Saturday, January 2, 2021

Seven Activists in Russia’s Regions Expanded Their Activities Not Despite Pandemic But Because of It

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 31 – The enormous variety of activists in the Russian Federation beyond the ring road is striking to anyone who takes the time to examine it; and in the past pandemic year, they have become more numerous, more active and more interconnected not despite the coronavirus but because of it, Ekaterina Lobanovskaya says.

            To make her point, the 7x7 journalist offers portraits of seven activists outside of Moscow who have had to adapt to and in most cases been fundamentally transformed by the pandemic but now are better positioned to make a difference than they were a year ago (

            Anastasia Vasilyeva, head of the Alliance of Doctors trade union, began the year working in one region but, forced to shift to online activities and confronted by the pressure of the pandemic on the healthcare system, expanded her organization to more than 45 regions and filed more than 3,000 complaints and more than 100 court cases in defense of medical workers.

            She anticipates that what started as a local union will soon become an all-Russian one, linking together doctors, nurses and other professionals into a powerful advocate organization that the powers that be won’t be able to ignore.  This year taught us, she says, that one must never give in no matter how bad things may get.

            Ivan Ivanov, head of the Committee to Save Pechora in the Komi Republic, says that 2020 was “strange.” It wasn’t easy to shift from face-to-face operations to online work. But in the end that expanded the group’s influence and allowed two of its activists to win election to the republic’s state council and the municipal council in the area of its greatest concerns.

            Irina Protasova, head of the Mari El Man and Law human rights organization, adds that the difficulties of the year forced her group, which Moscow has labelled a foreign agent, to work in new ways and those new ways have led to an expansion of its ability to help rather than to it being shut down.

            Nikolay Kuzmin, a Yabloko activist in Pskov Oblast, says that his group’s activities were able to expand online and that he and his comrades were able to win out against the party of power in municipal elections because they reflected better what people are feeling than United Russia ever could.

            Oleg Sharipkov, head of Penza’s Civic Union, said that his organization had been transformed by the pandemic. In the past, it did provide some help to hospitals; but in 2020, that became its main task, something its members did every day, seeking out what the medical system needed and providing it.

            2020 was a hard year but less hard than the year before when Civic Union was named a foreign agent. Sharipkov said that he fears 2021 may be worse still because of the adoption by the Duma of “the latest idiotic laws,” actions that will take all the oxygen out of the system on which volunteer groups depend.

            Anton Kasanov, organizer of the excursion project By Foot Through Vyatka, said that his group has had to go online in many instances but that the closing off of any possibility of foreign travel has meant that demands for its services face-to-face have risen rather than declined. It has promoted this interest by launching its own telegram channel and YouTube account.

            And Artyom Vazhenkov, an activist for the Open Russia movement in Tver, says that the past year has been a difficult one but that he hopes events in Belarus will spill over into Russia and change his own country’s course of development and block Russia’s return to “conservative fundamentalism.”

            He concludes by saying that the year has changed him personally. For the first time, Vazhenkov says, he “understood that the future could be worse than the present” and that one has to use one’s own resources to fight against that trend.


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