There Will Be No Irina Slavina Square in Nizhny Novgorod

Irina Slavina

The Nizhny Novgorod authorities have refused to memorialize journalist Irina Slavina, who committed self-immolation on October 2, 2020, blaming the Russian state for her death. The journalist’s death was preceded by a search at her house as part of a criminal investigation into local businessman Mikhail Iosilevich, who was charged with “[carrying out the work of] an undesirable organization” (per Article 284.1 of the Criminal Code). In 2019, Slavina was sentenced to pay a fine of 70 thousand rubles for “involvement in the work of an undesirable organization.”

After Slavina’s death, human rights activists attempted to get the Investigative Committee to launch a criminal investigation of possible “incitement to suicide,” but the Committee turned them down on three occasions. The first time it argued that the journalist had suffered, possibly, from a “mixed personality disorder,” while the second time the Committee ruled that the suicide was the result of “emotional turmoil and a conscious wish to die.”

One of the projects undertaken by Irina Slavina, editor-in-chief of the independent Nizhny Novgorod publication Koza Press and a grassroots activist, was the rescue in 2015-2018 of a green zone near her house where the city authorities had decided to build a shopping center. The developer cut down dozens of trees, but the construction itself was stopped through the efforts of grassroots activists.

After Slavina’s self-immolation, Nizhny Novgorod residents began bringing flowers to the place of her death every Friday. Friends of the journalist planted flowers and seedlings in a small park near her house, dubbing the site “Slavina Square.”

Инициативная группа со созданию сквера имени Ирины Славиной
Irina Slavina Square pressure group

At the same time, activists gathered signatures on a petition asking that the place Slavina had fought to save from redevelopment officially bear her name. The greenery in the square was also restored by the heads of the city’s Nizhegorodsky district. But these officials did not support the idea to naming the square after the journalist. They decided instead to name it in honor of the local architect Vadim Voronkov.

One of the initiators of the idea of naming the square after Irina Slavina was the Dront Ecological Center, whose employees petitioned the mayor’s office. But the authorities turned the request down, explaining that Slavina was not “an outstanding statesman and public figure or a spokesperson for science, culture, art and other public spheres who deserved broad recognition for her work.”

Local media recall that Nizhny Novgorod regional governor Gleb Nikitin had once presented Slavina with an official certificate of gratitude for her professional journalistic work and personal service and had earlier promised that he would make every effort “to ensure that the investigation of the circumstances that led to the tragedy is supervised at the highest level.”

Дочь Ирины Славиной Маргарита
Irina Slavina’s daughter Margarita, holding a placard that reads, “While my mom was burning alive, you were silent.”

In April of this year, Dront began collecting signatures from ordinary Nizhny Novgorod residents who would like to see a Slavina Square in the city. The petition drive is still ongoing, but officials have already made their decision.

According to the newspaper Kommersant-Privolzhye, new trees were planted in the square a few days ago. The daughter of architect Vadim Voronkov, who was employed as the city’s chief architect for twenty years [in Soviet times, when it was still the closed city of Gorky], took part in the planting ceremony, which was organized by the Nizhny Novgorod State University of Architecture and Civil Engineering.

Alexei Fomenko, an activist with the project 42 — I Have the Right, called this decision by the authorities “a special operation on Slavina Boulevard.”

“For several decades, no one cared about the boulevard or the architect Voronkov. At one time, it was even decided to build the boulevard over. But then, suddenly, there is a ceremony, tree planting, and children. The mayor’s office and the deputies of the City Duma, realizing that we would not back down, and having no desire, on the one hand, to get a kick in the butt from their superiors, and on the other, getting their mugs dirty yet again, decided to resort to the good old ruse of round up some public employees, holding the necessary event hugger-mugger, and formalizing everything properly,” says Fomenko.

The plan of the authorities has not been welcomed on social media. Irina Slavina’s husband Alexei Murakhtayev was categorical in his condemnation.

“The authorities are once again doing something stupid. I do not know who the architect Voronkov was and what he has to do with this square. There must be some kind of cause and effect relationship! There is no cause, however, but the effect will be people’s discontent,” the deceased journalist’s husband argues.

