Our Power Doesn’t Run on Nothing

Norilsk Nickel Dumping Toxic Waste into Lake Pyasino Right Now
Elena Kostyuchenko
Novaya Gazeta
June 27-28, 2020

Vasily Ryabinin, a former employee of the Norilsk office of Rosprirodnadzor (Russia’s federal environmental watchdog), Greenpeace activists, and Novaya Gazeta reporters have discovered that Norilsk Nickel has continued to dump industrial waste into the Kharayelakh River and Lake Pyasino.

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The place where waste from a Norilsk Nickel facility is being discharged into the tundra and thence, via streams, into the Kharayelakh River. Photo courtesy of Novaya Gazeta

Water contaminated with heavy metals, sulfurous acid, and surfactants is currently being pumped from the tailings storage facility at the Talnakh processing plant, owned by Norilsk Nickel, and drained into the tundra. The waste flows via streams into the Kharayelakh River, which empties into Lake Pyasino.

“Norilsk Nickel discharging toxic waste right now into the river.”

Witnesses have called the police, the Emergencies Ministry, Rosprirodnadzor, and the prosecutor’s office to the drainage site.

“This is a complete breakdown of law and order, and a crime against nature and our children. The clean-up must start immediately,” says Vasily Ryabinin.

UPDATE

The Norilsk Nickel security service has arrived at the scene. The pumping station that has been discharging waste into the river has been shut down.

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Employees of Norilsk Nickel’s security service. Photo by Elena Kostyuchenko for Novaya Gazeta 

Almost immediately after that, the Norilsk rescue service arrived at the scene.

Vladimir Zhenikhov, senior duty officer of the rescue service: “Now the brass will decide what to do. It’s a good thing everything has been documented. I had heard before that something was being discharged into the tundra here.”

Vladislav Shatura: “It’s amazing that they let us in here at all. Norilsk Nickel can decide not to let anyone in. Norilsk Nickel can do anything it wants.”

And now the police have arrived.

UPDATE 2

The workers who arrived are hurrying to dismantle the pipes!

“Workers called to the scene are hurriedly dismantling the pipes! Novaya Gazeta and Greenpeace today discovered and documented how Norilsk Nickel has been dsicharging toxic waste into the river, and thence into Lake Pyasino. Less than a month has passed since the diesel spill at Power Plant No. 3.”

UPDATE 3

People from the prosecutor’s office have arrived at the scene. The police car in which the prosecutors got here has been crushed by the Norilsk Nickel tractor removing the pipes.

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Photo by Elena Kostyuchenko for Novaya Gazeta

Prosecutor Vladimir Bolshunov: “We have called the Investigative Committee, and Rosprirodnadzor is now waiting for a car and is also on the way. They will be taking samples. We have ordered a copter and will be trying to lift [what?] up, despite the wind. It’s all we needed, of course, but we’re going to go to work and do a comprehensive job with the whole thing.”

The Emergencies Ministry officers thank the journalists and activists: “Well done.” Officer Denis Makarov says of Norilsk Nickel: “They aren’t afraid of anything.”

A month ago, Lake Pyasino was contaminated by 21,000 tons of diesel fuel from Power Plant No. 3, also owned by Norilsk Nickel.

All photos courtesy of Novaya Gazeta. Translated by the Russian Reader

power doesn’t run on nothing

we are just a child
we are just a child
we are wide awake
but our legs are shaky

we’re unaware
we’re hyper and we stare into space
with grins on our faces

so give us what we’re asking for
cause either way we’re gonna take it
our power doesn’t run on nothing
we need the land you’re standing on
so let’s go, move it

we are old as hell
we are old and tell the children
when to kill, when to sit still

everyone doing what we say
til our dying day
til our breath is empty

they’ll give us what we’re asking for
cause either way we’re gonna take it
our power doesn’t run on nothing
we need the land you’re standing on
so let’s go, move it

you need to let go, move it
we’re more equal
we’ll move you people off the planet
cause goddamn, we need the fuel

so let the beat roll over
let the beat roll over everyone in line
everyone in line
let the beat roll over
let the beat roll over everyone in line
one at a time

they’ll give us what we’re asking for
cause god is with us
and our god is the richest
our power doesn’t run on nothing
it runs on blood
and blood is easy to obtain
when you have no shame

when you have no shame

so let the sun fade, let the sun fade
we’ll still have light
we’ll burn even brighter

we’ll drain the well
we’ll tunnel to hell
and leave the earth’s surface
for the worthless and dirty

let the beat roll over
the beat roll over everyone in line
everyone in line

do you think we’ll cease?
do you see a reason?
do you think it’s fair?
do you think it’s fair?
do you think we care?

Source: The Thermals

Dear Greta! (Norilsk Oil Spill)

Norilsk: Exposing the Lies and Appealing to Potanin
225,518 views • Jun 18, 2020
Ekologika

There has been an environmental disaster in Norilsk, but another one is about to happen. My measurements show that oil products are moving towards the Kara Sea, and all the “cleanup measures” are nothing more than a profanation, a pretty picture for journalists. This is a crime, and there is a specific criminal behind it.

I have two demands for Mr. Potanin:
1) Stop lying and concealing the real state of affairs from the public.
2) Take urgent measures to prevent the pollution of the Kara Sea.

To give the head of Norilsk Nickel more incentives to act, we will appeal not only to him, but also to the international community! Together, we can prevent a large-scale environmental catastrophe.

Don’t forget to click on the “subscribe” button and share this video! Watch the previous videos on this channel about the environmental disaster in Norilsk.

