Pro-Ukraine protest in Belgrade - ©  Alena Ogolikhina/Shutterstock

Pro-Ukraine protest in Belgrade - ©  Alena Ogolikhina/Shutterstock

When the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, a segment of Serbian society - traditionally pro-Russian - took to the streets to protest against the Kremlin. Among the first demonstrators there were many Russian citizens, including Sasha Seregina. We interviewed her

15/06/2023 -  Francesco Martino Belgrade

Sasha Seregina, originally from Samara, in Russia, has been living and working in Serbia for more than ten years. Engaged in the cultural field, after the start of the invasion of Ukraine ordered by the Kremlin she decided to take action personally to testify her disagreement with the policies of President Vladimir Putin and her support for the Ukrainian people. An instinctive decision that led her – together with a group initially made up mainly of Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians, who were later joined by more and more Serbian citizens – to create an informal grass-roots organisation that accompanied the protests in the streets of Belgrade and other Serbian cities with online activities and cultural initiatives to remind the Serbian society of the tragedy of the war in Ukraine. An interview

In February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. How did you react to this event? Why did you decide to take action?

February 24, 2022 was truly a tragic day. I woke up in the morning with a message from a friend of mine: it was a very short message, but I immediately understood what it was about, because tensions had been running very high for months before the invasion, and I had a bad feeling about the whole thing. I searched on the Internet all day to see if there was any protest or public event against the war. I eventually found out that in the evening a spontaneous gathering was planned in front of the Russian embassy and also in Republic Square, the main square in central Belgrade. I was sure I wanted to go, but I had no one to go with, I was alone.

I eventually went and I met a lot of people there. It turned out that they were mostly originally from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus - countries which are most involved in the conflict – and of course from Serbia. In a way it was a relief to see all those people in that place at that precise moment, even if there weren’t that many: a few dozen at most.

Then what happened?

We decided to stay in touch. Somehow we realised that the struggle wouldn’t be easy, also because pro-Russian sentiments have always been somewhat dominant in Serbian society. We decided to keep together and create a small community of anti-war activists from "our" countries. Since the very first day, we decided to create a Facebook group and keep the entire communication in Serbian so as to be able to inform as many people as possibile in Serbia. The primary purpose of the group was to inform the Serbian public about what was happening, using some authentic sources from Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. The final goal was to break the Russian imperialist narrative and propaganda which is dominant here.

So, right from the start, the "meeting point" of the community was its Facebook group, correct?

Yes. First of all, we started a Facebook group, which is open to everyone, with few administrators. A few months later, we launched a Facebook page, which in a sense is the official media of our group. Later, we also opened accounts on other social media like Instagram, Twitter, and Telegram.

How did the group's activities evolve afterwards?

Offline, i.e. "physical" activities and actions that we carried out on the streets were the most important part of our work, along with managing our social media accounts, also used to inform the public. Since February 24, we organised more than thirty anti-war protests and other actions. Initially, in the first months, we organised an anti-war protests every week, then at least once a month.

We also organised various cultural events, like screenings and panel discussions, Mondays dedicated to Ukrainian cuisine and humanitarian events: anything that could involve the public not only on a political level, but also on a humanitarian and cultural one. Unfortunately, people are getting used to the war in Ukraine, and are more and more tired of it. Also the potential for human gathering has decreased. We are still active on our social media accounts, and we continue to carry our anti-war activities. We usually mark each month of the war, around the 24th of each month, and we organise some events to remind people that there is a war in Europe still going on.

In the beginning most of the people that gathered to protest were Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians living in Serbia. Has this dynamic changed over time?

Yes. During the first protest, probably two-thirds of the people were Russian speakers, that is Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians. At the same time, some Serbian citizens told us that our online activities meant a lot to them as a space of freedom where they could gather, enjoy being part of a community, and express their views, which is far from mainstream in Serbian society. Over time the situation has evolved and changed, so now most of the participants in our online group, as well as the main organisers of the community, are Serbs.

Many people from the region also participate in our online group, people from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and other countries, which is very interesting and important to us. From a certain point of view, our anti-war group is not only about the conflict in Ukraine, but also about the complicated relations between neighbouring countries in the region, which is still burdened with the scars of the wars of the 1990s. The citizens of the region perceive our group as a safe place to communicate and share their views.

You mentioned that Serbia has a long-term pro-Russian tradition and attitude. How would you define the general public attitude towards your initiatives? Have you been active only in Belgrade?

Our activities are mainly focused in Belgrade, although there were a couple of activities in other cities like Novi Sad and Krusevac, where local groups were somehow involved. In the beginning, there was a visible opposition to our initiatives. Especially in the online space, it was a bit challenging because "the other side" was strong and there were a lot of online bots attacking the page and the group, and even sending threats to our inbox. Over time this kind of pressure decreased, and now we get threats only occasionally.

What about the attitude of the Serbian authorities and government?

I think that the attitude of the establishment towards us can be summed up in these words: "no scandal should happen", as if to say: "red i mir" (order and peace). They know that if pro-Ukrainian anti-war activists were to be openly attacked in Belgrade, it would be a big scandal and therefore a problem for them. I think that they are aware of that. If they wanted to make our life more complicated, they could easily do it. I believe there is a kind of fragile balance.

And the rest of Serbian civil society? How responsive was it to cooperating with you?

At first we wondered where the entire Serbian civil society had disappeared to. It was an obvious question, especially considering that most of Serbian society supported the war in some way. So initially we were disappointed with the way Serbian civil society reacted to the war in Ukraine. It was individuals, rather than organisations, who reacted and supported our protest. Nonetheless, in all these months we have had a very good cooperation with some civil society groups like Women in Black, Youth Initiative for Human Rights, New Optimism, which organised several events in support of Ukraine. So it's not that there wasn’t any pro-Ukrainian civil society activism. But to be honest, what concerned us was that the reaction of the civil society was not as strong as we expected.




This afternoon, from 15.00 to 16.30, OBCT and CeSPI organise an online seminar in the context of the project  "Serbia and Bosnia Herzegovina, the war in Ukraine and the new risk scenarios in the Western Balkans" co-financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MAECI ).

The seminar will be held in English. At this link , the form to register and participate.


Questo materiale è pubblicato nel contesto del progetto “Serbia e Bosnia Erzegovina, la guerra in Ucraina e i nuovi scenari di rischio nei Balcani occidentali” cofinanziato dal Ministero degli Affari Esteri e della Cooperazione Internazionale (MAECI). Il MAECI non è in alcun modo responsabile delle informazioni o dei punti di vista espressi nel quadro del progetto. La responsabilità sui contenuti è unicamente di OBC Transeuropa. Vai alla pagina del progetto

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