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DUBAI: Russia banned Facebook and Instagram earlier this month as part of a crackdown on Western social media giants, describing the platforms’ parent company Meta as an “extremist” company.

“The activities of the Meta organization are directed against Russia and its armed forces,” said Igor Kovalevsky, a representative of Russia’s FSB security service, according to Russian state news agency TASS.

Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, said the platform’s 80 million users in Russia will be cut off due to the ban.

Moscow’s crackdown will prevent individual users from posting and connecting with others, as well as hampering their ability to receive information.

But it’s the country’s army of social media influencers who are paying a particularly heavy price.

Russia is home to thousands of fashion influencers with millions of followers. Influencer marketing platform Starngage alone tracks 176,070 influencers in Russia, with subscriber numbers ranging from 1,000 to 10 million.

“About half of all my income came from Instagram advertising,” said Karina Istomina, a DJ and Instagram influencer with more than 400,000 followers, The Guardian reported.

“I will most likely have to find new sources of income and will have to rediscover myself,” she added.

Another influencer, Karina Nigay, tearfully said, “This (Instagram) is my life, this is my soul. This is what I’ve been waking up to and going to sleep with for five years.

“I’m in a state of resentment and far from a state of acceptance,” she added.

A few days later, Nigay was in Dubai, celebrating his birthday and dancing on a boat.

The influencer, who has 2.9 million Instagram followers, posted on the platform last week, complaining about the ban and saying any platform that replaces it will take four times as much work.

“I want to live and work in Russia, but at the same time I don’t want to lose my career in Europe, which I have built over the years.”

The sunny beaches and luxury hotels of the United Arab Emirates have become a haven for Russian influencers, who now struggle to make a living on Instagram.

Pavel Durov, the founder of Telegram and previously VKontakte, a Russian social media app, was among those who left Russia for Dubai following the government crackdown.

He publicly posted his story on Telegram, describing how his career at VKontakte ended under pressure from the FSB, and his determination to protect users’ privacy and data, especially those of Ukrainians.

Another influencer, Khabib Nurmagomedov, who has over 30 million Instagram followers, was also seen in Dubai recently.

Russian TV personality Olga Buzova, who had more than 20 million Instagram followers, also broke down in a tearful video when the ban was announced and has since traveled to the United Arab Emirates, according to the media.

His sponsors are paying for the vacation, including flights and a room in a five-star hotel, according to Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Sonia Plotnikov, the daughter of Vladimir Plotnikov, MP and supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has over 100,000 Instagram followers and is also currently in Dubai.

However, if the influencer expected sympathy, she may be disappointed. Comments on Plotnikov’s posts reveal how many people believe influencers can travel to other countries, and even continue to enjoy a luxurious lifestyle, as their country wages war on Ukraine.

In a separate interview, Dubai-based influencer Becky Jefferies told Arab News, “We live in a world where many people across the world are without basic necessities, or are otherwise in need, and it’s an unfortunate reality in good times and bad.” .

“But I don’t see social media as a cause or a solution to economic challenges at the micro or macro level.”

Increasingly, the UAE has become a haven for Russian influencers, but it’s not the only one. In the region, for example, Russian model and Instagram star Polina Malinovskaya with 2.2 million followers was spotted in Egypt this month.

Some have flown to the relaxing comfort of hotels in Bali and the Maldives, while others seek normalcy in the bustling cities of New York and London.

Vlad Berenich, for example, who has more than 800,000 Instagram followers, relaxes in Bali, while Polina Kovaleva leads a scholarly life in London.

Maria Pevchikh, who leads the investigations of Russian lawyer Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, recently posted Kovaleva’s story in a Twitter thread.

Kovaleva is the daughter-in-law of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who aged 21 bought a London flat on Kensington High Street for £4.4million – in cash.

Additionally, her sophisticated lifestyle is evident via her Instagram profile which has since been deleted and a new, temporary, private one created. After the news broke on Twitter, Kovaleva was disciplined by British authorities.

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