Contacts for the press:
https://www.instagram.com/gkavanosyan/
https://vk.com/kavanosyan
https://t.me/ecozhora
https://t.me/time11
george@kavanosyan.ru

View this post on Instagram

Dear Greta! My name is George Kavanosyan, I’m a hydrogeologist, an environment and climate activist from Russia. The worst Arctic ecological disaster ever happened in my country at the end of May. More than 20 thousand tons of diesel fuel spilled into the Daldykan River, the Ambarnaya river, Lake Pyasino and the Pyasina river. Now the contaminant is getting closer to the Arctic Ocean or it is already there. Such an enormous amount of fuel contaminating the shore, the sludge and the water can culminate in total elimination of the most sensitive world ecosystem. The situation requires urgent actions of international environmental institutes and extensive media coverage. ⠀ The main problem is that the accident causer Mr Potanin is trying to hide the true scale of the tragedy. The responsible authorities under his control deliberately hush up the fact that the contaminant is moving to the north. The media is trying to downplay the magnitude of the disaster. I personally had to visit the oil spill and to make some analyses confirming the catastrophic state of Arctic rivers and lakes. I published the results on my YouTube channel. I’m taking a big risk proclaiming these problems since it isn’t known how Mr Potanin and his security service will react. ⠀ That’s why I ask you, Greta, to support the dissemination of this information, to show this letter to your colleages, honest reporters you know, environmental activists and organizations. It’s the only way for us to impact on the local oligarchs, it’s the only way to save the most sensitive Arctic region and to preserve it for future generations. ⠀ Yours faithfully George Kavanosyan ⠀ @gretathunberg @leonardodicaprio @fridaysforfuture.russia @fridaysforfuture @greenpeace @wwf #potaninarctickiller #getpotaninpaid

A post shared by George Kavanosyan (@gkavanosyan) on

Thanks to Anastasia Shaboltas and Gabriel Levy for the heads-up. For more mainstream accounts of the environmental disaster in Norilsk, see the accounts published by the Moscow Times and the Norwegian-Russian environmental organization Bellona. YouTube video annotation translated by the Russian Reader

greta

Total Victory for Protesters in Shiyes

znakcom-862247-580x387Shiyes Railway Station. Photo courtesy of Znak.com

Arkhangelsk Authorities Announce Closure of Shiyes Landfill Project 
Znak.com
June 9, 2020

The Arkhangelsk regional government has unilaterally terminated its agreement with Technopark LLC on overseeing the investment project for the construction of a landfill at Shiyes. The decision was announced on June 9 by the press service of the region’s governor and the regional government.

The project has lost the preferential granted to priority investment projects in the region, including tax incentives and special conditions for leasing land plots. Arkhangelsk authorities had earlier asked Technopark to terminate the contract by mutual agreement, but the company did not respond, officials explain.

“Alexander Tsybulsky, the acting governor of Arkhangelsk Region, ordered the regional government to terminate the Shiyes Ecotechnopark project,” said Yevgeny Avtushenko, the regional government’s deputy chair. “The decision to remove it from the register of priority investment projects in the Arkhangelsk Region was the next stage in this process.”

Construction on the landfill near Shiyes railroad station in Arkhangelsk Region began in 2018. The plan was to bring about half a million tons of waste annually from Moscow and Moscow Region over twenty years. Technopark LLC invested in the construction project. Residents of the region strongly opposed the dump, and environmental activists set up a camp near Shiyes station and declared an indefinite protest campaign. In 2019, there was a series of clashes between opponents of the landfill and security forces.

Construction of the landfill was supported by the now-former governor of Arkhangelsk Region, Igor Orlov, who called environmental activists “riffraff.” Orlov was forced to resign in early 2020. Alexander Tsybulsky, who took his place, had criticized the landfill.

Construction work at Shiyes was suspended in June 2019 due to protests, and a few months later Shiyes was excluded from the list of places where authorities planned to ship Moscow’s garbage. In January 2020, the Arkhangelsk Regional Arbitration Court ruled the permanent buildings on the site of the future landfill illegal, ordering the investor to demolish them. The lawsuit, which took almost a year, was filed by officials in the neighboring village of Urdoma with the support of the local population. Environmental activists hailed the court’s decision as a historic victory.

Translated by the Russian Reader. If you’d like a sense of what the struggle in Shiyes looked like before the court and local authorities took the side of the protesters, read “Shiyes: The Cost of Solidarity” and “Neocolonialism.”

Fishers of Men

Riot Police Prevent Fishing Near Local Power Plant
SIA PRESS
April 27, 2020

Riot police [OMON] in Surgut prevented fishing in a body of water near the local power plant. Some fishermen had to be caught on the run with machine guns at the ready, while others refused to fall afoul of the security forces and voluntarily returned their catch. No one was injured as a result of the operation.

Fishing is prohibited in Yugra till May 31 due to flowing ice and spawning. In addition, there is now a ban on people leaving their houses due to the self-isolation regime imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

As SIA PRESS learned, the regional fish conservancy has been carrying out raids at bodies of water and fining fishermen for violating the law. Inspectors have been assisted in their raids by the security forces, including regular police, riot police [OMON], and the Russian National Guard.

fishermanSurgut fisherman fleeing from riot police

All violators face two fines at once—the first, from one to thirty thousand rubles, for violation of isolation, and the second, for fishing. When bans are in effect, double penalties are applied to the entire catch, so the amount of the fine depends on how many fish the men managed to catch.

Image courtesy of SIA PRESS. Translated by the Russian Reader

Andrei Rudomakha, Russia’s Most Famous Environmentalist

rudomakhaAndrei Rudomakha. Photo courtesy of his Facebook page and the Moscow Times

On the Watch: The Story of Andrei Rudomakha, Russia’s Most Famous Environmentalist
Vladimir Prikhodko and Angelina Davydova
Proekt
October 2, 2019

Protests against waste landfills, the clearcutting of parks, and illegally enclosed forests—the environment has been a frequent topic of regional protests in Russia. Persecution by the authorities, criminal cases, beatings, and even murders are everyday risks for environmental activists. Proekt tells the story of the persecution of the head of Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus (EcoWatch), which has been going on for almost forty years.

