Arseny’s Childhood

You Have the Oyat at Your Back, Young Arseny
Viktor Smirnov
47news
November 23, 2015

Arseny, a third-grader from the Podporozhye District, crosses a river in a boat on his way to school. On the weekends, he serves as an altar boy at a church. His father abandoned Arseny and his mother, a real estate agent conned them, but the authorities know the score. At school, he got two zeroes for conduct when he had no pencils or shoes on September 1, the first day of school. 47news journeyed to the backwoods of the Leningrad Region and spent a day with Arseny’s family.

Every weekday at 7:40 a.m., 9-year-old Arseny Prokhorov and his mom Irina Prokhorova ford the Oyat River in a rubber boat. They are hurrying to school.

The Oyat River, which has its source in the Vologda Region, is 266 kilometers long and flows into the Svir River. It has a strong current and contains rapids. Its course has not changed for at least a thousand years.

“It is especially frightening in the mid season, when the ice sets and the current pulls along whole sheets of it. We make a point of carrying the boat higher upstream. And in the spring, the current carries the slush produced by the ice, and the water rises a lot,” Irina Prokhorova told me.

Last spring, she was crossing the river alone when the boat capsized and she fell into the water. But she swam ashore pulling the boat out with her. Arseny stood on his side of the river and cried.

Believe me, he is quite grown up. Incidentally, the only two zero marks for conduct he has had this year were on September 1 and September 2. He had no notebooks, pencils or shoes. Children’s protective services came after that and inspected the house, but nothing has been heard on this shore from social services since then.

The boy and his mother have lived in the village of Gribanovskaya in the Vinnitsy Rural Settlement of Podporozhye District for four years. The village is situated on the right bank, but seven houses have stood on the left bank for a long time. No one lives in six of them during the winter: they belong to summertime cottagers.

The school bus picks Arseny up at 7:50 a.m. The school itself is four kilometers away, in the village of Vinnitsy. On the weekends, the only way to get there from Gribanovskaya is on foot. Irina uses an old bike to get there or she and Arseny walk there together. The commuter bus runs three times a week: Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

The village of Gribanovskaya is 350 kilometers from Petersburg and 76 kilometers from the district center, the town of Podporozhye. The village contains around ten households and three dozen inhabitants. The first census of Gribanovskaya was taken in 1873.

That House There

After our phone call, the mistress dashes out of the house, climbs down a steep bluff, unties the boat, and drags it to the water. Plying the oars in a masculine fashion, she sails towards us.

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A petite woman jumps nimbly from the craft. She is dressed neatly, but is nervous. We clamber aboard the boat. The first to go aboard is Father Vladimir, rector of the local church. He helps the family any way he can. I, the correspondent from afar, get on the boat second. We have to step from the sloping ice into the boat’s soft bottom. The black water, the tiny oars, and the air temperature do not inspire me with optimism. I begin to doubt whether the boat will bear our weight. The priest is not having such a smooth time of it on the oars. We begin to drift.

The backyard is depressing. Irina gets right down to business. They will soon run out of firewood. Father Vladimir frowns.

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I am given a brief, simple tour of the local way of life. Irina and Arseny once had rabbits and a couple of pigs. They slaughtered them out of necessity. The garden and the potatoes they grow there are their salvation.

Arseny’s diet is as basic as that of a postwar child: oatmeal in the morning, soup for lunch, and buckwheat kasha or macaroni for supper. The family lives on 2,500 rubles a month [approx. 35 euros], which Arseny’s grandmother sends them. Irina’s oldest daughter from her first marriage helps them out by sending produce.

“Once every two weeks we sail to the mobile shop,” says Irina.

She would be glad to work, but jobs are nowhere to be found, neither in Vinnitsy nor, especially, in Gribanovskaya.

Irina is from Petersburg. She has two daughters from her first marriage, aged 17 and 27. She and her new husband moved to Vinnitsy. They had decided to get away from the noise of the city. Arseny was born there. In 2012, their house burned down. Since Irina was officially registered as a resident of Petersburg, she was refused assistance by the local authorities. With this incident in the back of her mind, she does not ask the authorities for anything nowadays. She had to sell her share in an apartment in Petersburg and buy the house in Gribanovskaya. Moreover, the real estate agent, who showed them the house in winter, did not mention there was no bridge or ferry. Nor did Irina ask. Then her husband hit the bottle and left the family. In parting, he gave Arseny a lifejacket.

