Russian anti-war protesters in Cyprus defiant after 'memorial collage' threat

LIMASSOL, Cyprus (Reuters) - Russian anti-war activists in Cyprus have vowed to continue holding protests against the invasion of Ukraine despite, they say, becoming the target of a threat after their faces appeared on a billboard site draped in black ribbons.

The pictures of nine activists appeared in late July on the seafront in Limassol, a city popular with both Russians and Ukrainians and where anti-war demonstrators regularly gather.

All nine had participated in protests that regularly take place in the city, which draw crowds ranging from dozens to hundreds. Their photos, each with a ribbon, had been set into a collage attached to a fence used for billboard announcements, together with three red candles set on a ledge.

"Its a memorial for people. In Russia its very common to make threats like this," said one of those depicted, Evgenii Elesin, 38, one of thousands of Russians living in Cyprus.

The Russian embassy in Nicosia gave no immediate response following requests for comment from Reuters.

Elesin said he had regularly participated in protests against President Vladimir Putin since the suspected poisoning by Russian authorities of prominent Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny in 2020.

Russia denies trying to kill Navalny, who is serving jail time for parole violations, fraud and contempt of court. He says all charges against him were fabricated.

"My friends from the Russian community sent me the photos," said another protestor, Kristina Finck, 38. "The people who did it do not have good intentions... It was like a threat."

Cyprus police, who confiscated the collage, said they were seeking the perpetrator in connection with an investigation into data protection offences.

Another activist, 42-year-old Natalia Boyko, said she would continue to organise and take part in protests.

"I feel very sorry for what my country is doing to my other family, the Ukrainian people ... for me, it is the most shameful war, that brothers are killing brothers," she told Reuters.

Elesin said the activists viewed Russia as the aggressor, "which is why it should be stopped. Putin should be stopped. These threats can't stop us."

Inside Russia, a clampdown by authorities has largely stifled the anti-war protest movement.

Russia says the aim of what it terms its "special military operation" in Ukraine is to demilitarise its neighbour and protect Russian-speaking communities. Kyiv and its Western allies accuse Moscow of waging an imperial-style war of conquest.

(Reporting By Marinos Meletiou, writing by Michele Kambas; editing by John Stonestreet)

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