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Russian councillor Nina Belyave flees abroad after criticising war in Ukraine

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By Rhal Ssan
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President Vladimir Putin meeting with his Security Council.
President Vladimir Putin meeting with his Security Council.   -   Copyright  Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik

It's hard to precisely gauge opinion on the war in Ukraine among Russian citizens. In general, the war is popular, especially as media is almost entirely controlled or directed by the Kremlin, which allows it to beam its narrative on the war directly to people's homes.

However, there are some in Russia who are taking massive risks to speak out, like Nina Belyave, a Russian councillor from the Semiluksky District Council in Voronezh, 500 kilometres south of Moscow.

She's being using social media to rally support behind her views and criticisms of Moscow's invasion. At one council meeting, other members demanded that she explain her position.

In a clip that subsequently went viral, she said "I am against the decision taken by the President of the Russian Federation and against the actions that are being taken today on the territory of the sovereign state of Ukraine. I consider what is happening a war crime."

The deputies voted to exclude Nina from the ethics commission and appealed to Russia’s law enforcement agencies to investigate her actions. But Nina's speech was put online, and she received many messages of thanks from across the county.

“People wrote not only from Moscow or St. Petersburg, but also from remote villages, small villages, the so-called deep, 'out of the way people'. They wrote, 'Thank you Nina, it turns out that I am not alone in this area. I will show this video to my relatives and friends, in my village. I will show that there is a deputy in our district who said this'."

Nina also questions the levels of official support for the war in Russia. It's hard to see what people's true opinions are, when dissent is heavily criticised, and in some cases could land you in prison.

"As I understand it, it was hard for people to start talking when there is massive propaganda, when people know that 86 percent are in favour of war. But I don’t believe in these percentages, because there are a lot of people who are afraid to speak about the their position, who feel lonely. It seems for them that everyone is supporting the war, because those who are against it are silent. This speech of mine helped them to at least start talking with their relatives.”

After consulting with lawyers, Nina decided it was too dangerous to stay in Russia. She left the country in haste, applying for asylum in a European country.