Russia doesn’t have a president who is urging “liberation” against efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus, but many people in Vladikavkaz have nevertheless had their fill of self-isolation requirements imposed by the local authorities. On Monday, April 20, between 500 and 1,500 residents gathered outside the city's regional administration building. According to MBK Media, the demonstrators protested the loss of their jobs and what they say is inadequate information from public officials about the pandemic.
National Guard troops responded to the rally, arresting several demonstrators and forcing the protesters to disperse. North Ossetia-Alania Governor Vyacheslav Bitarov and members of his government also addressed the crowd. “I didn’t invent this disease, and the only treatment is staying home,” Bitarov explained, though it was apparently impossible to hear him, unless you were standing right beside him.
The Telegram channel Baza says the rally had less to do with coronavirus than demands for Bitarov’s resignation and the appointment of Vitaly Kaloev as an interim governor. “Many of the people here don’t believe in coronavirus and think the authorities are using it to force them to stay at home and not demonstrate,” said Baza.
Update: The demonstration was inspired in part by Vadim Cheldiyev, a local celebrity known for his opera singing and punditry, including his skepticism about COVID-19. A self-described “Soviet citizen,” Cheldiyev published a video message on April 17 calling on Vladikavkaz residents to stage a “people’s gathering” on April 20. The video attracted more than 170,000 views by the time of Monday’s protest. In connection with two other videos where he challenges containment measures against the spread of coronavirus and urges people to violate self-isolation, Cheldiyev now faces felony charges for spreading false information that endangers the public. He was recently arrested in St. Petersburg and transferred to the authorities in North Ossetia. During Monday’s demonstration, some protesters chanted, “Free Cheldiyev!”
As of April 20, North Ossetia had recorded 177 cases of coronavirus. Nine patients have fully recovered so far, and two patients have died.