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.

surgut-1

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.

surgut-2

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

Yegor Galkin: “You Look Out and See Everything Is Ugly”

“You Look Out and See Everything Is Ugly”: How a Barnaul Resident Took Charge of the City’s Grassroots Urban Activist Group
Alexandra Romantsova
Takie Dela
October 17, 2019

In a series of monologues entitled “Close to the Heart,” Takie Dela hands the microphone to residents of Russia’s regions whose personal involvement and willingness to act are gradually changing their local communities. The star of our second installment is Barnaul resident Yegor Galkin, head of Spire, a local grassroots group.

How do I want my city to look? How can I change the space in which I live? Five years ago, a schoolboy from Barnaul sought answers to these questions, learned about the work of Spire, and became interested in urban planning.

galkinYegor Galkin. Photo courtesy of Mr. Galkin and Takie Dela

Spire, a grassroots group, emerged in 2013 amid the popularization of urban planning in Russia. Its founder, Sergei Ustinov, is a well-known big data expert: he created a nation-wide map of road accidents in Russia. In 2013, the group established its presence on social networks and started doing walks in the city and making photographs. I joined the project in 2014, which was when we launched a map of grassroots proposals in Barnaul. This has been our group’s main focus.

We developed a large interactive map of Barnaul where any resident could leave his or her proposal for beautifying and improving the city. Any user could vote these proposals up or down. Based on the results of the voting, we would send requests to the authorities. We wanted to interact directly with Barnaul city hall and the government of the Altai Territory, but we were ignored. We had over 500 proposals, for which 3,000 votes were cast on our website. Those were huge numbers for Barnaul. After a while, some of the proposals were implemented. This was due to our written requests, but also because some of them were too obvious to ignore.

We still are not in a direct dialogue with officials. Instead, we have learned how to work through the media: they hear us and react. If we have found an irregularity, they try to fix it. For example, the city had a contract for erecting fences, but they were not erected, although they existed on paper. After we wrote about this, the fences went up the next day. I am against fences, but an irregularity is an irregularity.

Our work can be divided into several categories: planning (like the map of grassroots proposals), fighting for green areas, work on the city’s master plan, and daily work by experts, including environmentalists and urban activists. They find irregularities in the city’s improvement and road repair projects, check them against the official paperwork, and publish their findings. This is all done for free: we have no funding. Our desire to change the city and our initiative drive everything we do.

When urbanism first came to Russia,  people didn’t know what it was and how it could improve their lives. When they went to Europe, people sensed things could be different in Russia. We quickly found a common language with people like this. We would tell them what we could do in Barnaul to make life more comfortable, such as introducing dedicated bus and bike lanes and improving public transport.

At first, many people had a hostile reaction to these ideas. They said we needed to expand roads to accommodate more cars. Every group that tackles urban problems is confronted with this reaction. When we started talking about public spaces, however, we found lots of new allies.

Everything always begins with the individual: how would I like to see the city? Personal comfort is important. That was why it captivated me. I began studying the subject, reading a lot and looking at different proposals and projects. Now it is a scholarly interest because I am studying political science. Urban planning and urban reform are impossible without politics. I am curious about the evolution of cities, demographic processes, and gentrification’s impact on urban development. I’m a grassroots urban activist and I want the city to be better.

We have been fighting for Barnaul’s green areas. In 2015, we did our first big project about city parks, which dealt with their current state. While everyone in Moscow knew what was happening in the city’s parks, people in Barnaul didn’t know anything. In 2016, we did the project again, this time in cooperation with a local news website and professional photographers. We made a video using quadcopters. And we spelled out the problem: nobody was taking care of the parks. Some of them had been subjected to deforestation, while others were so badly neglected it was dangerous to go there.

Barnaul has a population of 700,000, and there used to be six city parks. Now there is one official park that is still open. The other parks lost their official status and no one has been managing them. This is a big problem for Barnaul. We are surrounded by old-growth forests, but there are few green spaces in the city itself.

The bulk of the people who subscribe to our group’s social media pages signed on when we raised these issues. People voiced their support and willingness to engage in joint action. Half of Emerald Park was logged, sparking a lively protest over the fact that the city’s green areas were neglected. Whereas there had been no reaction from the authorities in 2015–2016, the issue has finally been raised at the regional level in 2019. Recently, we had a round table at the Altai Territory Legislative Assembly on the topic of green areas in the city.