We go into the house. Only of one of the three floors is inhabited. It contains a kitchen with a brick oven and a double room. It is warm and cozy inside, not at all like it is outside. Arseny comes out. He shows us his desk, books, and drawings. He gets Bs and As at school, although he recently got a D in shop. He did not bring glue and cardboard to class. His mother did not have the money to buy them. On the other hand, he is a champion at reading contests.

Arseny takes weekly lessons with a painting teacher in Vinnitsy. Once again, Father Vladimir has helped him out with this. Arseny says his dream is to be an artist and see the Coliseum and the Louvre one day.

Arseny Prokhorov
Arseny Prokhorov

The family has a plan to this end: to finish the first four grades and enroll in the Russian Academy of Art’s Ioganson State Academic Art Lyceum in Saint Petersburg.

Arseny’s hobbies included books and chess, which he has played since the age of six. He also likes the SpongeBob SquarePants cartoons.

When asked whether he knows who Bobby Fischer was, he confidently replies, “I saw a book about him, but I haven’t read it yet.”

Right at this moment, a film about the life of the brilliant American chess player is showing in Petersburg theaters. I doubt that most young people would have responded to my question as Arseny has.

There is a computer in the house with Internet access. Although his mom does not encourage it, Arseny has his own page on the VKontakte social network and is interested in the news. Among the latest news, he remembers the crash of the Malaysian Boeing the most. Arseny has the sense the world is ruled by God, and that Vladimir Putin reigns on earth. True, at first the lad misspoke himself, calling the president “Alexander.” He also knows about important people “somewhere out there.” But the ticks and vipers in the backyard are more real to him. He makes no bones about the fact he is afraid of them.

A tick bit him this past spring. It turned out to be carrying encephalitis. The doctors kept Arseny in hospital five days and then sent him back home with his mother. Since then, Arseny has periodically had a temperature.

This is bad, because earlier the boy had suffered from barely noticeable disabilities that had almost disappeared through the efforts of his mom. The boy has been exempted from attending physical education classes. Which is just as well, since every day he does chores at home like an athlete. Now Irina worries whether the encephalitis will affect his nervous system.

“The school requires a written waiver exempting Arseny from transfer to boarding school. But how can I give him up?” wonders Irina.

Father Vladimir supports her. He booms that it would be wrong to send the boy from his child’s bed, with his mom nearby, to a state-sponsored cot.

And There is a Church Nearby

We get ready to go to the local church. Arseny serves there as an altar boy, helping with the mass. As we get ready to go, it transpires that the most burning question will soon be the question of winter boots. Arseny simply does not have any. The boots donated to him two years ago have fallen apart. Despite their problems, mother and son look neat and self-possessed. We have to cross the river again.

We take Father Vladimir’s Zhiguli to Our Lady of Smolensk Church in Vinnitsy. We go into the church, which smells of oven, wood, and incense. There is a stand-up piano in the corner. After the icy snow, drizzle, and darkness, I immediately feel sleepy. Arseny assists the priest for two hours.

It is getting on towards nine in the evening. There is neither a single soul nor a single car on the streets of Vinnitsy and, especially, Gribanovskaya. We have returned to the ford. The road was utterly muddy, and snow mixed with rain is coming down. In the darkness, descending the steep bank to the boat is completely unpleasant. We bid farewell to the squeaking oars. We cannot see the boat all. Just in case, we say goodbye again. We hear a reply. It is like a film about the war, as if they are going off on a recon mission.

I finished my work in Gribanovskaya around nine in the evening. Father Vladimir gave me a lift to Vinnitsy and set off to administer extreme unction to a local woman. In her youth she is said to have practiced witchcraft.

There was no sign of cars on the street, so my logistics hit a dead end. The local police saved the day. A call to Podporozhye District Deputy Police Chief Dmitry Vladimirov asking to facilitate my not kicking the bucket was understood loud and clear. His guys saved the day. Police officer Andrei (who, incidentally, was supposed to be finishing his shift) drove me 75 kilometers through a blizzard and over potholes to Podporozhye. Along the way, his wife called, worried.

Suddenly, in a place where the thicket had almost overgrown the road, a healthy white wolf with gray markings crossed the road in front of us. The beast stopped, flashed its eyes, and vanished. Perhaps it was surprised to see people at such a time in such a place.