They go to bed late in the private house on Kerchenskaya Street in Krasnodar. The place resembles a commune. This is the home and office of Andrei Rudomakha and Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus aka EcoWatch, perhaps the most famous grassroots environmental organization in Russia. Rudomakha has led EcoWatch for fifteen years.

At 5:55 a.m. on July 30, everyone was asleep. At that moment, Investigative Committee investigator Sergei Kalashnikov and an unidentified FSB officer in a mask rang the doorbell. Not waiting for the homeowner to open the door, they ordered Emergencies Ministry officers to break down the gate. Within a couple of minutes, officers in masks had flooded the house, and two masked men with automatic rifles had thrown Rudomakha to the floor. When Rudomakha attempted to get up, the officer holding the activist pepper-sprayed him in the face.

Enemies of the State
This was the fifth search at EcoWatch in less than three years, and the second in the last four months.

“That morning, I was supposed to go to court in Maykop to face charges that we allegedly broke the law on ‘undesirable organizations’ by linking to Open Russia’s website on our sites and social media pages. My trip was canceled because of the search, and no one from our group was at the court hearing. Naturally, we lost the case,” says Rudomakha, meeting with our correspondent at the selfsame commune-like house.

EcoWatch was the first nonprofit organization in Russia to be found guilty of collaborating with Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia.

In recent years, the number of environmental protests in various regions of Russia has certainly grown—from campaigns against waste landfills in parts of European Russia to protests against coal dust in the port of Nakhodka, in the country’s Far East, says Svyatoslav Zabelin, coordinator for the International Socio-Ecological Union. The most turbulent environmental protests of the past summer were in the village of Shiyes in Arkhangelsk Region, where the authorities wanted to transport garbage from Moscow. It was in the village of Loginovskaya in Arkhangelsk Region where Rudomakha was born fifty-five years ago.

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A 2018 protest rally in Severodvinsk against the Shiyes landfill. Source: activatica.org

“My father was a descendant of Kuban Cossacks. My mother is from Perm. That is where my parents met when they were at university. After their studies, they were assigned to work in the taiga in Arkhangelsk Region, on one of the local farms. Shortly after, we all moved to my father’s native land, the Taman Peninsula. I was still a very young child when my parents divorced. My mother raised me on her own. She worked for more than forty years in the village of Oktyabrsky in the Seversky District, where we relocated. The test fields of the Tobacco, Shag, and Tobacco Products Research Institute were located there.”

At the age of sixteen, Andrei set out for Cuba. He went to Moscow, supposedly to matriculate at the university, and along the way, he hopped a freight train in order to leave the Soviet Union—but he was found by frontier guards at the Romanian border.

“During the interrogation, the KGB guys thought long and hard about what to do with me,” Rudomakha says with a laugh. “After all, I had said to them, ‘Send me to Cuba, to a school for revolutionaries.’ The KGB officers reacted to this with their peculiar sense of humor and sent me to the Kishinev Mental Hospital. I was retrieved from there by my mother. From that point on I’ve never been out of the sight [of the authorities].”

rud-3
Andrei Rudomakha and his mother

This was how the secret services, rebellion, and forests came into Rudomakha’s life.

“A military coup occurred in Chile in 1973. All of the news contrasted sharply with the reality in which I lived. Oktyabrsky was a very boring place. Books were my salvation. And the forest. I rather quickly got keen on hikes in the woods. Che Guevara was my idol and hero.”

Rudomakha studied Spanish and Greek, began playing guitar and formed a band. He calls his mid-1980s self a “rocker.” In 1987, immediately after his army service, Andrei was offered a job at the Krasnodar House of Young Pioneers, in the Candle Amateur Song Club.

The Rocker
Peaceful and troubled
Troubled and easy
What infuses the air
In the meadows around Pseushkho?

These are lines from a poem by the bard poet Vladimir “Berg” Lantzberg. In the 1980s, he was living in Tuapse, putting together amateur song festivals and establishing the first communes. It was then that Rudomakha first encountered the communard scene, whose principles he would later adopt. The Pseushkho of which Lantzberg sang is a mountain with an Adyghe name in Krasnodar Territory’s Tuapse District. In 2019, Rudomakha would protest against the construction of a limestone quarry there.

In the 1980s, however, the Kuban was fighting another construction project. A nuclear power plant was slated to be built in the Energetiki district of the village of Mostovskaya. In its waning years, the Soviet Union had planned to build dozens of such plants, from Crimea to the Ural Mountains.

rud-4Several Soviet nuclear plants whose construction was begun in the late 1970s and early 80s were not completed. After the breakup of the USSR, one of those stations, Krymskaya, came in handy anyway—not, however, for the nuclear energy industry, but for purveyors of electronic music: it became the venue for the Republic of KaZantip festival of electronic dance music.

“Back in the early 80s, the mammoth construction of a power plant similar to Chernobyl began. In 1988, I was one of the people behind a protest rally. We organized it near Goryachy Klyuch on Lysaya Gora.  I remember how we went underground and hid from the KGB. It was then that I first crossed paths with the Nature Conservation Brigades (DOPs), which had been organized at the universities,” recounts Rudomakha.

During perestroika, university students were often certified as conservation, fishing, and hunting inspectors; these groups were then dispatched into the forests to arrest poachers. Later, alumni of the DOPs would become the backbone of the Russian branches of the WWF and Greenpeace.

Like nearly all the nuclear power plants whose construction kicked off at the turn of the 70s and 80s, construction at the Krasnodar plant was soon frozen. But Rudomakha’s career as a music teacher also came to a screeching halt: KGB officers showed up at the Young Pioneers House, and Rudomakha lost his job. His employment at the Candle Club would be the only entry in his official work record book.

