MOSCOW - Thousands of Russians were expected Sunday to protest against the Kremlin's aggression against Ukraine, in the first major anti-war rally since fighting in the ex-Soviet country erupted in April.
Organisers hope thousands of protesters - including many prominent personalities - would march through Moscow to highlight Russia's direct involvement in a conflict which has claimed nearly 3,000 lives and pitted Russians against Ukrainians.
The rally dubbed "the peace march" comes amid a Russian media blackout on the presence of regular troops in Ukraine.
Over the past months national television has portrayed Kiev authorities as a "fascist junta" bent on persecuting Russian speakers.
Anyone who dared to publicly question the Kremlin's Ukraine policy has been pilloried.
Organisers said some 50,000 were expected to attend the event, which was agreed with Moscow authorities.
Ahead of the march prominent Russians took to social networks with video messages to encourage their compatriots to attend.
Some quoted poems by Russia's Osip Mandelstam and Vladimir Mayakovsky and France's Louis Aragon and Jacques Prevert.
Yury Ryzhov, a 83-year-old former ambassador to France, urged Russians to tear themselves away from the television and protest Russia's "undeclared war".
"The bell tolls for thee," he said in a nod to one of Ernest Hemingway's best-known works.
"What have we come to if in our country peace is considered a shame and betrayal and war a matter of honour, valour and heroism?" television star Leonid Parfyonov said in another video address.
Actress Elena Koreneva said Russia's involvement in the crisis was diverting resources needed to tackle problems at home.
"One should never forget who began that war, who annexed Crimea," added poet Igor Irtenyev, asking whether Russians were ready to put up with the authorities now that soldiers were coming back home in "pine boxes".
A ceasefire agreed on September 5 between Kiev and pro-Moscow separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine has been punctuated by repeated clashes, and many fear it could easily break down.
'Intervention cannot be justified'
Organisers of the march demanded that Russian authorities stop their "irresponsible aggressive policies" that lead the country on a path to isolation, economic trouble and growing "fascist tendencies".
"These policies have brought war to Ukraine and cost the lives of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians," they said on Facebook.
"Russian soldiers including conscripts get killed and taken prisoner on Ukrainian territory. This is already direct, undisguised military intervention which cannot be justified." The official site of exiled Kremlin opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who announced on Saturday he was willing to lead the country in times of crisis, also urged Russians to rally and distribute anti-war leaflets.
"The consequences of the Ukraine war do not allow us to remain silent," said the site, khodorkovsky.ru.
"Our country directly or indirectly takes part in the conflict. The time has come to stop this!" Thousands of Russians took to the streets of Moscow on March 15 in a previous peace march a day before a majority in the Russian-annexed Crimea voted to split from Ukraine.
Moscow's march coincides with the International Day of Peace declared by the UN General Assembly.