P.S.  Of course we talked with Arseny and his mother. You can soon read about Arseny’s dream on 47news. In the meantime, think about this article.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Videos and photos courtesy of 47news

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Striking Petersburg Truckers: “If the Politicians Think We Are Disorganized Louts, They Are Wrong”

Striking Petesburg truckers Oleg Krutskhikh and Alexei Zhatko
Striking Petesburg truckers Oleg Krutskhikh and Alexei Zhatko

“Soon the whole country will work for the Rotenbergs”
Antonida Pashinina
November 25, 2015
Rosbalt

Long-haul truckers have continued their protests against the Plato system in Russia. Truckers are outraged by new tolls on federal highways and are determined to have them abolished. In the Northern Capital, drivers got all the way to the Smolny [Petersburg city hall], but a dialogue with the authorities did not take place there. Private entrepreneurs and veteran truckers Oleg Krutskikh and Alexei Zhatko told Rosbalt about why they are willing to fight to the last, what they will do in the event of failure, and what their families think about their protest.

How did you start working as truckers?

Oleg: I began driving when I got out of the army, in 1998 or 1999. My dad was a driver, and I followed in his footsteps. You know how it is: army brats are drawn to the army. Well, sons of truckers are drawn to trucking. First, I drove a KamAZ, then a MAZ. I am from the Voronezh Region. In the 2000s, my family and I moved to Petersburg. I spent ten years behind the wheel of cargo trucks, then I became an entrepreneur, although I have kept driving myself.

Alexei: I am originally from the Stavropol Territory. I moved to Petersburg in 1999. I moved my father here. He is a trucker. At first, I worked as a dispatcher in a container company. Then I took a truck from this company to break in. I put Dad behind the wheel, and he went to work. Then I started to drive myself and I bought several trucks.

It was profitable to work in freight haulage then, right?

Oleg: Yes, in the no-holds-barred nineties and noughties, you got paid in cash in dollars. A round trip within the city cost $100, to Moscow, $850–950. Then we were forced to legalize, which was the right thing to do. We started paying taxes. We became self-employed entrepreneurs or turned our operations into limited liability companies. Until 2008, we did more or less all right. We made enough to pay for fuel and pay our drivers. The oil flowed abroad, and the government had enough money both for itself and for people, to throw them some bones. Then the dollar rose, the price of spare parts soared, and there was less work. Depreciation amounts to a lot of money in Russia, and you are left with peanuts. Basically, we cannot afford to replace our vehicle fleets.

Alexei: From 2002 to 2008, when the tax system was semi-gray and payments were made in cash, I bought trucks. I had eight of them. Subsequently, every year I would cut one truck to be able to repair the rest. Now I have one heavy transport truck left. I used to have these issues. I would drive to the service center and they would replace all the bad parts. You won’t believe me, but now I know which city and which demo yard has the cheapest spare parts. What is a demo yard? A place that sells used parts. That means we are not running 100% safe on the road anymore. Even if a part has 20% wear and tear, your safety is lower.

Oleg: The point is that incomes have fallen almost to zero. Basically, [the authorities] want to take the shirt off our backs, but we are refusing to budge. We are not earning anything nowadays. We have ground to a halt and are idling.

Have you been involved in the protests for long?

Oleg: Since November 11.

Alexei: I was out of town for two months. I left in August, and when I got back these new developments had emerged. I was forced to leave the truck in Krasnodar and fly here. It was cheaper. I have not worked since November 15.

The stance of the authorities is clear. Long-haul truckers must pay the damages the big rigs cause to federal highways.

Alexei:  I really do not understand this. If the permissible weight is forty tons, how can I cause damage to roads? I pay motor vehicle tax and excise duties. I cannot cause more damage than is stipulated by the State Standards. But I am told that I cause more damage than I should anyway.

Nobody knows how the motor vehicle tax is spent. Take a look at our roads. The M10 from Petersburg to Moscow is more or less okay. The M7, to Tatarstan, is good, and the M4 is not bad. There are no other [decent] roads [in Russia]. Take, for example, the M5. The section from Syzran to Penza is a disaster. From Samara almost to Ufa there are two hundred-odd kilometers that we travel at a snail’s pace. And then they say they are closing the highway because it has drifted. In fact, they just do not plow the road, and traffic moves slowly. You cannot climb hills or get up to speed. So the authorities decide to close the whole thing. It is easier for them.

Oleg: Or take a look at how much the toll roads cost. They have now opened a road near Vishny Volochyok to Moscow. It is 920 rubles one-way, meaning nearly 2,000 rubles round trip [approx. 28 euros]. The toll on the M11 is 1,200 rubles. So a round trip has gone up by 4,000 rubles. And I have not figured in the tolls on the Western High-Speed Diameter. Plus, the Plato system costs around 2,000 rubles until March, then it will cost 5,000 rubles. The rise in expenses due to toll roads will come to around 9,000 rubles. That is a 25% increase.