The Communard
Over the last nine years, four criminal cases have been brought against Rudomakha, and seven police searches conducted. He has been jailed on misdemeanor convictions more than fifty times. In the end, EcoWatch was even declared a “foreign agent,” although the decision was reconsidered last year.

In recent years, the growing physical and legal pressure on environmental activists has been as big a trend as the increase in the number of environmental protest rallies. Among the main methods of pressure are forcible dispersal of protests by police, pressure on activists at work, threats to relatives, court cases, straightforward violence, and even murder. In March 2019, environmental activist Denis Shtroo was murdered in Kaluga while participating in, among other things, a campaign against the building of a waste landfill near the village of Mikhali.

______________________________________________________________

Intimidation of Russian Environmental Activists in the First Five Months of 2019
According to information from the Russian Socio-Ecological Union

rud-5Denis Shtroo

activist murdered. In March 2019, environmentalist Denis Shtroo died of stab wounds in Kaluga. He was involved in a campaign against the construction of a waste landfill in the village of Mikhali.

5 cases of criminal prosecution.

7 attacks on activists, attacks on dwellings, property damage, and police searches.

110 cases of administrative prosecution. The total in fines has amounted to more than a million rubles [approx. 12,000 euros].

In 2019, cases of intimidation against environmentalists were most often recorded in Shiyes, Arkhangelsk Region, where illegal construction of a landfill for Moscow’s solid household waste is underway; in Yekaterinburg, where activists were defending the city’s green spaces; and, as in years past, against activists from Stop GOK, in Chelyabinsk, and EcoWatch.

______________________________________________________________

When the New Russia of the early 90s dawned, Rudomakha was in the woods.

“I decided to build a commune at Kisha Station in the Caucasus Nature Reserve. It is a secluded place in Adygea’s Maykop District. Later, our base moved to Ust-Sakhray. In 1988, for a ridiculously small amount of money (the cost of a Zaporozhets car), we bought a house there. It was an area of abandoned villages that people were trying to leave, but we were doing the opposite. I lived in Ust-Sakhray until 1995. I won’t mention the names of the comrades with whom I started out. Many have their own lives and families now,” he says.

Andrei has his own way of viewing everyday life. Remembering those days, he says with regret that the communes fell apart because people started romantic relationships and left.

“We had a lot of ideas: we wanted to transform all of Sakhray and build a public school. My first daughter was born there, and my wife left — she preferred me to another. All of our ideas were shattered by the internal conflicts and disagreements that arose among the settlers. And, basically, I regret that we sat out perestroika in the mountains. It would have been better, of course, in the city,” he says.

The New Russia brought big money to the Kuban. With its sea, mountains, forests, and springs, the southern region attracted businessmen and politicians from Moscow. Some businessmen began to cut down wood on the unique Bolshoi Thach Mountain and haul it out with helicopters.

“And I came out of the woods. The times had drastically changed, as it turned out. Grassroots organizations were on the upswing,” Rudomakha says.

Soon Rudomakha would turn up in Maykop, where he lived in a small house at a weather station run by Vladimir Karatayev, leader of the Union of the Slavs of Adygea. There a branch of the Socio-Environmental Union would be opened, the first environmental organization founded by Rudomakha.

rud-6Rudomakha examines a forest clearcutting in the Caucasus Nature Reserve

“With money from western foundations, we bought a computer and a modem—and things took off. We organized protest rallies, spiked tree trunks, and stopped clearcutting. And, as a result, Bolshoi Thach was made part of the Western Caucasus UNESCO World Heritage Site,” Rudomakha explains.

Pandora’s Box
The planet in Ursula K. Le Guin’s cult science fiction novella The Word for World Is Forest is called Athshe. This planet would become the prototype for Pandora in the movie Avatar, and would also give its name to Rudomakha’s 1990s commune, from which EcoWatch arose. Le Guin grew up in leftist Berkeley and was interested in anarchism and environmental movements. In her novella, the kind forest inhabitants, called “creechies” by earthlings, defend their planet from the “yumens.” Athshe Commune was also focused on environmental protests. Commune members took names from the novella’s characters.

Today, activists would be jailed for many of the protest actions carried out then. Rudomakha’s commune took part in many of them alongside the Federal Anarchists of Kuban (FAK) and radical environmentalists from the Keepers of the Rainbow.

“We were always blocking or blockading something,” Rudomakha recalls. “There were tragedies, too. In 1997, we locked ourselves together with metal chains and blocked the road to Sochi. A crazy trucker drove at us, who knows why, and Anya Koshikovaya’s hand was torn off. In the late 90s, this sort of thing brought palpable results. We seriously considered the idea of creating a guerrilla environmental army, to waste everyone. The forests here are wonderful—one could be guerrillas endlessly. Theoretically, if the necessary contingent of people were found, all this would be quite feasible. To do that you would need to break with your usual life and go rogue. Basically, I’ve been ready for that since childhood. If I could find five people just as mad as me!”

rud-7An environmental protest involving Rudomakha, 1990s

In the finale of Le Guin’s novella, the creechies surround and kill almost all the earthlings. They are especially keen to hunt down the women to prevent new generations of humans from taking over their forests.

