When Russia’s protest movement came alive last month, bringing tens of thousands of people onto the streets of Moscow, it only took an Internet connection to realize that its most vital cogs and gears were online. There had to be hundreds if not thousands of them, like an army of virtual worker ants, doing the grunt work that goes into a revolution in the 21st century. Someone had to be facilitating the movement’s Facebook groups, making its YouTube clips, tweeting and blogging its propaganda. And so there were. On a snowy night in December, dozens of them got together at a bar called Masterskaya, just down the street from the Kremlin, and turned the place into a buzzing revolutionary workshop.
At the time, the next big protest against Vladimir Putin’s government was only two days away, and the prime minister (who has said that he rarely uses the Internet) had just given the protestors an adrenaline shot by comparing them to bandar-logs, the wayward monkeys from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Their meeting at Masterskaya (the name of the bar, appropriately enough, means “workshop”) was partly geared toward proving him wrong.
The volunteers were not only better organized than a lot of Russia’s bureaucracy but far more dedicated. “I haven’t slept in three days,” boasted Rustem Davydov, 42, a scruffy TV producer wearing three layers of hooded sweatshirts. By day, Davydov told TIME, he works at a state-run television channel, wearing a suit and tie, by night he puts on his sweatshirts and sits on Facebook coordinating the opposition groups. Two weeks of this schizophrenic schedule had made him look like he needed a drink, but he refused one. “There is too much work to do,” he said.