The 1.7-mile route led from Pushkin Square, honoring the revered poet whom every Russian can quote, to Sakharov Prospect, named after the most famous dissident of the Soviet period. There was a heavy police presence. Every few yards stood an 18-year-old police conscript wrapped in an ill-fitting black sheepskin coat and traditional felt boots, watching. Intersections were overseen by burly men of experience, backed up by blockades of snowplows, garbage trucks and water tankers.
As the protesters turned onto Sakharov Prospect, they marched past the boulderlike figure of Gennady Gudkov, who stood motionless, counting. “There’s a minimum of 60,000 to 70,000,” he said, factoring speed, length and density.
Gudkov, a former KGB officer, was a member of the Duma who went into the opposition as parliament began passing a slew of restrictive laws, including forcing activists who get grants from abroad to register as foreign agents. In June, he helped organize a filibuster in an attempt to stop a law imposing extraordinarily high fines on protesters who violated the numerous rules regulating rallies. By September, the Duma had found a way to expel him.
After a reporter began talking to him, marchers noticed, and soon a crowd surrounded him. “Thank you,” one rallygoer after another said, shaking his hand.
Marchers interviewed Sunday said the adoption of children should have nothing to do with attitudes toward America. (A Pew Global Attitudes poll found that 52 percent of Russians surveyed last year viewed the United States favorably, the same as in Germany.)
“Children have the right to have a family,” said Natalya Demidova, who had spontaneously joined the march with two friends as they left a church nearby. “This law is political propaganda and has nothing to do with reality.”
They were unimpressed by government promises that conditions would be improved for the country’s more than 600,000 orphans and that Russians would be encouraged to adopt them.
“It’s wrong to deprive children of a better life,” said Nuria Dianova, a 34-year-old doctor who was attending her first protest. She was accompanied by her husband and two children, ages 4 and 8. “They’ll allocate millions, and 25 percent will get there. The rest will disappear.”
Dianova and her husband said they watched with disbelief as the law was passed. “I have many different friends,” said her husband, Marat, “and I don’t know anyone in favor of this ban.”
Will Englund contributed to this report.