We raise the hot-button issues in Barnaul. If they are written about, people know about them, and city officials have to react. Our experts are so good that when city hall officials hear their names they freak out. All of the publications posted on our social media pages are read by the prosecutor’s office and the investigative agencies. If there are irregularities, they conduct inquiries.

We have now been trying to establish relations with the district councils. We are getting ready to present our draft project for a park area, a project we did in keeping with all the canons of urban planning. We did surveys of the area in summer, autumn, winter, and spring, as well as research on how people navigate parks. The project for this park will soon be open to feedback from any and all residents of Barnaul. I think it will be interesting and beneficial. I don’t recall that a grassroots undertaking like this has ever been implemented in the regions.

Judging by polls, people want to see quality. The canons of urbanism and notions of proper improvements to amenities can be captured in the phrase “quality infrastructure,” meaning infrastructure that is sound, convenient, comfortable, and safe. People have the same idea: they want to live in a safe and pleasant green space. There is popular demand for quality urban improvements.

An important thought for all grassroots groups is that you need to do what you do and do it well. If you see a problem you need to make sense of it and talk about it. You have to recruit experts and not be afraid of communicating with the authorities, of building a dialogue with regional parliamentarians, city councilors, and district councilors so everyone has a stake in solving the problem. You have to voice your proposals and, most importantly, spark the interest of groups that can impact decision-making. Merchants, authorities, city councilors, political parties: you need to interact with everyone. An urban activist is a person who thrives on interaction and dialogue.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Burning Too

20190824_WOM905.png

Take a long hard look at this map, especially the upper right-hand corner, and then tell me why Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro deserves a dressing-down from leaders of some of the world’s most powerful countries, while Russian President Vladimir Putin, guilty of the exact same indifference towards the forest wildfires raging over what, as the map suggests, is a much larger area in Siberia and the Russian Far East, has been criticized only by Greenpeace Russia and rank-and-file Russians living in the line of the fires and the enormous smoke clouds generated by them.

What has Putin ever done to deserve this indulgence?

When you have puzzled that one out, try and explain how four [ahn-TEE-fuh] musicians from Washington, DC, wrote the anthem for the summer of 2019 way back in 1989, that is, exactly thirty years ago, when many of today’s hottest climate changers were not even a gleam in their parents’ eyes.

Anytime but now
Anywhere but here
Anyone but me
I’ve got to think about my own life

Anytime but now
Anywhere but here
Anyone but me
I’ve got to think about my own life

We are consumed by society
We are obsessed with variety
We are all filled that anxiety
World would not survive

We gotta put it out, put it out, we gotta put it out
The sky is burning
We gotta put it out, we gotta put it out, put it out
The water’s burning
We gotta put it out, put it out, put it out
The earth is burning

Outrage
But then they say…

Anytime but now
Anywhere but here
Anyone but me
I’ve got to think about my own life

Anytime but now
Anywhere but here
Anyone but me
I’ve got to think about my own life

The world is not our facility
We have a responsibility
To use our abilities
To keep this place alive

We gotta put it out, put it out, put it out
The sky is burning
We gotta put it out, we gotta put it out, put it out
The water’s burning
We gotta put it out, put it out, we gotta put it out
The earth is burning

Right here
Right now
Do it
Do it
Now
Do it
Now
Do it
Now
Do it

Lyrics courtesy of Genius.com

“Really Frightening”: Trees Dry Up and Toadstools Vanish in Karelia After Explosion near Severodvinsk

“Really Frightening”: Trees Dry Up and Toadstools Vanish in Karelia After Explosion near Severodvinsk
Guberniya Daily
August 22, 2019

Residents of Karelia’s Kem District have sounded the alarm. Tree in the district have turned yellow and mushrooms have disappeared after the explosion near Severodvinsk, they claim.

“Ten days after [the accident], the vegetation on the islands in the White Sea near the settlement of Rabocheostrovsk took on a very unhealthy appearance. I get the impression the trees, grass, and moss burned flamelessly. Even toadstools and fly agaric, habitues of these locales, have disappeared on the islands. I would like you to clarify whether any tests will be made, what the republic’s government plans to do in general in response to this issue, and how people’s health will be affected,” a user identified as “Irina Kudryashova” wrote in a letter to Karelian Governor Arthur Parfenchikov, which she also posted on the VK wall “City of Kem Public Oversight.

Kudryashova posted the following photos to back up her claims. She also posted a short video entitled “Yak Island Today August 18, 2019.”

