NICOLA Sturgeon has praised the “sheer courage” shown by the Russian citizens who have taken to the streets of Moscow to protest against war in Ukraine.

A video shared on social media showed a crowd of people reportedly gathered in Pushkin Square, in Russia’s capital, to demonstrate against the military action taken against their neighbours.

Reports of hundreds of arrests made by Vladimir Putin’s authorities were coming out of the country on Thursday evening, with further demonstrations across other Russian cities.

The Associated Press reported that 1702 people in 53 Russian cities were detained, at least 940 of them in Moscow.

Others purporting to show huge demonstrations in St Petersburg and protesters being moved on by police have been viewed millions of times.

Reacting to one such video, the First Minister wrote: “The sheer courage this takes should not be underestimated.

“Strength and solidarity to all of them…and to the many more across Russia who will be as horrified by Putin’s actions as we are.”

It comes as Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, released a speech in which he appeals directly to the Russian people to try and avoid a full-scale war.

He says he knows his speech will not be shown on Russian TV, but says that the people of the country need to see it.

“Do the people of Russia want war?” he asks. “I would like to be able to answer this, but the answer depends only on you.”

Tatyana Usmanova, an opposition activist in Moscow, wrote on Facebook that she thought she was dreaming when she awoke to the news of the invasion, which she called “a disgrace that will be forever with us now”.

“I want to ask Ukrainians for forgiveness. We didn’t vote for those who unleashed the war,” she said.

As sirens blasted in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, and large explosions were heard there and in other cities, Russians were signing open letters and online petitions demanding the Kremlin halt the assault.

“Public opinion is in shock, people are in shock,” political analyst Abbas Gallyamov told The Associated Press.

One petition, started by a prominent human rights advocate, Lev Ponomavyov, garnered over 150,000 signatures within several hours and 289,000 by the end of the day.

More than 250 journalists put their names on an open letter decrying the aggression. Another one was signed by some 250 scientists, while 194 municipal council members in Moscow and other cities signed a third.

“I’m worried about the people very much, I’m worried to tears,” said Zoya Vorobey, a resident of Korolyov, a town outside Moscow, her voice cracking.

“I’ve been watching television since this morning, every minute, to see if anything changes. Unfortunately, nothing.”

Several Russian celebrities and public figures, including some working for state TV, spoke out against the attack. Yelena Kovalskaya, director of a state-funded Moscow theatre, announced on Facebook she was quitting her job, saying “it’s impossible to work for a killer and get paid by him”.

“I know that right now many of you feel desperation, helplessness, shame over Vladimir Putin’s attack on the friendly nation of Ukraine. But I urge you not to despair,” human rights activist Marina Litvinovich said in a video statement on Facebook, calling for mass protests.

“We, the Russian people, are against the war Putin has unleashed. We don’t support this war, it is being waged not on our behalf,” Litvinovich said.

But the authorities were having none of that.

In Moscow and other cities, they moved swiftly to crack down on critical voices. Litvinovich was detained outside of her residence shortly after posting the protest call. 

Russia’s Investigative Committee issued a warning on Thursday afternoon reminding Russians that unauthorised protests are against the law.

Roskomnadzor, state communications and media watchdog, demanded that Russian media use “information and data they get only from official Russian sources”.

Some media reported that employees of certain state-funded companies were instructed not to comment publicly on the events in Ukraine.

Human rights advocates warned of a new wave of repression on dissent.

The National: Vladimir Putin

Despite the pressure from the authorities, more than 1000 people gathered in the centre of Moscow on Thursday evening, chanting “No to war” as passing cars honked their horns.

Hundreds also took to the streets in St Petersburg and dozens in Yekaterinburg.

Russia’s official line in the meantime remained intransigent. The speaker of the upper house of parliament, Valentina Matviyenko, charged that those who spoke out against the attack were only caring about their “momentary problems”.

State TV painted the attack in line with what Putin said in his televised address announcing it.

Russia 1 TV host Olga Skabeyeva called it an effort “to protect people in Donbas from a Nazi regime” and said it was “without exaggeration, a crucial junction in history”.