MOSCOW—Russia lost a record-breaking 1,100 lives to COVID-19 on Monday alone. The data is grim: With only 37 percent of the population vaccinated, one out of every 10 COVID patients in the city of St. Petersburg has landed in an intensive care unit, battling for their life as infection rates and fatalities across the country spiral out of control. The crisis is so severe that last week, President Vladimir Putin ordered a nationwide work-from-home order until Nov. 7, with authorities insisting that stringent restrictions are the only way to curb the spread of the virus.
Still, it seems that the terrifying death toll and warnings from the Kremlin were not enough to stop Russians from celebrating Halloween in style this year. With citizens prohibited from gathering in bars or nightclubs, hundreds took to the streets of St. Petersburg’s main avenue of Nevsky Prospect on Sunday, where they danced the night away as street performers and musicians entertained the crowds.
Like St. Petersburg, Moscow’s lockdown includes the closure of gyms, restaurants, and other businesses, with limited exceptions like grocery stores and pharmacies. But that didn’t stop the elite from taking advantage of certain loopholes in the city’s anti-COVID measures, which technically allow them to attend parties at privately rented venues and hotels.
Over the weekend, Russian socialite and television presenter Anna Mongayt posted a photograph of herself attending a Halloween party at a luxury hotel in Moscow.
“All public events have been banned in Moscow, so people look for the gaps in the rules, make personal deals and arrangements,” Mongayt told The Daily Beast in a message. “I attended two Halloween parties over the weekend, one at the [hotel] … and one at a loft, where we ordered catering and our own DJs. Life goes on but I wonder what will happen to the parties that took the entire year to arrange.”
Moscow’s famed loft spaces, beloved by the city’s hipsters, were booked out days before Halloween, according to Russia’s Business FM. The outlet reported that demand for leasing loft spaces actually doubled over Halloween weekend, only days after Moscow went into a partial lockdown.
Russians have long been drawn to the intrigue of underground events, a form of rebellion since the KGB era, when citizens could only speak the truth within the confines of their living rooms.
“You can find anything you need underground in Moscow during this lockdown. You can cut your hair, have a meal or get together for a party, people find a way,” Echo of Moscow editor Olga Bychkova told The Daily Beast. “Managers at beauty salons or sports clubs let regular clients know that they actually continue working in secret.”
A well-known DJ and blogger, Karen Shainyan, is a staunch proponent of the underground lifestyle. “If people invite me to join their party underground, I am more than happy to play music,” Shainyan told The Daily Beast. “I see no sense in these restrictions, especially for people like me, who’ve been vaccinated.”
A Moscow museum dedicated to the famed Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov decided to host its own party, in light of the fact that museums are some of the few venues still open to the public. “It’s fun to live on the edge and do something mysterious or even banned,” 23-year-old Anastasia, a Moscow-based journalism student who attended the event, told The Daily Beast.
Russia’s filthy rich seem to be particularly irked by the recent lockdown restrictions. Ksenia Sobchak, the face of Moscow’s glamorous elite, posted a selfie on Sunday night from what looked like a lavish hotel lobby.
“I definitely don’t want to sit in quarantine. I got vaccinated a long time ago,” Soback, who’s known as “Putin’s goddaughter” for her ties to the president, wrote in the post. “I am an ultimately rational person, I don’t understand why with such horrible spreading figures restaurants and gyms are dangerous and metros are not.”
Just last week, Sobchak, a wealthy business lady and ex-presidential candidate, was criticized for flying a private jet to a luxurious villa in Italy’s Lake Como, where she officiated the marriage of 60-year-old billionaire ex-senator Andrei Vavilov and his 24-year-old bride, Sofi Dilua. She attended the wedding shortly after another scandal had broken out in the resort city of Sochi: A Maybach carrying the socialite to the airport crashed into another car, killing a 35-year-old woman.
In her Sunday Instagram post, Sobchak left her 8.6 million followers with a cliffhanger. “I am flying away to a place where there is no quarantine,” she wrote. “Guess where to?”