The Nizhny Novgorod authorities explained their refusal to memorialize Slavina by claiming that her work “did not deserve broad recognition.” Vladimir Iordan, a friend of the journalist and a lecturer at the Nizhny Novgorod Theater School, does not agree with their appraisal.

“I have never met a more outstanding public figure capable of sacrificing their life for the sake of the ideals of justice, a more implacable campaigner against corruption and totalitarianism, a more honest and caring person. Slavina’s articles disciplined officials and deputies, and they exposed embezzlers. Governor Nikitin, when it was advantageous to him, liked to underscore that he reacted to all of Ira’s articles and requests. But Slavina was more than just a journalist — she was a real public figure in the original sense of the phrase. She was a driving force in many grassroots campaigns — against the lawlessness of tow truck operators, against the punitive beautification of parks and squares, against the redevelopment of Nizhny Novgorod’s historic center. She was a sensitive person who completely rejected injustice, lies, and hypocrisy,” says Iordan.

German Knyazev, an entrepreneur, public figure, and friend of Slavina, is sure that Slavina will not be memorialized under the current political regime.

“I think her main achievement was doing independent journalism in a totalitarian state, and my prediction is that this totalitarian state will never name a square after her,” Knyazev argues.

Meanwhile, the Iosilevich case, responsible for the humiliating search took place at Slavina’s home the day before her death, continues. Entrepreneur and activist Mikhail Iosilevich is on trial, accused of collaborating with Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia and threatening a witness. Despite the flimsy evidence, the prosecutor has requested four and half years in a minimum security prison camp for Iosilevich. On the eve of his trial he tried to leave Russia using an Israeli passport. The attempt was unsuccessful: Iosilevich was removed from a plane bound for Tel Aviv. According to the activist, his departure would have been the “ideal option” for all parties in the trial. “But no it is then! We will go on with the oral arguments, the rebuttals, the final statement . . . and the conviction of an innocent man,” Iosilevich wrote in a telegram.

Immediately after Slavina’s self-immolation, the Nizhny Novgorod regional prosecutor’s office ruled that the search in her apartment had been lawful. The search was part of the investigation into Iosilevich, which was prompted by his alleged cooperation with Open Russia. It is still not clear what form this “cooperation” took, however.

“Today, at 6:00 a.m., 12 people entered my apartment using a blowtorch and a crowbar: Russian Investigative Committee officers, police, SWAT officers, [official] witnesses. My husband opened the door. I, being naked, got dressed under the supervision of a woman I didn’t know. A search was carried out. We were not allowed to call a lawyer. They were looking for pamphlets, leaflets, Open Russia accounts, perhaps an icon with the face of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. I don’t have any of these things,” Slavina wrote [on Facebook that day].

The next day, Slavina burned herself outside the Interior Ministry headquarters in Nizhny Novgorod. She left a suicide note on Facebook: “I ask you to blame the Russian Federation for my death.”

Source: Alexander Lugov, Radio Svoboda, 12 May 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader

Slipping and Falling in Saint Petersburg

Imagine if this pavement were part of your daily walk between home and work, home and school, or home and the shops. Amazing as it might seem, this street on the edge of downtown Petersburg sees extremely heavy pedestrian traffic every day.

Yesterday, I slipped and fell while taking my recycling to the city’s only permanent recyclables collection point, situated in the parking lot of a hypermarket where I buy staples like tea and rice. The collection point and the hypermarket are three blocks from where these pictures were shot.

Fortunately, I’m still young and fit enough that the fall, which was hard and sudden, left me intact. Plus, in my youth, I had been taught how to fall in my tae-kwon-do classes. I feel fine today.

But Petersburg is chockablock with pensioners whom no one looks after. They have to go out into this mess to pay their bills and buy groceries and medicines, for example.

Do none of them fall and break their hips and legs in such conditions? They do — by the dozens and hundreds and thousands every winter.