Look, a 25% rise in freight haulage costs means that all the prices in the shops will go up. Old ladies and pensioners will bear the brunt. I think the authorities are keen to put tolls on absolutely all roads. For example, Leningrad Region Governor Drozdenko said that regional roads should be toll roads, too. They have gone after the truckers first, because we could be accused of damaging the roads. If they imposed this law on all drivers at once, it would not be just us who were out protesting. Others would come have out as well.

Do you think the authorities were afraid of mass protests?

Oleg: I think they wanted to get us to this point stage by stage. At first, they will work out the bugs on us, and then gradually incorporate everyone else.

It will come to the point where drivers of passenger cars will pay the duty as well. If we do not squash it and stop it, the entire country will work for the Rotenbergs. The burden will fall on everyone’s shoulder. We will be like slaves. They will legally be able to use us.

Alexei: Try and understand the trucker’s mindset. I like my job because I am as free as the wind. If I want to go Novosibirsk, I go there. Tomorrow, I might want to go to Krasnodar. It is a kind of freedom. But now they are trying to put a noose around my neck, and they can always tighten it. I find myself in Novosibirsk, for example. They tighten the noose, and I cannot make it back home. My only choice would be to abandon everything, sell the truck, and get home on some other form of transport. So I don’t want this noose. But long-haul truckers are a kind of caste who are no strangers to hardship. Our lifestyle differs little from that of a dog. We live in our rigs like a dog in a kennel. Just like a dog pisses on the wheel, so do we. So if truckers do end up moving on Moscow [in protest] that will not be a problem. Living in our rigs for a month near Moscow would be easier than pie.

You have not even tried to register on the Plato system?

Alexei: Why should I? I don’t recognize it and I am not planning to recognize it.

It would be easier for me to run my rig downtown sometime, drive it up to the Smolny ignoring all the traffic warning signs, and set fire to it.

What is the point of working under such a system? I am ashamed for the government. I used to idolize Medvedev. I used to respect him. Three or four years ago, he said that we would add a tax of seven rubles to the price of fuel and abolish the motor vehicle tax. I was really happy about this. I thought, let it be that way. I did not quite get it, but it would be simpler for me than running to the state savings bank all the time to pay the taxes and fees. But how has it all turned out?

Now they are promising to reduce the fines, but there is not a single regulatory document backing this promise up. You phone Rosavtodor (the Russian Federal Road Agency), and [they tell you] the rates on the Plato website are still in effect. How is that? My idol Dmitry Medvedev says one thing, but something else happens. This has political implications. But still, it is painful, what can I say.

I understand that you don’t want to associate your protests with politics?

Oleg: This is our life. We are fighting for it, for the lives of our families and their families.

Alexei: We don’t need revolutions and upheavals, because there are problems after all upheavals, and the economy will have to recover. There won’t be any work, and the country will suffer from poverty. We don’t want that.

And what is the difference? One group of people is now in power, then people just like them will take over. The only thing I do not understand is why a barrel of oil cost eight dollars in the 1990s, and now it costs over forty dollars, but we still do not have enough money. And why in the 1990s, if someone in the government admitted his mistakes, he offered his resignation, but nowadays an official who has goofed up big time says, “Well, that didn’t work out. Sorry, but I am going to keep working.”

Oleg: And what happened with [former Russian defense minister] Serdyukov? How could you, guys? They spit in the country’s face. If they spit in the Investigative Committee’s face, who are we truckers? I won’t be surprised if [the powers that be] do not react to us at all, if they just have the riot police crush us.

You think they could start cracking down on the protests using the riot police?

Oleg: For now we are being treated more or less decently. Time will tell.

What is the news from the field? Do you know anything about how the events have affected businesses in Russia?

Alexei: The first [city] to sound the alarm has been Tyumen. They produce their own bread and milk, but everything else is shipped in. The produce will not last long. In Volgograd, a glass factory has temporarily shut down. But here I am thinking: many factories are certainly owned by politicians, by MPs. Ordinary people would not own them. And this is a blow to the owners. So while we are not driving, there should be some movement on the part of our rulers.

According to my information, there are four ferries at a standstill in Novorossiysk, and New Year’s is around the corner. In Derbent, there are many train cars loaded with persimmons, tangerines, and pomegranates that are not going anywhere. They simply have nowhere to offload the produce there. The persimmons arrive there in ordinary heated freight cars and cannot be stored for long. I think if we continue the stoppage, then it will not just be a protest—

But a strike, rather.

Alexei: It is a strike. We cannot go back on the roads. We have been cornered. If things go on like this, it will be worse.

Approximately how much do you pay in taxes per year?