Palace Coup
“Sanya [i.e., Alexander] is a thief”: in November 2011, Rudomakha’s comrades in arms spray-painted this graffiti, among others, on the fence of a luxurious estate on the Black Sea shore in Blue Bay, not far from Tuapse. The estate was officially called the Agrocomplex JSC Recreation Center, and it was owned by the family of Alexander Tkachov, former Krasnodar Territory governor and former Russian federal agriculture minister. For all of 2011, enviro-activists battled against this dacha, on whose premises rare trees were presumably being clearcut and access to the sea was illegally fenced. A protest action in November, during which one section of the fence fell, was the last for many activists. Agrocomplex soon filed criminal charges for property damage. Rudomakha’s comrade in arms Suren Gazaryan left the country after receiving political asylum in Estonia. (He now lives in Germany.) Yevgeny Vitishko, another EcoWatchman, was given a three-year suspended sentence, with two years of probation; in December 2013, the suspended sentence was replaced with a real one, and Vitishko served more than a year in a work-release penal colony near Tambov. Amnesty International recognized the activist as a prisoner of conscience.

rud-8“Sanya is a thief”: graffiti on the illegally erected fence in Blue Bay

“The constitution is in a noose, Vitishko is in prison,” Pussy Riot sang at the time. And, in fact, environmental protests against palaces owned by high-ranking officials and the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics were perhaps the main public issue in southern Russia in the early 2010s.

EcoWatch had taken on palaces practically from its official founding in 2004. There was good reason to work on the issue—the Kuban had become a favorite spot for both officials and businessmen.

______________________________________________________________

rud-9Putin’s palace on Cape Idokopas. Source: navalny.com

The Kuban—Homeland of Palaces: Vladimir Putin’s Palace

In 2010, businessman Sergei Kolesnikov told the world about the construction of a luxurious palace for the Russian president. The site was located in the Kuban, not far from Praskoveyevka on Cape Idokopas. In 2006, the land plot was transferred from the Russian Federation to the Tuapse Vacation House of the Office of Presidential Affairs, and then to the Indokopas Company in 2010.

According to EcoWatch, during construction of the residence and the roads leading up to it, more than forty-five hectares of forest were clearcut; among them, parcels harboring the threatened Pitsunda Pine (Pinus pityusa) were destroyed. According to the calculations of EcoWatch and Greenpeace, the damage from illegal clearcutting came to more than 2.7 billion rubles. Inquiries to the authorities from EcoWatch about the illegal cutting on the palace territory went unanswered.

[Note: the original article in Russian also has short briefs on the Kuban “dachas” of Dmitry Medvedev, Yevgeny Prigozhin, Alexander Tkachov, Alexander Remezkov, Patriarch Kirill, and Anatoly Serdyukov. — TRR]

______________________________________________________________

“Lots of federal officials have dachas on the coast. And basically, we don’t care who owns them. We’d like for those people not to behave like swine. It doesn’t matter whose they are,” says Rudomakha.

The first and perhaps most well-known victory was scored in 2009 when the Watchmen halted construction of a proposed dacha for Dmitri Medvedev in the tiny town of Utrish.

The campaign against environmental violations in the runup to the Olympics brought Rudomakha and EcoWatch international fame: foreign journalists flocked to them in droves. Rudomakha is now certain that the series of refusals by European cities to bid to host the Olympic games (for example, when residents of Munich voted no in a referendum on the city’s bidding for the 2022 Olympics) came about precisely because “we succeeded in creating an image of the Sochi Olympics as the most anti-environmental, expensive, and absurd in the entire history of the Olympic movement.”

“It was then that the authorities started to vigorously persecute us,” Rudomakha says about the time. “I understood that serious ‘winds of change’ had begun to blow. They no longer tried to sit down at the negotiating table with us, and cops chased us around the woods. It was kind of funny.”

The Autocrat
“Andrei’s authoritarianism has always been my number one problem,” Yevgeny Vitishko now recounts. In 2016, he and another well-known EcoWatch alumnus, Suren Gazaryan, left the organization.

“From the outside, the Watch looked quite democratic, but in fact everything revolved around one person. His leadership style can be described in sociological terms as narcissistic,” says Gazaryan.

Vitishko and Rudomakha have since reconciled. However, for many, the head of EcoWatch remains a fanatic with autocratic manners.

For several years, local and even national media have been publishing stories about Rudomakha hinting that he is guilty of everything from pedophilia to cooperating secretly with officials. Rudomakha calls the reports nonsense, saying that the regional government is behind them.

rud-9“Gazprom is a murderer” / “Stop Blue Stream”: Kuban environmentalists protesting against Gazprom 

Rudomakha does not separate the personal from his work life: he admits that his activism has not affected his family’s fortunes in the best of ways. The first floor of the rented house on Kerchenskaya is used as an office, while the second floor is home to Rudomakha and his second daughter, who, in the wake of her parents’ divorce, enrolled in university in Krasnodar and moved in with her father. Rudomakha had once hoped that his daughter would also become an environmentalist, but now he has lost that hope.

“I am quite pessimistic when I assess the evolution of Russia’s environmental movement,” says Rudomakha. “The population is very inert and severely intimidated, and the level of passionarity among people is at a minimum. People rise up, for the most part, only when they are personally affected. If there were organizations like ours in every region, it would be possible to change the situation in this arena and in the country as a whole. After all, a large number of such organizations would naturally make it necessary for them to unite.”

“I haven’t seen an influx of new people into EcoWatch,” notes Rudomakha’s former colleague Gazaryan. “Andrei’s lifestyle and views are on the fringe, and his office is also his residence. It’s hard to work in this environment. And there is no [broad environmental] movement in Russia. There are separate organizations and local groups, but they have no coordination or goals. They are not represented on the political level, and fall apart after a problem is solved,” Gazaryan says, but after thinking about it, he adds that he could be mistaken. “I haven’t lived in Russia for a long time.”

* * *

Late in the evening of December 28, 2017, Rudomakha, his colleague Viktor Chirikov, and journalist Vera Kholodnaya had just arrived at the commune house on Kerchenskaya. Rudomakha had just exited the car when three men ran up to him. Dousing him in the eyes with pepper spray, they knocked him down to the ground and kicked him repeatedly. He lost consciousness. Chirikov was beaten less, and Kholodnaya was only “blinded” by the pepper spray. After that, the attackers took several cameras and a GPS navigator from the car. The entire incident lasted no more than two minutes.

