.
Russians, including many with the letter “Z” emblazoned on their clothes, could be seen waving pro-war flags as they broke into chants of “Russia!”
The stage was decked out with slogans like “For a world without Nazism” and “For our president.”
The rally also included patriotic songs, including a performance of “Made in the U.S.S.R.” with the opening lines “Ukraine and Crimea, Belarus and Moldova, it’s all my country.”
When Putin addressed the crowd, he justified the invasion of Ukraine and promised that all the Kremlin’s aims would be achieved.
“We know what we need to do, how to do it and at what cost. And we will absolutely accomplish all of our plans,” Putin told the rally.
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“Shoulder to shoulder, they help each other, support each other and when needed, they shield each other from bullets with their bodies like brothers. Such unity we have not had for a long time,” he said of the Russian troops deployed to Ukraine.
Moscow police claimed more than 200,000 people were inside and around the soccer stadium for the rally, which was officially held to mark the eighth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
In the wake of the invasion, the Kremlin has clamped down harder on dissent and the flow of information.
The government has arrested thousands of antiwar protesters, banned Facebook and Twitter, and instituted tough prison sentences for what is branded false reporting on what Moscow is only referring to as a “special military operation.”
With Post wires