Tens of thousands of people have marched in central Moscow to honour slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin gunned down as he crossed a bridge near the Kremlin.
On Sunday evening, a sea of supporters marched in drizzle from a packed Moscow square to the bridge over the Moskva river where the 55-year-old was shot in the back on Friday.
“These bullets are for each of us,” read a huge banner at the head of the march, while others stated “I am Boris”, “I am not afraid” and “Stop the war” in Ukraine.
Between 21,000 and 70,000 people attended the events, based on varying estimates made by organisers and police, with Russian news media reporting that 56,000 had passed through metal detectors at the start of the route.
Another 6000 people, some wrapped in Ukrainian flags, turned out in Russia’s second city, Saint Petersburg.
“I am carrying a Ukrainian flag because he fought for the end of the Ukraine war. And they killed him because of that,” said marcher Vsevolod Nelayev.
Hours before the killing, Mr Nemtsov went on radio to urge Russians to join him at a Sunday rally in Moscow to protest against the Ukraine war and Putin’s rule.
After his murder the protest was turned into a memorial march.
Nemtsov, an anti-corruption crusader and vocal critic of the government, was a former deputy premier in the 1990s under Boris Yeltsin.
In recent days, he had promised to release documents proving that the Russian army is fighting in Ukraine.
He died after being hit with four bullets to the back while crossing a bridge a stone’s throw from the Kremlin, in sight of the golden domes of Saint Basil’s Cathedral. A woman with him was not hurt.
Putin on Saturday vowed to punish the killers as Russian opposition figures denounced what they called a “political murder” and Western leaders called for a full probe.
The Investigative Committee, which reports directly to Putin, said Nemtsov “might have been sacrificed” to sow instability, and that they were also checking any links to the Ukraine conflict.
Kremlin critics said the murder of a prominent politician who had held senior government posts marked a watershed moment.
“The message is absolutely clear: anyone who attends an opposition march can be killed. This is an act of political terror,” prominent commentator Yulia Latynina said on Sunday.
But Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov sought to counter talk of the Kremlin toughening efforts to stifle critics. “It would be too emotional and wrong to conclude that a string of such murders has begun,” he said.
President Barack Obama condemned the “vicious murder” of the politician he had met on a visit to Moscow.
British Prime Minister David Cameron meanwhile said the “callous murder” must be investigated “rapidly and transparently”.