Doctors diagnosed Rudomakha with broken bones in his face and nose, a concussion, and pneumocephalus—the leakage of air into his cranial cavity. He spent three weeks in the hospital.

An investigation into the attack yielded no results. But the enviro-activists have their own theory. They had returned that day from a trip to the area around the village Krinitsa, a small resort in Gelendzhik. There, in the forest, construction had begun on a site resembling a wine-making chateau—such was EcoWatch’s assessment. A prefabricated chapel had also been erected there by order of Axis Investment JSC.  The owner of this firm is Alexei Toth, a business partner of Nikolai Yegorov, who is a well-known Petersburg lawyer and a personal friend of Vladimir Putin.

Translated by Mary Rees. Except where noted, all photos courtesy of Proekt.

People and Nature

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I can recommend no blog more highly than People and Nature. Whether you’re interested in climate change and the environment, energy, Russia, Syria, Ukraine, the UK, labor and social movements, international solidarity campaigns or history, Gabriel Levy has written so many incise, supremely well-grounded articles and interventions on these subjects since 2011 that it would take a month of Sundays to take all of them in. But since you’ll undoubtedly learn more about our world by reading People and Nature than by subjecting yourself to the endless eardrum buzz of media and social media, this is exactly what you should do.

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I hope, dear readers, you get time for reflection, rejuvenation and relaxation in the midwinter holidays. If you find yourself reaching for your phone for something to read – then, rather than winding yourself up with news of Boris Johnson’s vileness, go a level more thoughtful: look at those People & Nature articles you missed out on first time round. Here is some stuff that has stood the test of time. Thanks for your interest, and see you all (virtually or really) in the 2020s.

Image courtesy of People and Nature

Ekaterina Vasilyeva: On the Neva

A River for People: What Makes the Neva Tick?
Ekaterina Vasilyeva
Republic
November 29, 2019

All my photo projects are somehow connected with nature, with long walks and studying the environment. I think that without a clear understanding of nature’s role in our lives, we to some extent deprive ourselves of support.

My project The Neva: A River for People, People for the River is an attempt to find a balance between harmony and destruction in the relationship between humans and nature. The role of nature is played by the Neva River, thanks to which my hometown of St. Petersburg was built over three hundred years ago.

Nature has always only been raw material for the builders of cities, and the Neva’s resources were used at the expense of its gradual destruction. In accounts of the city’s history, the Neva has served as an inert backdrop for heroic conquest. For ordinary people, however, the river has always symbolized the individual’s path in life, her destiny. In my project, the Neva is a metaphorical life line for St. Petersburg and the three towns situated along its 74-kilometer course—Shlisselburg, Kirovsk, and Otradnoye.

The importance of rivers and canals for the city used to be strongly underscored. Russians were instilled with a love of water. Under Peter the Great, every householder was obliged to have a boat, and every home on the waterfront had to have a pier. Even the scanty trade by which many boatsmen in old Petersburg supported themselves—the extraction of firewood, logs, and boards for subsequent sale or use—was practiced with gratitude to the Neva as a benefactress. In old Petersburg, these accidental finds had their own name: “gifts of the Neva.”

People nowadays have an ever more aggressive and consumerist attitude to the Neva. On the other hand, there is no doubt the people who live in the Neva basin love their river. This contradiction is one of the subjects of my project.

neva-1An incident occurred in the skies over Leningrad on August 21, 1963, resulting in the emergency landing of a Tu-124 passenger plane on the Neva near the Finland Railroad Bridge. The river is around 400 meters wide at this point. A passing steam tugboat towed the plane to the Neva’s right bank. The windshield in the nose of the plane was broken to secure the tow cable. The passengers were evacuated and sent to Moscow.

neva-2Peter the Great was a big fan of the national pastime. During his reign, hockey matches on the ice of the frozen Neva could attract as many as several thousand spectators.

neva-3Shlisselburg. In 1912, the Finnish archaeologist Julius Ailio recorded the following tale in the village of Mikulainen on the shore of Lake Ladoga: “The Neva River used to be tiny. If a tree fell, it would lodge between one bank and the other, and you could cross the river by walking over it. Then fifty or sixty years later, the river widened. Shepherds would toss burning brands across the river to each other to make campfires. But then the river eroded the land at its source and became quite broad.”

neva-4In 1716, by decree of Peter the Great, fishermen from Russia’s northern provinces were settled on the left bank of the Neva between its tributaries, the Murzinka and the Slavyanka, to supply residents of the capital with fish. Originally, the settlement was called just that—the Fishery Settlement [Rybnaya sloboda]. The name was later changed to Fishermen’s Village [Rybatskoye]. The locals still call the ravine in modern Rybatskoye Pike Harbor.

The Visyachka [“The Hanger”] is a ruined pedestrian bridge on a man-made embankment in the backwater of the Nevsky Shipyard in Shlisselburg.

neva-5The Neva smelt [koryushka] has long been considered a symbol of Petersburg. In 1705, Peter the Great issued a decree to support fishermen who caught smelt. According to legend, Peter called the smelt the “tsar fish,” since it could feed the growing population of his new capital city as it was built.

neva-6St. Petersburg ranks among the top per-capita consumers of water in Russia. Every twenty-four hours, the city “drinks” the equivalent of a lake one square kilometer in size and three meters deep. Despite the official ban, industrial waste continues to be poured into the river.

neva-7The origin of the name Neva is not completely clear. Some historians think it comes from the Finnish word neva, which translates as “bog” or “fen.”