In the same thread, someone identified as “Galina Ivankova” wrote that she was “really frightened.”

“Some men from Belomorsk went out to sea, but when they got to Shuyiretskoye there were warships at anchor there and a yellow cloud overhead. They got turned back: they weren’t allowed to go out into the sea. So welcome to Chernobyl Karelia. Thanks to the mad nuclear scientists,” a person identified as “Oleg Bachanov” wrote in another discussion on the same wall.

“The situation is the same on Yak Island: everything withered and dried in no time. In recent years, especially after 2009, I have noticed that, from the north and the northeast, all the woods and grass on the islands look as if they have been covered in brown paint. There are no berries or mushrooms in these patches,” replied a user identified as “Sandro Avtushenko.”

On August 8, a liquid rocket propulsion system exploded during testing on an offshore platform in the Arkhangelsk Region. Eight Rosatom employees [sic] were hurt; five of them were killed. Fearing radiation, residents of Severodvinsk and Arkhangelsk made a run on iodine in pharmacies.

After the explosion, radiation levels were sixteen times higher than normal in Severodvinsk. Higher levels of background radiation were also recorded in Norway a week after the blast.

Translated by the Russian Reader. NB. The original text was heavily edited to reflect the fact that the claims cited in the article were made by four discrete users on a VK community wall in Kem, Republic of Karelia, not by an indefinitely large number of “residents.”

areaThe area of Northwest Russia, encompassing parts of the Republic of Karelia and Arkhangelsk Region, discussed in the article. Image courtesy of Google Maps

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Putin Says No Radiation Threat from Recent Explosion, But Mum on Details of Accident
The Associated Press (via CBC News)
Aug 21, 2019

Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted Wednesday that a recent deadly explosion at a military testing site in northwestern Russia hasn’t posed any radiation threat, but he remained coy about the circumstances of the mysterious incident.

Speaking after talks in Helsinki with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Putin emphasized that neighboring nations haven’t recorded any spike in radioactivity.

“These are the objective data,” he said. “These things can be tracked.”

The Aug. 8 incident at the Russian navy’s range in Nyonoksa on the White Sea killed two servicemen and five nuclear engineers. It was followed by a brief rise in radiation levels in nearby Severodvinsk, but the authorities insisted the recorded levels didn’t pose any danger to local residents.

Russian officials’ changing and contradictory accounts of the incident drew comparisons to Soviet attempts to cover up the 1986 explosion and fire at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

The Russian Defense Ministry at first denied any radiation leak in the incident even as the authorities in nearby Severodvinsk reported a brief rise in radiation levels and advised residents to stay indoors and close the windows. Frightened residents rushed to buy iodine, which can help reduce risks from exposure to radiation.

Russia’s state weather and environmental monitoring agency said the peak radiation reading in Severodvinsk on Aug. 8 was 1.78 microsieverts per hour in just one neighborhood, about 16 times the average. Peak readings in other parts of Severodvinsk varied between 0.45 and 1.33 microsieverts.

The announced peak levels were indeed lower than the cosmic radiation that plane passengers are exposed to on longer flights or doses that patients get during some medical scans.

No detail on weapon tested
The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CNTBTO) said earlier this week that several Russian radiation monitoring stations went silent shortly after the explosion in Nyonoksa. Lassina Zebro, the organization’s executive secretary, said Tuesday that the two Russian stations reported to be offline were back in operation and are now backfilling the data.

Observers said that several stations coming offline at the same time appeared to reflect a coordinated effort to conceal the radiation data, which could help identify the technology that was being tested at the time of the explosion.

Putin hailed the victims, saying they were doing “very important work for the nation’s security,” but kept mum on what type of weapon they were testing.

Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom said the explosion occurred on an offshore platform during tests of a “nuclear isotope power source” for a rocket engine, a statement that led some experts to conclude that the weapon undergoing tests was the Burevestnik (Storm Petrel), a prospective nuclear-powered cruise missile first mentioned by Putin in 2018 that was code-named Skyfall by NATO.

U.S. President Donald Trump has backed that theory in a tweet, saying that the U.S. is “learning much” from the deadly explosion. In a tweet, he said, “The Russian Skyfall explosion has people worried about the air around the facility, and far beyond. Not good!”

The U.S. worked to develop a nuclear-powered missile in the 1960s under Project Pluto, but abandoned the technology as too unstable and risky.