Activists projected a giant Ukrainian flag at Russia’s DC embassy on Wednesday: NPR

Benjamin Wittes and a group of protesters in Washington, DC, joined forces to project two large Ukrainian flags at the Russian embassy for nearly four hours Wednesday night.

Benjamin Wittes

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Benjamin Wittes

Benjamin Wittes and a group of protesters in Washington, DC, joined forces to project two large Ukrainian flags at the Russian embassy for nearly four hours Wednesday night.

Benjamin Wittes

Anti-war activists engaged in a beam of light against Russian diplomats in Washington, DC, on Wednesday night in a display of disapproval of the country’s ongoing war in Ukraine.

The activists spent hours projecting the Ukrainian flag on the exterior walls of the Russian embassy with ultra-bright light.

Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and one of the leading protesters, said the group was protesting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the killing of Ukrainians.

“We wanted to respect the rules and how we expect these properties to be treated,” he told NPR. “[We] also wanted to invade it and make it feel like they could not get away from the judgment of the world. “

Wittes said the Russian embassy, ‚Äč‚Äčlocated about 3 miles northwest of the White House, had been an enticing destination for some time. It is a large white building with windows running from top to bottom in slender columns. He remembered looking at the embassy and thinking to himself, “It looks like a big projection screen.”

A spotlight operator at Russia’s embassy spent almost four hours unsuccessfully trying to outshine two huge blue and yellow flags projected against the wall outside the embassy.

Secret Service officers watched as protesters across the street carefully maneuvered the flags up and down and from side to side in an attempt to be as “intrusive and invasive” to embassy residents as legally possible, Wittes said.

He did not know that Phil Ateto, another activist in DC, had the same idea.

Ateto is the organizer of the Backbone Campaign, an advocacy group for freedom of expression that drives change through demonstrations, with experience in light projection protests. But the equipment needed for this type of protest is not cheap.

It took just under a dozen protesters, including Ateto and Wittes, to set up 14 candles, four gas generators, stands and more Wednesday afternoon. In total, equipment worth $ 10,000 was used.

Ateto, however, got the lighting for free through Keith Gifford, the equipment rental manager at Atmosphere Lighting, who said he had no qualms about lending the protesters the tools they needed.

“I think it might not be a bad thing to make things a little uncomfortable for Russian officials in the city here,” Gifford told NPR. “It is advertising and raising awareness about the problem. It irritates Putin in a way that does not hurt anyone.”

Putting the plan in motion

The protesters spent several hours setting up the lights on Wednesday afternoon.

When the sun had gone down, they had a projector ready to roll on the roof of an apartment building opposite the embassy and another set up on the lawn in front. But shortly after they started blowing up the building with blue and yellow, property manager Wittes and Ateto asked to turn off the lights and get up off the roof.

The pair doubled their efforts and used two lights from the ground surface. Wittes documented the protests through a series of posts and a livestream video on Twitter, which had over 2 million views Thursday night.

In the video, Wittes can be heard telling about a game of cat and mouse between Ateto operating one of the lights and presumably an employee of the Russian embassy using a white searchlight. The protesters ran the lights for about four hours, only stopping when the generators ran out of gas.

All in all, it was “an interesting little adventure,” Wittes said.

Wittes is not done yet, he said. Following a recommendation from another protester, Wittes plans to blow sunflowers, which have become a representation of Ukraine’s resistance, on a vacant lot in front of the embassy on Saturday afternoon.

“The idea is to get embassy staff to look at symbols of Ukrainian nationality even if they try to erase it,” Wittes said.

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