A model whose politician boyfriend was murdered in front of her is begging officials to let her go home to Ukraine.
Anna Duritskaya, 23, was walking from dinner with opposition leader Boris Nemtsov – a critic of Vladimir Putin – when he was murdered on Friday, in what has been branded an “act of political terror”.
As a witness she was quizzed by police for several hours and released in the early hours of Saturday. Now she is desperate to go home, but officials are keeping her under armed guard.
It is understood Anna gave a description of the murderer, despite her “deep shock” which has resulted in a partial “memory loss”. Witnesses said as her boyfriend lay dying she could only scream: “They’ve shot him.”
The Ukrainian has told officials she wants to go home but her lawyer said her movement had been restricted.
Officials said she could be subject to “additional investigative action” as she was an immediate eyewitness of the murder.
The glamorous model was at her lover’s side, but was not injured, a police source said, as a £31,500 reward was announced for information leading to the arrest of the killer.
Her plea came as 100,000 people surged onto the streets of central Moscow yesterday in a rare show of defiance against Russian President Putin.
They flocked to the protest – against Russia’s role in the Ukrainian conflict – that had been organised by liberal Mr Nemtsov, 55, before his death.
They chanted “Russia without Putin” and carried banners declaring: “I am not afraid.” Others supported Mr Nemtsov, and read: “He died for Russia’s future” and: “He fought for a free Russia”.
Marcher Vsevolod Nelayev said: “I am carrying a Ukrainian flag because he fought for the end of the Ukraine war. They killed him because of that.”
Several thousand people have also marched in St Petersburg.
In a stunning radio interview hours before he was assassinated yards from the Kremlin, Mr Nemtsov accused a “mad” and “aggressive” Putin of lying to Russians over the Ukraine.
The former deputy prime minister branded the leader “bloodthirsty” and “sadistic” as he pleaded with Russians to join the march he had organised.
He accused Putin of eating the brains of Russians with his propaganda and said his rule was a “catastrophe”. Mr Nemtsov and girlfriend Anna were walking home over a bridge close to the Kremlin, when he was hit with four bullets by an assassin.
Grainy CCTV captured the moments before and after the shooting. The execution itself was blocked by a snowplough, which pulled away to reveal Mr Nemtsov’s body on the ground.
In a telegram to Mr Nemtsov’s mother, published on the Kremlin website, Mr Putin vowed to bring the killers to justice. He praised Mr Nemtsov’s openness and honesty.
Mr Nemtsov served as first deputy prime minister under President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s but fell out of favour with Mr Putin and became an outspoken opponent.
Liberal commentator Yulia Latynina said: “The message is absolutely clear: anyone who attends an opposition march can be killed. This is an act of political terror.”
The widow of murdered spy Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned in London, said Mr Nemtsov’s shooting was a warning to anyone who spoke out against President Putin.
Marina Litvinenko told Radio 4: “It’s a different way to kill a person, but a way to present that anybody who will try to say something against us will be killed.”
And opposition leader Ilya Yashin, as he marched, said: “It was President Putin who created this atmosphere of hate in our country, the atmosphere of intolerance, which one way or another materialised in the bullet that killed my friend Boris Nemtsov.”
The Kremlin strongly denied any official responsibility for killing Nemtsov.
But Putin’s biographer Masha Gessen accused the Kremlin of creating “a loose army of avengers who believe they are acting in the country’s best interests, without receiving any explicit instructions”.