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A man walks past a car that was burned during the protests triggered by fuel price increase in Almaty
After days of unrest and turmoil, a semblance of normalcy has returned to AlmatyImage: Pavel Mikheyev/REUTERS
PoliticsKazakhstan

Amid unrest, Kazakhs seek bread and information

Anatolij Weisskopf from Almaty
January 8, 2022

After days of violent anti-government protests, the situation in Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, appears to have stabilized. DW spoke with residents who are now wondering what's next.

https://p.dw.com/p/45IjV

For days, Almaty has been enveloped in thick fog in the evenings. Explosions are heard from different parts of the city, sometimes accompanied by gray-blue flashes of light muffled by the murky haze. Gunfire, too, breaks the silence from time to time.

But compared to earlier this week, the situation has calmed considerably. Residents of Kazakhstan's largest city are now venturing out once again.

Regime in Kazakhstan attempts to restore order

Many were scared to leave their homes, especially after dark — and not only because of the curfew imposed after mass protests broke out on Tuesday. Those who had unexpected access to the internet, despite an online shutdown, were shocked by footage that showed a young woman with a child being hit by bullets. It remains unclear who shot at her.

More people are now out on the streets, many seeking out small grocery stores in their neighborhoods. The big supermarkets and shopping centers in the city remain closed.

People standing in front of a shop
Basics like bread, milk and noodles have been hot commodities in AlmatyImage: Anatolij Weisskopf/DW

Askar Jermekov owns a small food store and told DW he has seen a big demand, especially for bread and noodles. "Before I open my store, I have to line up in front of the bread factory for a long time. If I can manage, I buy about 50 loaves of bread," he said. "I open my shop at 9 in the morning and by 10 I have almost nothing left, no noodles or milk. I'm now considering how to manage the shopping for tomorrow. The bread factories are operational, but the problem is that their drivers are scared and are refusing to deliver to shops."

'Everyone has to help as much as possible'

Nevertheless, residents seem to have enough bread. Many of the small snack bars in the city's neighborhoods, which normally sell shawarma and the savory puff pastry, samsa, have also begun baking their own loaves.

Some have also been preparing other dishes according to Kazakh, Uyghur, Uzbek or Tajik traditions — Almaty is a multiethnic city. The dishes are then transported by car to small stores, where they are distributed free of charge to those in need. It's estimated that more than 7,000 such trips have been carried out so far.

Bread in a tray
Free delivery of bread loaves have been a lifeline for many residentsImage: Anatolij Weisskopf/DW

"People are having a hard time. At a time like this, everyone has to help as much as possible. When I heard that there was a problem in the city with bread supplies, I showed up early in the morning and baked some," said the owner of a small bakery, who did not want to be named. "But I only give one loaf per person so that everyone gets something."

Is the Kazakh regime back in control?

'We don't know anything, we only hear shooting'

Another small bakery near the now burned-down residence of the Kazakh president has also resumed business, also distributing free bread to those in need. Waiting in long lines, people exchange the latest information.

"How else are we supposed to know what's happening around us? There is no internet and the mobile network doesn't work everywhere. Television reception is disrupted," said one woman. "We don't know anything, we only hear shooting. It's an information vacuum. That's also one of the reasons we come here, to at least find out something." Nearby, other people standing in line nod as she speaks.

Getting reliable information in and out of Almaty is difficult. Many rumors and unbelievable stories are circulating in the city, mostly spread by those people who still have a landline. At the moment, the old-school telephones are almost the only means of communication available to the general population.

A man stands in a shop that is plundered
Many shops in Almaty were looted and vandalized during days of turbulent protests and violenceImage: Valery Sharifulin/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

With mobile internet switched off and intermittent problems with wired connections, instant messaging services — very popular here — have been essentially shut down. In addition, many terminals that could be used to top up cellphone credits have been vandalized during the riots.

Situation remains volatile

As dusk falls, fresh gunfire can be heard. But those who still want a loaf of bread stay in line, seemingly already used to the new situation.

Suddenly, two armored personnel carriers drive by at high speed. It's unclear who they belong to, because the vehicles aren't marked. Many people in the bread line begin to speculate. Some think they are the so-called "peacekeepers" from Belarus or Russia, while others are convinced the vehicles belong to the Kazakh army, which is still trying to maintain order.

In any case, after days of violent turmoil the streets are once again being patrolled by police officers, with some security officials armed with machine guns. Patrols are common, even though numerous police cars were burned or destroyed during the unrest.

Tokayev: 'We are dealing with bandits and terrorists'

In a televised address on Friday, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said Almaty alone had been invaded by "20,000 bandits," and ordered security forces to fire on the "terrorists" without warning. He dismissed as "stupidity" appeals "from abroad" for all parties to negotiate a peaceful solution to the crisis.

This article was originally written in Russian

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