Tens of thousands of people, some denouncing President Vladimir Putin as a “child-killer”, marched through Moscow on Sunday to protest against a ban on Americans adopting Russian children.
Wrapped in hats and coats against the bitter cold, the protesters shouted “Russia without Putin!” and “Putin is a child-killer!” as they streamed down the city’s Boulevard Ring, watched by thousands of police. A helicopter buzzed overhead.
Many held photographs of pro-Kremlin legislators who backed the ban with the word “Shame!” scrawled across them.
The ban, in force since Jan. 1, has deepened a chill in Russian-U.S. relations in the first year of Putin’s new term and compounded the bitterness between his government and opponents who have been mounting street protests for over a year.
It was rushed through parliament, which is dominated by Putin’s governing party, in retaliation for the Magnitsky Act - U.S. legislation that denies visas to Russians accused of human rights violations and freezes their assets in the United States.
Russian lawmakers who approved the ban say it was justified by the deaths of 19 Russian-born children adopted by American parents in the past decade, and what they perceive as lenient treatment of those parents by U.S. courts and police.
Protesters accused Putin of using orphans as pawns, saying it was the children who would suffer, and some called for the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, to be dissolved.
“Without adoption, such children have no chance,” said Dmitry Belkov, a protest organiser. “This law is a worse thing to do to these children than the treatment animals get in other countries.”
“I realise it’s pointless and that they won’t reverse the law, but I had to be here,” said Maria Volodko, who works at a music publisher. “There could be no salvation for my soul if I weren’t here.”