I gather they pray for snowless winters, like their coeval my mom, who has spent her entire life dealing with southern Minnesota’s cold, snowy, windy winters. ||| TRR, 20 February 2018

Dima Zverev: Back Home in Tushino

Dima Zverev, “A view of three high-rise apartment buildings on Lodochanaya Street on a frosty day”

Dima Zverev makes gorgeous photographs. Three years ago, he returned home to Tushino, a district in the northwest of Moscow. His photographs of the neighborhood will be on display at the Northern Park there until February 28. (See the album of photos in his announcement, below, for directions.) ||| TRR

 

Dima Zverev, Solo exhibition in Northern Park, Tushino, Moscow. Exhibition view

“Beglov Is a Douchebag”: How to Get Snow Removed Fast in Petersburg

A huge snowdrift in downtown Petersburg was graffitied with an insult to Beglov. Workers began clearing it within an hour • Yevgeny Antonov • Bumaga • January 10, 2022

A large frozen snowdrift near the Sennaya Ploshchad subway station in downtown Petersburg attracted notice this morning. An insult to the city’s governor, Alexander Beglov, who has been blamed for poor snow removal, had been written on it in black.

Bumaga asks readers to guess how soon this snow hill will be removed.

Updated after 12:00 p.m. Workers have begun clearing the snowdrift.

“Beglov is a douchebag.” Photo by Andrei Bessonov. Courtesy of Bumaga
“How soon will the insulting snowdrift be removed?” [Button on left] It’s probably gone already! [Button on left] It will melt by spring.”

Updated after 12:00 p.m. An eyewitness has informed Bumaga that workers have begun removing the snowdrift. A little less than an hour has passed since we published this news, and an hour and a half since the accumulation of snow was first noticed.

According to an eyewitness, municipal services employees removed the graffito separately as trucks worked nearby. “Two trucks loaded with snow have already left Sennaya. The backhoe driver drove up, took a keepsake photo [of the offending snowdrift], and began shoveling the neighboring snowdrift,” he said.

Photo: Andrei Bessonov

Read more about it:

  • Fate, Sauron or Navalny? Our readers on who is to blame for the poor snow removal in St. Petersburg.
  • Periodicals that previously supported Beglov are now criticizing him for the uncleared snow. What’s happening?

Thanks to the Five Corners public Facebook group for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Snowpocalypse

Mighty Putinist Russia can occupy Crimea, invade Ukraine, and “pacify” the “terrorists” in Kazakhstan, but it can’t manage to shovel the sidewalks in our old neighborhood in Petersburg, reports Boris Vishnevsky, the city councilman for our district. If you’ve been watching this space for a while, you’ll recall that snow removal has vexed the Petersburg authorities at least since the “anomalous” winter of 2010-2011, when a healthy amount of snow (Petersburg is the world’s northernmost major city, after all) led to a total “snowpocalypse” on the streets and, most devastatingly, the roofs, flooding thousands of apartments, including ours. ||| TRR

I walked around my council district for two hours: Zagorodny – Zvenigorodskaya – Pravda – Socialisticheskaya – Dostoevsky – Razyezhaya – Svechnoy – Marat – Kuznechny – Pushkinskaya – Mayakovsky – Nevsky – Liteiny – Bolshaya Konyushennaya.

I found no signs that the sidewalks had been cleared. Nor did I find any traces of janitors.

Walking on the vast majority of sidewalks on these streets (the exception is Nevsky, and parts of Marat and Liteiny) is simply dangerous.

Even Mayakovsky Street is dangerous 2-3 meters off Nevsky. On Pushkinskaya, the danger zone begins even closer to the city’s main street.

Don’t even get me started about smaller streets.

I’m posting a portion of the photos I took. Social media are chockablock with similar images.

Now it will get colder — and the black ice and widespread injuries will kick off.

A friend suggested a good idea: to arrange an inspection of janitors. They would all have to be at “their” houses at seven in the morning. And the head of each district would have to personally make the rounds and check how many of them are real — that is, how many of them don’t exist only on paper.

We should demand that the authorities carry out such an inspection.

Meanwhile, [Petersburg] Governor Alexander Beglov, according to the Smolny’s website, has been discussing with Tamara Moskvina the prospects for the development of grassroots sports in Petersburg.

Meanwhile, walking on the sidewalks in the center of the city he leads is a real extreme sport.

Translated by the Russian Reader

“Snarling Dogs and Monkeys Chasing Each Other Through the Streets”

Leader of World Proletariat with Female Gate Attendant Reflected in Security Mirror, SUV, and New Year’s Tree. December 18, 2016, 11 Lomanaya Street, St. Petersburg

Monument to V.I. Lenin

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (pseudonym – Lenin) (1870-1924) was a Russian and Soviet world-class politician and statesman, revolutionary, founder of the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party (Bolsheviks), and one of the organizers and leaders of the 1917 October Revolution in Russia. The monument was erected on the 87th anniversary of Lenin’s birth on the premises of the former Proletarian Victory shoe factory. Unveiled on April 22 , 1957. Cast from a model by the sculptor P.I. Bondarenko.