Thanks to Ekaterina Vasilyeva for her permission to reproduce excerpts from her project here. You can look at her entire photo essay about the Neva on her website or on Republic. Translated by the Russian Reader

 

People “Hug” Park in Surgut to Save It from Developers

Surgut Residents “Hug” Park to Protect It from Redevelopment
Activatica
November 18, 2019

Residents of Surgut who oppose construction of a bus station near the Griboyedov Interchange carried out a flash mob in which they tried to “hug” a forest park slated to be cut down to make way for the construction site. Over three hundred people took part in the protest, reports Nakanune.ru. Residents literally formed an makeshift human shield to protect the green zone.

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Residents of the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st districts joined hands and formed a circle around the forest park, where a bus station is scheduled to be built.

“Surgut residents have protested against construction of the new facility. Many of them are certain it will lead to gridlock on that section of the highway, as well as destroying trees,” said one of the protesters.

On November 11, the Surgut Investment Council approved construction of a new bus station near the Griboyedov Interchange. The investor is Nizhnevartovsk Passenger Transport Company No. 1, which has committed itself to building the new station, investing over 200 million rubles into it.

As Federal Press reports, residents of the neighborhoods near the interchange met with Surgut Deputy Mayor Alexei Zherdiyev on November 15. During the meeting, residents voiced their fears about the new facility. They argued tat the planned construction would make traffic in the area even worse. They also said that the forest slated to be cut down is a place where many of them go to walk and relax. Zherdiyev assured them that, since two roads were now being built in the area, and funds for another three roads were being raised, this would reduce traffic at the existing interchanges. He also announced the creation of the Quantorium Technology Park and reconstruction of a local park. However, he gave no exact or approximate deadlines for the projects.

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Mayor Vadim Shuvalov reacted to the protest.

“The flash mob against construction of a bus station near the Griboyedov Interchange has shown me two things. First, the residents of Surgut are strong, tight-knit people who love their city. I deeply respect you for that. Second, we have not talked enough about the project itself, so there has been a lot of speculation and rumors. We are going to be more proactive in informing the populace about plans to develop Surgut’s infrastructure. We are often rightly criticized for the quality of roads and some new decisions. But all changes require thoroughness, dialogue, and sometimes compromise. I invite you to discuss the issue of the bus station together. I have ordered my aides to schedule a meeting with residents,” Shuvalov wrote on social media.

Photos courtesy of Agit Rossiya and Activatica. Translated by the Russian Reader

Shiyes: The Cost of Solidarity

Republic
October 31, 2019

In the Arkhangelsk Region, the security forces have launched an offensive against the camp in Shiyes, where an indefinite protest against construction of a landfill for Moscow’s garbage has been going on for over a year. The Russian National Guard has cordoned off the station, blocked the nearest village, Urdoma, and destroyed one of the posts manned by activists. The railway connection with the station was closed in the summer, and the only way to get to Shiyes is the ferry across the Vychegda River.

On the eve of the siege, the vocalists from the group Arkady Kots, composers of the song “Walls,” which has been adopted as the protest camp’s anthem, traveled to Shiyes to boost their morale.

Directed by Anna Moiseyenko and Alexandra Matveyeva (Moscow, 2019)

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shiyes.pngA banner in the activist camp at Shiyes station: “Hands off Shiyes! Vychegda Defense Committee.” Photo courtesy of Current Time TV and Sever.Realii

Anti-Shiyes Activists in Arkhangelsk Region Laid Off After Several Warnings
Sever.Realii (Radio Svoboda)
November 1, 2019

Employees at the Viled Tourist Information Center in the Arkhangelsk Region have received pink slips after their managers warned them they should not publish posts about Shiyes on social networks and attend rallies against construction of a waste landfill there. Sever.Realii was told about this by Tatyana Regush, who received one such pink slip.

The Viled Center is a branch of the Vilegodsk District Ethnographic Museum. Three people are employed at the center, and Regush officially holds the position of deputy director of the museum. On October 31, the center’s employees received notices they were being laid off. Sever.Realii has copies of the notices.

“They want to eliminate our entire branch: all of us are activists here. I requested a copy of the resolution, issued by the district head, which states that the work of the tourist information center has been deemed ineffective and, in order to optimize costs, our center has been shut down. Our salaries will be transferred to other cultural institutiosn,” Regush explained.

One of the center’s employees resigned shortly before the dismissal notices were sent, while a second employee, Alexander Zhelezko, has also received a pink slip. The district head’s resolution does not specify exactly how the center was inefficient.

Regush attributes the redudancies to her activist stance on the construction of of the waste landfill next to Shiyes station.

“There were warnings. We found out about the problems in Shiyes in late 2018 and began attending protest rallies and speaking at them. I am a lawyer: I would take the microphone and try to provide a legal assessment of what was happening. In May 2019, the district head and the center itself warned me my activism was undesirable since our stance was at odds with the governor’s official position. They told us the government gave us jobs and that as municipal employees we should adhere to the official line. We do not agree with that. The district head warned that the dismissals of activists had already begun,” Regush said.

Regush said she was unlikely to challenge the dismissal and the resolution in court. She has already been offered another job.

We were unable to get a comment from the museum’s management: Olga Ilyina, the museum’s director, was not at work when we contacted them.

Moscow authorities have been building a landfill for waste from Moscow in the village of Shiyes in the Arkhangelsk Region. There will be no recycling or processing at the facility. The residents of the region are opposed to the landfill. They argue it will harm the enviroment and cause an ecological disaster. For more than a year, local residents, environmentalists, and activists have been holding protest actions and rallies.

Translated by the Russian Reader

 

Neocolonialism

shiyesTo set Russia apart from the pack, Putin is leaning on a unique pitch: that only Russian support can help protect the sovereignty of African countries.

“We see how an array of Western countries are resorting to pressure, intimidation and blackmail of sovereign African governments,” Putin told TASS on Monday in an interview ahead of the summit, adding that Russia was ready to provide help without “political or other conditions.”

