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Cities across Russia see virtual protests against self-isolation restrictions

Source: Meduza

Residents of Rostov-on-Don held a virtual rally against self-isolation restrictions on April 20, using the “Conversations” tool on the mobile apps Yandex.Maps and Yandex.Navigator. During the virtual rally, locals dropped pins near the regional government building and wrote messages about the impact of self-isolation orders, ranging from lost jobs to ineligibility for social assistance. In general, participants demanded one of two things: either the authorities introduce a full quarantine regime (which would provide local residents with guaranteed social assistance from the government) or the removal of restrictions preventing people from going to work. Hundreds of comments appeared over the course of the digital protest.

The online rally followed the introduction of changes to the procedure for obtaining travel permits, which the Rostov Mayor’s Office rolled out on April 19. Employers are now required to obtain passes on behalf of their employees. However, there are only nine points of issue for these passes and employers are supposed to call ahead. Naturally, residents complained that they were unable to get through by phone and long lines formed at the issuance points on April 20. 

After the virtual rally, the head of the Rostov region, Vasily Golubev, ordered changes to the local procedure for issuing permits –– one of the main complaints that arose in the “Conversations” on the apps. According to Golubev’s press secretary, the Rostov region is now seeking to open up more points for issuing passes and put in place a system that will allow employers to apply for employee travel passes via email. 

Following the protest in Rostov-on-Don, rallies began popping up in other cities across Russia. Using Yandex.Maps, Yandex.Navigator, and other mobile map applications, residents of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Krasnoyarsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Saratov, Ufa, Cheboksaray, Voronezh, and Kazan all staged virtual rallies.

Like in Rostov, users mostly complained about the financial difficulties they are facing due to self-isolation. Slogans began to emerge, including “Direct payments and real support for the population!” “Down with the pass!” and “Either a state of emergency or pay for [our] debts and communal apartments yourself!” 

Later, the online comments began to disappear. Yandex maintained that they always remove messages that are not related to road conditions or contain profanity. “If there are too many messages, their display time on the map can be automatically reduced so as not to interfere with navigation,” a Yandex.Navigator representative told Vedomosti.

Text by Olga Korelina

Translation by Eilish Hart