Protests spark road sign mystery in Russian city

"City of Demons" road sign, Yekaterinburg, Russia, June 2019 Image copyright EU1.RU/Facebook
Image caption The Demons sign appeared overnight

Morning commuters in Yekaterinburg were surprised to find a road sign welcoming them to the 'City of Demons' yesterday, in the latest fallout from last month's mass protests in the capital of Russia's Urals region.

The "professional-looking sign appeared overnight on the main road to the airport," according to the city's E1 news portal, which posted an anonymous photo from a driver and asked readers "what do you think of this sign?", with a devil emoji.

This would strike an immediate chord with local people, as pro-Kremlin propagandist Vladimir Solovyov had called them "demons" several times on his Vesti FM radio show during protests against rebuilding a church destroyed during the Soviet period.

"This is a city where demons still cavort, a city that destroyed its church and failed to rebuild it, a city of demons again, where the demons' heirs are making a Witches' Sabbath," Mr Solovyov said in one particularly memorable tirade.

The photo of the road sign soon went viral in Russia, and was picked up by the popular press and news sites.

The week-long protests and counter-protests so alarmed President Vladimir Putin that he ordered a public opinion poll, in which the people of Russia's fourth-largest city spoke out against rebuilding the church in a popular park.

And E1 notes that the Orthodox Church agreed to change its plans and build the church elsewhere just a day before the sign appeared.

Metropolitan Kirill, the city's archbishop, issued his statement on Sunday, accusing opponents of the church of showing "hatred for God in their lives", while he for one did not want to "give the devil a chance... to awaken the ancient demon of civic discord".

'City of the Brave'

The traffic police quickly removed the "demons" sign, only for it to be replaced this morning with an alternative sign declaring Yekaterinburg to be the "City of the Brave".

Two similar signs appeared on other main routes into the city, E1 reports.

Image copyright shownewstv.ru/YouTube
Image caption The 'City of the Brave' appeared equally mysteriously

The inspiration for this slogan was not hard to find.

Yevgeny Kuyvashev, the governor of Sverdlovsk Region that includes the city, had suggested it as a better description of Yekaterinburg than the "witty, creative... but not very pleasant" initial response to Vladimir Solovyov's jibe.

"Let's put up a sign that we can be proud of, like 'City of the Brave', for example", he posted on Instagram, thereby setting off a predictable social media buzz that he is behind the whole sign campaign.

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The signs have prompted debate, as well as much online fun, in Yekaterinburg.

Councillor Konstantin Kiselev sees the 'City of Demons' sign as a case of local people "turning an insult into a symbol of our legitimate right to fight and protest for human dignity".

The local rock group Sansara mocked up an image of multiple signs calling Yekaterinburg the "City of the Brave, Strong, Smart, Honourable and Modest", which has proved to be hit on social media, while the popular Typical Yekaterinburg account has run polls suggesting that "City of Brave Demons" might please everyone.

But anyone attempting to put up Sansara's creation should bear in mind the traffic police warning that unsanctioned road signs risk a fine of up to 10,000 roubles (£124; $155).

'Hit the bullseye'

As for Vladimir Solovyov, he's convinced that the "demons" sign proves he was right.

"It means I hit the bullseye, and gave an accurate description of a certain type of local citizen... The demons are there, and Yekaterinburg needs to struggle with them. We all have to fight our own demons," he told the NSN news agency.

Image copyright Sansara/Facebook
Image caption The Sansara rock band could face a hefty fine

Reporting by Yevgeni Konovalov and Martin Morgan

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