Protest portraits: the Russians rallying behind Kremlin critic Navalny

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Russians have taken to the streets in recent weeks after the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny despite the risk of being detained.

Navalny, 44, was arrested on Jan. 17 after returning to Moscow from Germany where he had been recovering from a nerve agent poisoning in Russia last summer. He accuses President Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder, which the Kremlin denies.

Here are some of the people who took part in the protests and their stories.

Marina Gulina, 51, a computer programmer, took to the streets of Moscow on Jan. 31 and was detained.

“I went there to clear my conscience, so to speak. I’m appalled by everything happening to Alexei Navalny because even a child understands he didn’t commit a crime and that he is in jail... unlawfully.

“It’s so obvious, you don’t even need to prove it. It’s as clear as when he was poisoned... I wanted to come and join those demanding Alexei’s freedom and to say that what is happening is disgraceful lawlessness that disgusts us all.”

Viktor Lipatov, 49, a lawyer, joined the first rally on Jan. 23 in Moscow where he said police beat him, breaking his arm and hurting his head.

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“I’m sick and tired of lawlessness in this country, of small salaries, extremely small pensions, abuses against people, awful health care, high prices, and also the lack of any restraint in all the activities of our country’s dear leaders.”

“We come in peace... We’re not calling for any negative action, we’re not calling for war. We’re not stirring a civil war... We’re not using Molotov cocktails against the authorities. We do not act illegally. And the 31st article of the Constitution allows us to express our opinion.”

Anton, 31, a paralegal, was one of hundreds of people detained by police in St Petersburg at a rally on Jan. 31.

“I went to the rally because I couldn’t just stay at home knowing what’s going on in our country. I would have felt shame if I hadn’t gone. Many people in Russia understand (what’s going on), many are afraid to take public action.

“I don’t regret anything. God willing, I will be proud of it for the rest of my life. I would have felt ashamed in front of my children and grandchildren if I’d stayed at home watching a broadcast.”

Philipp Kuznetsov, 28, who owns a beauty salon in Moscow, said he was held in custody for 10 days after being detained at the protest on Jan. 23.

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“I went to the rally because I do not agree with our state politics.”

“Take any ecological issues: they don’t fix them and they just sweep them under the rug.”

“I believe that anybody who comes to power after Putin and makes some changes to the system will be able to make a Russian economic miracle happen.”

Alexander Tsarikov, 41, a television and radio host in Yekaterinburg, said he takes part in all the opposition protests and that he joined the one on Jan. 23.

“The main reason I join protests is that I would feel very ashamed if I did nothing. Even having a tiny bit of hope in (the prospect of) a return of justice inspires me and makes me believe that it can really happen. Maybe not now, maybe later.”

“It’s so cool when you feel the shoulder of a person walking alongside you, hear his breath, when you are together and the whole city is ready to fight for their rights.”

Reporting by Yury Bakhnov, Lev Sergeev, Aleksander Pugachev, Dmitry Vasilyev; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Gareth Jones