Oleg: I did the calculations for seven trucks. We burn through about 30 tons of diesel a month. Multiply that by 7 rubles, and it comes to 210,000 rubles a month, or two and half million rubles a year. Plus there is the motor vehicle tax and the taxes for individual entrepreneurships and limited liability companies. All in all, it comes to around three and a half million rubles [approx. 50,000 euros]. Meaning that if Plato goes online, we will probably bite the dust, and the treasury will come up three and a half million rubles short. If you do the math, that amounts to good pensions for twenty-eight old ladies or tiny pensions for fifty old ladies. So all those old ladies will lose their pensions. The people who work for me will end up at the unemployment office, and the state will have to cut them unemployment checks.

The truckers have shown all Russians a great example of solidarity. Basically, people from different parts of the country have united to fight for their rights.

Alexei: Despite the fact that the media have been blacking us out, all of us—our groups of drivers and our dispatchers—have been getting the message out. I have lots of dispatchers who have been explaining to customers that they are not going hand over loads to anyone, because we are all in solidarity, because each of us has his trucks out there. When I was driving from Novorossiysk to Krasnodar to store my truck in the lot there, a traffic cop stopped me. He asked where I was going. I explained I was going to a lot, then flying to Petersburg.

That was a traffic cop who asked me. What does this tell us? That the traffic police, too, probably have their own trucks out there or friends and acquaintances. They support the truckers, but they have their orders. I myself am a former military man. Everyone understands everything perfectly.

As far as I know, the police have so far not been actively hindering the protests. In Petersburg, for example, the protesters got off with small fines.

Alexei: No, their objective is to break up the convoys of trucks.

Are you not afraid of provocations?

Oleg: We got together to figure out how we would run our protests, and there was immediately news on the web that Oleg Krutskikh was an accomplice of Navalny and all. Someone started writing to truckers that there would be no protest, that it had been called off. A specific agency is working against us.

Alexei: People get SMS alerts that a protest will not take place. That so-and-so works for Navalny and is trying to start a commotion.

What do you think about United Russia MP Yevgeny Fyodorov’s statement? He said you were protesting “at the behest of the United States.”

Alexei: That is insane. Perhaps the man has some problems. Maybe he reads too much about America. There is no trace of commonsense audible or visible in what he said.

Oleg: I would like to appeal to you as a member of the media. 80% of the news is about Egypt and Syria. Guys, we have so many problems in our own country that at least 95% of the population could care less what is happening abroad. Only the 5% who have business abroad care. I have a huge request for you all: tell us, the 95%, about Russia. When things have been put to right in Russia, maybe you can tell us about life in other countries.

Alexei: I guess then it will be difficult for someone to raising his popularity rating. Showmen dominate politics in our country. More than anything they want good ratings, not to solve the major problems within the country.

I really am unconcerned about what is going down in Donetsk when I have nothing to eat at home. I have to feed my own people. I have two children, after all. I have been shut down for two weeks, and I realize that my wallet is empty.

Will your reserves last long enough to keep off the road like this?

Alexei: It doesn’t matter. We will go take out a loan then. Clearly, we won’t be able to pay it back. But we do not have much of a choice. We have to live.

So you are going hold out to the last, then?

Alexei and Oleg: We will hold out to the last. We have nothing to lose. We cannot go back out on the road: we will be fined.

How have your families reacted to your involvement in the truckers’ protests?

Alexei: My family has never been involved in politics. My spouse, although I do not share information with her, sees and understands everything perfectly well. She is a speech therapist and a teacher, who gets paid no more than fifteen thousand rubles a month [approx. 215 euros]. Yet she tells me I should quit this business. But I cannot quit my job. This is a lifestyle.

Oleg: It would be hard now to retrain to do some other job. As for the protests, my involvement has been spontaneous. They say I am an activist. I am no activist. I am just someone who generally likes the truth.

Everyone now involved in the protests are activists.

Alexei: Yeah, take any trucker. Any of us can be slapped with the charge of organizing a protest. Because all of us are on the telephone communicating.

We exchange telephone numbers at our encampments, and that has united us even more. But we have no leaders. All of us are organizers. We agree to meet by calling each other. One person passes the information on to the next person. The radio is our mass medium. All of us could be locked up as organizers.

In Dagestan, for example, it is not just Dagestanis who are attending the protests, but people from different regions. The guys at our encampment in Novorossiysk snapped and took off for Dagestan, because they knew it would be the hottest spot. That is how fast information spreads among our lot. And if the politicians think we are disorganized louts, they are wrong, although that is what many of them are saying.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Rosbalt