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Thousands of Russians cheer for Putin at patriotic rally

#Thousands #Russians #cheer #Putin #patriotic #rally

Vladimir Zyablitsky travelled to Moscow from his home in a distant Siberian region just to attend a state-organised patriotic concert, two days before the first anniversary of Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.

“The president really needs our support at the moment… He is going in the right direction,” said Zyablitsky, among tens of thousands gathered at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow. 

Waving Russian flags, the crowd cheered as President Vladimir Putin made a hotly anticipated appearance on stage and delivered a short speech saying Russia was fighting for its “historical lands” in Ukraine. 

“We are completely in solidarity with him and want our country to stop this war as soon as possible. And for that, we need to mobilise around our national leader,” the 59-year-old entrepreneur Zyablitsky told AFP.

The spectators braved the cold on a clear and crisp winter’s day in Moscow, where temperatures plunged to -15 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit).

The concert, dubbed “Glory to the Defenders of the Fatherland”, was held on the eve of the eponymous Russian public holiday and included performances of patriotic or military songs and speeches from soldiers.

“We need to support our country, our president, the men who are right now defending our country,” said Uliana, a 47-year-old lawyer, preferring not to give her surname. 

“What is happening right now, the consolidation of national unity, reminds us of the Great Patriotic War,” she added, using Russia’s term for the Second World War.

The Kremlin has frequently drawn parallels between what it calls the “special military operation” in Ukraine and the war against Nazi Germany, saying the offensive was launched to “de-Nazify” Ukraine.

Nearly a year since Russia sent troops to Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the Kremlin is trying to drum up support for the ongoing fighting, characterising its campaign as a wider conflict against the West.

– ‘War of survival’ –

“Right now, a war of survival is ongoing, aimed at destroying Russia… The decisive phase of this fight against the West is beginning,” said Ivan Tkachev, a 47-year-old musician, attending the rally with his two daughters.

During the concert, children were brought up on stage, introduced by the hosts as young Ukrainians “rescued” by a Russian soldier and brought to safety in Russia during the battle for Mariupol.

The port city on the shores of the Sea of Azov was devastated by a long siege and became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance.

Ukraine has accused Russia of kidnapping thousands of Ukrainian children from the territories it controls, something Moscow has denied, insisting it organised legal adoptions.

After more than an hour of waiting in the freezing cold, President Putin arrived on stage, welcomed by chants of “Russia”. 

“I told you he’d come!” a man exclaimed to his wife, hugging her. 

The Russian leader, wearing a fur-lined coat, addressed the crowd:

“I just heard from the top military leadership of the country that a battle is ongoing right now, for our historical lands, for our people”.

He also praised Russian servicemen in Ukraine who are “fighting heroically, courageously, bravely: we are proud of them”. 

The Russian anthem played and Putin left the stage. 

“Impressive, as always,” said Andrey Moiseyev, an 18-year-old student, who said it was the first time he had seen the president in person.

“It’s great for stirring up the patriotic spirit, it shows us the direction to take and we’re going there together,” said the young man, his nose red from the cold. 

He added that if he is called up to fight in Ukraine, he will go. 

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#Thousands #Russians #cheer #Putin #patriotic #rally

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