“Our country played a significant role in the liberation of the continent, contributing to the struggle of the peoples of Africa against colonialism, racism, and apartheid,” he said. Although ties deteriorated after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, traces remain: the Mozambique flag, for instance, carries the Kalashnikov rifle.
—Evan Gershkovich, “At Russia’s Inaugural Africa Summit, Moscow Sells Sovereignty, Moscow Times, 26 October 2019

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It’s amazing to read nonsense like this some ten or so years after an unbelievable wave of neo-Nazi terror in Petersburg, Moscow, and other Russian cities that targeted, among others, the country’s African community and African students.

I remember going, back then, to a community event where I was told, by one person after another, that none of them went out in Petersburg after dark except by car or taxi.

This is not to mention the fact that all the African leaders lining up for aid from Russia want to know nothing, apparently, about the Putin regime’s attitude to the Russian people, which differs very little from that of colonizers to the colonized. Just look at what is happening right now in Shiyes, for example. [TRR]

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OMON Forces Move to Cut Off Shiyes Protesters from Outside World
Paul Goble
Window on Eurasia
October 29, 2019

Staunton, October 25 — In an ominous move, some 30 OMON officers two days ago blocked the railroad station near where the Shiyes anti-trash dump protesters have made their camp as well as the roads leading to and from it, electric power there and in neighboring villages, and Internet connections with the outside world.

The protesters and their supporters are not sure whether this is the first step towards the closing of their camp or simply another feint in that direction designed to keep them nervous and off balance.

But one thing many of them are sure of is that Vladimir Putin is behind the move and that this is yet another case in which he has made much-covered public promises to defer to the population and follow the rule of law only to move in another direction when attention shifts.

Obviously, there is still some communication between the protesters and journalists; but the ring is being tightened. And as the weather gets worse, it will become far more difficult for the protesters to get the supplies and support they need to continue their protest against the largest trash dump in Europe, one not for their own wastes but for those of Moscow.

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Vera Afanasyeva
Facebook
October 29, 2019

I Am Shiyes! We Are Shiyes!

Imagine that you live in the Arkhangelsk Region. You are strong, independent people, descendants of Russians who were untouched by the Tatar-Mongol yoke and serfdom.

You are not office clerks or anyone’s employees, the more so since there is really nowhere to work. Your native land—its forest and rivers—feeds you. You live off the land and for the land. It is your place in life.

And now the brazen Moscow scumbags who have made billions of rubles from garbage have turned their fat mugs towards your part of the world. After making a bloody mess of the Moscow Region and its neighbors, they have taken a look at your land and licked their chops, deciding to build a landfill there. Your land suits them because it is not so far from Moscow, but it is sparsely populated and invisible from the capital. Your land suits the scumbags.

They have dubbed their future garbage dump, where they intend to transport nearly all the trash from Moscow, an “environmental industrial estate,” but whatever they call it, a garbage dump—a gigantic garbage dump—is still a garbage dump.

The bastards could not care less that the land is yours and gives you life: they have decided to fuck it up, too. They could not care less that it is a buffer zone for sources of drinkable water, that the land is swampy and runoff from the garbage dump will poison the soil, plants, and forests that sustain you and your children, that first the Vychegda River will be polluted and then the Northern Dvina, that previously pristine places will be destroyed.

But the scumbags have run into an unexpected obstacle: you decided to resist. There are not many of you, but you are human beings.

At first, you tried to appeal to the authorities, but you soon realized the scumbags attempting to spoil your land are the authorities.

And so then you simply have tried to keep the scumbags out. You have set up a tent city: you have guarded your land, preventing them from building their landfill. And the station of Shiyes, the place around which these events have unfolded, has become iconic throughout Russia, a place where people have resisted the lawlessness of the authorities.

Honestly, though, it is not just about the garbage dump. The fact of the matter is that you are human beings and you do not want to surrender your land to scumbags. It is a matter of fairness, of justice.

At first, even the local police were on your side, but then the scumbags recruited squads of goons from all over the country to try and handle you. This was what happened during the spring and summer.

But then fall came, and the scumbags realized the time is now. The political storms in Moscow have subsided, winter is on its way, and it will be harder and harder for you to resist.

So the bastards have stepped it up. They have used the Russian National Guard to break your blockade, and they have turned off the lights and the internet in the houses where your children live so the country won’t find about what is happening.

The bastards really want money and if they had their druthers they would kill you and bury you in the northern soil. The only thing holding them back, ever so slightly, is the possible bad publicity.

The bastards have the authorities and the Russian National Guard at their backs. There are only a handful of you.

Can you imagine this?

That is exactly what is happening now in Shiyes, where construction of a landfill has turned into a military special operation, a special operation so important, that martial law, a state of siege, has been imposed in the neighboring village of Urdoma. The special operation has been coordinated by the president’s plenipotentiary representative in the Northwest Federal District, Alexander Gutsan, who recently flew to Syktyvkar. It is so important that Viktor Polonikov, the interior minister of the Republic of Komi, personally visited Shiyes.

This is a real occupation, a war waged against the region’s inhabitants for the sake of huge profits.

The defenders of Shiyes are brave people, but they cannot cope with the Russian National Guard, with the Interior Ministry, with the steamroller of the regime alone.

We should all go to Shiyes and take our stand against the occupiers, but we cannot do this: we are not ready, we are weak.

But we can make it known to the entire country. We can spread the news, and this is also a way of helping, something that is in our power to do.

Tell everyone about what is happening in Shiyes. Write about it: do not be silent!

Today, they are cracking down on the defenders of Shiyes. Tomorrow, they will come for you.

Vera Afanasyeva is a former professor in the philosophy department at Saratov State University and a writer. Thanks to Valery Dymshits for the heads-up. Photo of Shiyes courtesy of Vera Afanasyeva. Translated by the Russian Reader