Source: 2gis.ru. Photo and translation by the Russian Reader

• • • • •

In Petrograd, “cryptic” messages like this one (spray painted on the fence of the now-defunct Krupskaya Confectionery Factory) are giving the sex ads stenciled everywhere on the pavements and walls a stiff run for their money. Basically, if you want to get whacked out of your mind on “bath salts” and then have sex with a prostitute, this town is the place for you. And it visually reminds you of that fact a thousand times a day, every which way you look. But don’t dream of holding a spontaneous political protest: then the law will come down hard on you. But gnarly, highly addictive drugs and prostitution (amidst an HIV epidemic) it can live with. ||| TRR, December 18, 2015
An important public service message from the kleptocratic post-fascist hybrid regime: Make your family strong, not your liquor! “In Russia, 16% of families break up due to alcoholism.” Uff da! ||| TRR, December 18, 2015

Post-Soviet “ethnic diversity” gone bad. Four “folk singers” from god knows what republic or “little people of the north” lip-synching a folk song at the New Year’s bazaar on Pioneer Square in Petrograd. ||| TRR, December 18, 2015

A Wave of Summer Bargains

“On a wave of summer bargains. Up to 80%”

August

Provincial towns, where you’ll never get a straight answer.
What’s it to you? It was yesterday however you cut it.
Outside the elms murmur, nodding to a landscape
Only the train ever sees. Somewhere a bee buzzes.

The knight made a career of crossroads, but these days
Is himself a stoplight. Plus there’s a river in the distance.
And between the mirror into which you gaze
And those who can’t recall you there’s also little difference.

Closed fast in the heat, the shutters are entwined in gossip,
Or merely ivy, to avoid making a blunder.
Bounding through the front door, a sunburnt stripling
Clad in only his swim trunks has come to collect your future.

So twilight’s a long time in descending. Evening’s usually cast
In the shape of a train station square, with a statue, etc.,
Where the glance in which you read “You bastard!”
Is in direct proportion to the crowd that’s not present.

1996

Source: Culture.ru. Image courtesy of Ozon. Translated by the Russian Reader

Petersburg real estate developer and Brodsky museum founder Maxim Levchenko

43-year-old Maxim Levchenko is a managing partner at Fort Group, the developer of a large number of shopping centers in Petersburg and Moscow. His company is one of the largest proprietors of commercial real estate in the country. In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, he opened A Room and a Half — a Joseph Brodsky museum located in the communal apartment where the poet lived with his parents. A Brodsky museum has long been the talk of the town in Petersburg. Friends and fans of Brodsky have been trying to open [a museum in the apartment] since the late 90s. A neighbor in the communal apartment [where the Brodskys lived], Nina Vasilyevna prevented it from happening, responding to all requests [to sell her room in the flat to make room for the museum] laconically: “Over my dead body.” That is, until a shopping center proprietor seemingly remote from literature, businessman Maxim Levchenko, showed up at the flat. Brodsky’s fans naturally wondered who he was. Anna Mongayt asked Levchenko to give her a tour of the museum for the program “Patrons” and recount how he managed to persuade Nina Vasilyevna [to make a deal], how architect Alexander Brodsky was involved in designing the museum, and why the businessman wanted to invest in such an unprofitable project.

Watch the thirty-nine-minute program (in Russian, with no subtitles) on TV Rain. Image courtesy of TV Rain. Program synopsis translated by the Russian Reader

Homeless People in Petersburg Can Receive Pensions and Medicines Without Residence Registration

Members of Nochlezhka’s staff in the charity’s courtyard, 2019. Photo courtesy of their website

Court Rules in Favor of Nochlezhka: Homeless People in Petersburg Can Receive Pensions and Medicines Without Residence Registration
Takie Dela
March 30, 2021

On March 30, the St. Petersburg Charter Court upheld the right of homeless people without residence registration [propiska] to access social support from the city. The court recognized that the city government’s current provision, according to which assistance is provided only to people with residence registration, should be abolished. Takie Dela was informed about the ruling by Vitaly Isakov, a lawyer with the Institute of Law and Public Policy.

