Early this morning, high above the city of Chelyabinsk, a meteorite burst through the atmosphere and possibly crashed into the Earth. At the current moment, Russian authorities are still searching [ru] for where the meteorite may have landed, but what's certain is that it caused several sonic booms that shattered windows and other items as it fell. By the evening, Chelyabinsk Oblast officials reported [ru] almost a thousand people injured, mostly from broken glass, including 204 children.
Scores of amateur videos have flooded YouTube. Many clips feature the crash's immediate aftermath, namely the trail of thick smoke left hanging in the sky. Because many Russians operate dashboard cameras in their cars (mainly for insurance purposes), there is also a massive supply of live footage of the meteorite falling. Earlier today, popular photoblogger Ilya Varlamov posted [ru] a large collection of such videos to his LiveJournal blog.
Despite the property damage and injuries resulting from today's disaster, RuNet users have been more eager than ever to crack jokes and spread memes. While comic relief is a natural response to any tragedy, the fact that the meteorite landed in Chelyabinsk carries a certain readymade humor for Russians, given that the city is known, celebrated, and mocked for being a particularly harsh and poor corner of the country. The Chelyabinsk jokes [ru] are a sovereign kingdom in the world of Russian humor—enshrined in the segue to the Ivan Dulin segment of the television show Nasha Russia [ru]. One example of these jokes would be: “the Chelyabinsk subway is so tough, it travels underground without tunnels.”
While the joke formula is hardly new, RuNet users have managed to amuse each other with surprising success [ru]. A fake account representing Russia's Foreign Ministry, for example, tweeted [ru]:
Челябинский цинковый завод настолько суров, что берёт руду прямо из космоса
The Chelyabinsk zinc factory is so tough, it mines ore directly from space.
With the nature of the anecdote and its punchline understood, other Twitter users spread the following implied version:
Челябинский дождь настолько суров… #метеорит
Chelyabinsk rain is so tough… #meteorite
Some public figures also risked a stab at levity. Anna Veduta, press secretary for anti-corruption blogger Alexey Navalny, reposted an e-card from Navalny, which read [ru]:
Жители метеорита с ужасом наблюдали приближение Челябинска.
The meteorite's inhabitants watched in terror as Chelyabinsk neared.
In a spoof of the Russia parliament's draft legislation to ban “homosexual propaganda,” some Twitter users propagated [ru] the phony news that the Duma will soon adopt a “ban on meteorites,” implying that the government's campaign against gays is as irrational as outlawing natural disasters.
Journalist Dmitri Olshansky lamented the state of the nation, writing [ru] on Facebook, “poor, poor Russia, it's always the same thing,” in connection to a report [ru] by Lenta.ru that claims some Chelyabinsk residents are breaking their own windows to qualify for state compensation awaiting meteorite victims.
In addition to all this, RuNet users have booted up their (probably pirated) copies of Adobe Photoshop and composed a series of photoshop, or “fotozhaba” (literally “photo-toad”) mock-ups of pictures of the meteorite as it crossed the Chelyabinsk sky. Some of them are entirely apolitical (such as a running gag that the meteorite resembles a round of Angry Birds or the plot of the 1998 film Armageddon), and others poke fun at Vladimir Putin (and his cult of machismo) or even Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova.
Included below are some of the better disseminated, entertaining examples of the “fotozhaba” reaction to the Chelyabinsk meteorite.