In the centre of the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, a large banner is taped to a tall building, above a Ukrainian flag, that reads: “Putin, the Hague is waiting for you.”
On city buses, electronic displays flick between announcing their destination and declaring “love” for Ukraine with little hearts.
This week Lithuania – together with Latvia, Estonia and Poland – banned all Russian tourists, arguing they should not be enjoying democracy and freedom in Europe while their government attacks those very values in Ukraine.
The move has raised concerns among Russian opposition activists already abroad.
“It’s strange to ban people for being Russian, whether or not they support Putin’s regime,” argues Anastasia Shevchenko, an activist who spent two years under house arrest for protesting against the Russian president.
When Russia invaded its neighbour, she was serving a suspended sentence and one wrong move, even an anti-war comment, could have put her behind bars.
But Anastasia could not bear to be silenced, so she squeezed her family’s life into a couple of cases and they fled in the middle of the night for Lithuania.
“What is going on in Russia now is like total fear,” Anastasia tells me, in Vilnius. “So many people are frightened because we know they can do anything. It’s not only prison, or fines: you can be killed or poisoned. It’s like a huge prison. All the country.” [Continue reading…]