“Lack of registration is no longer an excuse for turning down a person who wants to register with the welfare agencies and receive benefits. The Charter Court’s decision is generally binding from the moment it was announced, and is not subject to appeal,” Isakov said. “The city government should abolish the regulations that the court found inconsistent with the city’s charter. In particular, they should remove the wording that requires residence registration.”

The lawyer also stressed that in the event of a legal conflict, Petersburg courts would not be able to enforce the current procedure for registering for social benefits, in which providing proof of residence registration is mandatory. “If a homeless person asks to be registered for benefits, but he is refused, he has the right to cite the Charter Court’s decision,” Isakov said.

The homeless charity Nochlezhka filed an appeal with the court in September 2020. The organization noted that among their clients there were those who did not have permanent residence registration in Petersburg. Because of this, they could not obtain the special social welfare registration and count on social benefits from the city.

Nochlezhka said that they had written appeals to city officials and defended the interests of clients in the courts, but had received refusals over the past five years. Subsequently, they decided to submit a request to the Charter Court, which makes sure that the city’s laws and bylaws comply with the city’s charter.

Since only the governor, a group of five legislative assembly deputies, or municipal districts can submit such requests, Nochlezhka turned to Petersburg parliamentarians and found deputies who agreed to sign the request. They also engaged lawyers from the Institute of Law and Public Policy, who drafted the request and, along with Nochlezhka’s lawyers, submitted it to the Charter Court.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Mandatory residence registration, known as propiska, is a relic of the Soviet era that was ruled unconstitutional by Russia’s newly minted Constitutional Court in the mid-1990s.  The ruling, however, sparked fierce resistance from such regional leaders as Yuri Luzhkov, then mayor of Moscow, who claimed that it would provoke widespread “emigration” from rural and poor areas to wealthy cities like his, thus flooding and disabling their social services. The court’s ruling was thus never enforced, meaning that Russians are still obliged to register their domiciles with the authorities, even when renting a flat. Consequently, a person’s ability to do a variety of important things — from applying for a job, a loan or a library card to receiving welfare benefits and getting married — depends on having a propiska in the city or town where they live and thus need to do those things. As a volunteer with Nochlezhka in the 1990s, I saw with my own eyes how the lack of a propiska prevented homeless people from getting help and restarting their lives, especially finding gainful employment and a place to live.

Zinaida Pozdnyakova, “Kalinin Prospekt”

Zinaida Pozdnyakova, Kalinin Prospekt (from the series New Arbat), 1977. Color autolithograph, 33 x 50 cm. Reprinted with the artist’s kind permission. All rights reserved. Originally published on her Facebook page

Ms. Podzdnyakova comments: “I was commissioned to do this series for an exhibition in Moscow. Traffic had then just opened on Kalinin Prospekt, and everyone rushed there to look at the skyscrapers. And I decided to portray all of it. This is my tribute to social realism. I was happy to draw houses in Zaraysk, and peasant houses and interiors in Ukraine, etc., but then I had to depict Kalinin Prospekt. It was difficult for me, but I found workarounds. I drew it almost as soon as Kalinin Prospekt was opened after construction. It was new, and everyone went there to walk and eat; the weather was great. I was looking for something that I myself found interesting and unusual. I even went to a restaurant [there] with a friend, something I had never done before.”

What workarounds! | | TRR

Food Couriers Strike in Moscow

cs-2Food couriers striking outside the offices of Delivery Club in Moscow on June 5, 2020. Photo by Mitya Lyalin. Courtesy of RTVI

“Bring Back the Old Rules”: Couriers at Delivery Club in Moscow Strike
RTVI
June 5, 2020

Couriers at the food delivery service Delivery Club in Moscow held a strike on June 5. According to them, working conditions at the company have recently taken a turn for the worse. For example, the company has started giving couriers long-distance orders, as well as frequently fining them. The workers walked out in protest. Our correspondent followed the industrial action and listened to the protesters’ demands.

Around forty couriers, nearly all of them wearing the company’s bright green raincoats, came to Delivery Club’s offices this afternoon. The couriers did not chant slogans. They wanted to speak with company management. Although they were not deterred by heavy rain and waited for over two hours, no one from Delivery Club management came out to speak with them.

In a conversation with RTVI, one of the protesters expressed his dismay.

“We have gathered here to get them to cancel the excessive fines against us. Take me: I deliver on foot. I used to get orders within a three-kilometer range, but now they’ve been sending me as far away as five kilometers. Think for yourself how a foot courier can walk so many kilometers and how long that takes,” he said.

According to him, this can cause him to arrive an hour late to a customer’s home or office.

“Then the customer gives us a funny look. But if we fail to take the orders, the company fines us,” he explained.

“Courier Strike at Delivery Club.” TV 360° live-streamed the June 5 industrial action in Moscow.

Another courier said that he and his fellow strikers wanted the company to go back to the old rules, under which workers were able to make all their deliveries on time and none of them was fined.

“Delivery drivers make 3,000 to 5,000 rubles [approx. 40 to 65 euros] for 14 to 16 hours of work, if they do 30 orders. Foot couriers make three to three and half thousand rubles max. At the end of our shifts, management can issue six or seven fines. Each fine amounts to 300 rubles, so that comes to 1,800 rubles [approx. 23 euros],” another young man said.

The couriers say that in the past, when orders were issued within the areas where they chose to work, they were always on time, because they knew, for example, where they could shorten their routes.

“We had everything worked out. Now the situation has changed. We bring people cold food, and I don’t think Delivery Club wants its reputation to suffer. I would like to go back to the old rules,” a female courier said.

The delivery drivers also have problems. They told RTVI about Delivery Club’s clumsy system for compensating their petrol costs. For example, they can be ordered to pick up food from a restaurant far away from their original location, but Delivery Club does not compensate them for their travel there. They are compensated only for travel from the restaurant to the customer, which, according to them, is a small amount of money.

On June 4, TV 360° aired this short but informative report about the upcoming strike.

The couriers coordinated their actions in community Telegram chats. A day before the strike, the Telegram channel Rasstriga, citing one of the couriers, reported the upcoming strike, forcing Delivery Club to announce that they were verifying the report. A spokesperson for the company said that during the period of self-isolation there had been more orders, and consequently the average earnings of their couriers and drivers had increased.

cs-1A striking Delivery Club courier speaking to reporters. Photo by Mitya Lyalin. Courtesy of RTVI

The same day, a video message from couriers in the Moscow suburb of Khimki was posted on Rasstriga. One of the speakers compared the work of delivery drivers to that of taxi drivers. According to him, they had to travel all over the city.

“We all have families, and we all have children to feed as well,” another courier added.

On the morning of June 5, Delivery Club issued a statement saying that the dissatisfaction of couriers could have been sparked by an experiment with increasing the size of delivery areas. However, the company added, the test was only carried out for a few days, and was terminated before there were reports of an impending strike. Now, according to the company, all unfair fines for couriers had been canceled, and the company had begun returning money previously paid in fines to the couriers.

Ivan Weiss, the head of the Union of Couriers of Russia, also spoke about the problems of delivery people. In a conversation with TV 360°, he said that many couriers and drivers were fined unfairly.

Weiss gave an example.

“A person starts work at 2:15 p.m., and they already have several unfulfilled orders from 2:05 p.m., and so they end up getting fined 1,500 rubles. There is no limit to the indignation a person feels when they need to earn this money.”

Weiss also spoke about the expanded delivery areas. According to him, a foot courier can be asked to pick up an order five or six kilometers away. Weiss also said that while he supported the couriers at Delivery Club, holding an outdoor protest during the self-isolation period could backfire on them.

Translated by the Russian Reader. If you want to learn more about the lives of food delivery people in Russia’s major citiesd, check out the recent photo reportage, “In the Imperial City,” by the well-known Petersburg documentary photographer Mikhail Lebedev, who has gone to work as a courier during the pandemic, and journalist Yana Kuchina, published by Takie Dela on May 24, 2020. Here’s a sneak preview.

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“Since the beginning of the self-isolation regime, the number of couriers has increased more than fivefold. Every day, 50 to 100 new people appear on the delivery chat. People are losing their jobs, and the delivery service is the easiest way to find a new source of income.”