Plato Strikes Again: Russian Trucker Mikhail Vedrov Charged with Assaulting Police Officer

Criminal Charges Filed in Tver Against Man Involved in Anti-Plato Road Tolls Protest
Vlad Yanyushkin
OVD Info
September 23, 2020

In Tver, criminal charges have been filed against trucker Mikhail Vedrov, who was involved in a protest against the Plato road tolls system. Vedrov is accused of violence against an official (punishable under Article 318.1 of the criminal code). According to investigators, he slapped a traffic police officer. The court has placed Vedrov under house arrest. Officials attempted to prevent Vedrov’s lawyer and members of the public from attending the court hearing, and several people were detained.

On September 10 and 11, the Association of Russian Carriers (OPR) held a two-day protest in Tver against the Plato system. As the organization’s chairman Sergei Vladimirov told OVD Info, thirty-seven people from seventeen regions took part in the protest. Truckers called for abolishing the transport tax and making government spending on the transport industry more transparent. Drivers also held a founding congress to establish their own trade union.

On September 10, the protesters stopped outside the Plato data processing center on Red Navy Street. They expected Plato management to negotiate with them, but no one came out of the building. Instead, the police and the Russian National Guard came to meet them. Three regional OPR coordinators were detained for having posters on their cars featuring anti-Plato slogans. They were taken to Tver’s central police precinct, but soon released since the maximum time for keeping [people suspected of administrative violations, i.e., three hours] in police custody was exceeded. The protesters were given an undertaking to report again to the precinct to be formally charged with violating the rules for mass events (punishable under Article 20.2 of the Administrative Code), but the truckers failed to produce themselves at the precinct.

The second day of the protests on September 11 came off quietly. In the evening, as the truckers were leaving Tver, they were stopped by a traffic police patrol. Senior Lieutenant Sergei Nikishin asked Sergei Ryabintsev, who was behind the wheel, for his papers.

The entire convoy of truckers stopped, including OPR member Mikhail Vedrov from North Ossetia. According to investigators, “exhibiting direct criminal intent,” Vedrov approached the traffic policeman and, “realizing the public danger and illegality of his actions,” “struck at least one blow” to the officer’s neck. Thus, according to the formal written charges, the trucker caused the police officer physical pain and bruising of soft tissues in the neck.

Trucker Sergei Rudametkin provided OVD Info with an audio recording of a conversation with Ryabintsev, in which the trucker says that law enforcement stopped the convoy as it was leaving Tver. One of the officers asked to see the drivers’ papers. In response to a question about the grounds for this procedure, the police officer began yelling at everyone. At some point, the officer started shouting at Vedrov as well. Consequently, Vedrov was detained and accused of assaulting the police officer.

“There is nothing but the testimony of the victim [the police officer] and the testimony of the victim’s partner. Everything is based on the testimony of two police officers,” explains OVD Info lawyer Sergei Telnov. He added that Vedrov had invoked Article 51 of the Russian Constitution [which protects people from self-incrimination], so the defense lawyer did not have the right to answer some of our questions, for example, why Vedrov appears as if from nowhere in the police’s version of events, and whether he was in the car with Ryabintsev when the conflict with the police officer erupted.

Vedrov was taken to the central police precinct in Tver. Petersburg human rights activist Dinar Idrisov told OVD Info that over the course of the evening, the police investigator tried to pressure Vedrov to sign a confession, despite the lack of evidence. Around two o’clock in the morning, Vedrov was released under an obligation to appear before the investigator on September 14.

On the appointed day, Vedrov, accompanied by Telnov, reported to the Investigative Committee for questioning as subpoenaed. After a conversation with the investigator, they were given a summons for questioning, scheduled for the next day. On September 15, Vedrov was already interrogated as a suspect in a criminal case of violence against authorities. He was taken into custody.

Two days later, at Vedrov’s custody hearing, the bailiffs refused to let members of the public into the courtroom. Telnov explained that the official pretext was combating the spread of the coronavirus. Exceptions were made for one journalist and Vedrov’s wife and children, who had flown from North Ossetia for the hearing.

Telnov also had problems entering the courthouse.

“I got in the first time without no problems,” Telnov says. “Just before the hearing started, I went outside to talk, but when I tried to go back in they tried to stop me.”

According to Telnov, the bailiffs illegally demanded that he lay out the entire contents of his bag. When he tried to enter again, the bailiffs yielded.

Around four o’clock the judge retired to chambers to deliberate. It was then that Sergei Belyaev, editor of the Telegram channel I’m a Citizen! was detained and charged with failing to comply with the orders of a court bailiff (punishable under Article 17.3.2 of the Administrative Code) for recording video in the courthouse without permission from the presiding judge. The journalist was released after the arrest sheet was drawn up.

At the same time, OPR chair Sergei Vladimirov, who had come to support Vedrov, was detained in the courtyard in front of the court building. He was roughly shoved into a police car and taken to the Tver interior ministry directorate, where he was charged with disobeying the commands of a police officer (punishable under Article 19.3 of the Administrative Code) and left overnight in custody pending trial. He was released the next day.

Returning from chambers, the judge placed Vedrov under house arrest for two months, ignoring the prosecution’s request to remand the trucker in custody at a pretrial detention center. The prosecutor had argued that Vedrov could take flight, influence witnesses, and hinder the criminal proceedings.

Telnov explained in court that his client was unlikely to be able pressure the witnesses, since they were all police officers. Nor would he be able to destroy the evidence, since the whole case was based on the testimony of witnesses at the scene.

Photo of Mikhail Vedrov courtesy of the Association of Russian Carriers (OPR) and OVD Info. Translated by the Russian Reader. I have published numerous articles over the past several years about the inspiring militancy of Russian truckers.

Belarus: “Without Organisation, Without Struggle, the Oppressive Unfreedom Will Never Disappear” (People and Nature)

Belarus: ‘Without organisation, without struggle, the oppressive unfreedom will never disappear’
People and Nature
August 14, 2020

The revolt against the authoritarian regime in Belarus has spread from the city streets, where thousands of protesters have been battling with police, to the workplaces. On Thursday 13 August workers at large enterprises – including chemical and food factories, and construction and transport companies – downed tools in protest at the monstrous surge of police violence and arrests. People are quitting the state-supported trade unions. Films and photographs of workers’ meetings, at which participants denounced police violence and the fraudulent election results, are spreading like wildfire across social media. Womens’ organisations are taking to the streets – against a president whose fury was provoked, especially, by the support for Svetlana Tikhonovskaya, the woman who dared to stand against him for election. Here are two appeals by independent trade union organisations that were published yesterday. Please share and re-post. GL.

Open Appeal by the Belarusian Independent Trade Union to workers

Dear Belarusians,

The authorities’ actions – in falsifying the election results, breaching human rights, instigating mass arrests and beatings of peaceful protesters and passers-by across the whole country – could all lead to irreversible consequences for Belarus. We are hearing ever-louder announcements from the European Union and the United States, that they are ready to impose various sanctions, including economic ones, on Belarus as a state that is trampling cynically on the rights and freedoms of its citizens.

a-factory-meetingA factory meeting in Minsk earlier this week

Closure of the western markets for our products and services would be a catastrophe for our enterprises. The impact of this would be borne first of all by ordinary workers, who are in a bad enough situation already.

To defend ourselves and our freedom of action at the workplace, we propose the following pattern of simple collective actions:

1. Quit the state’s social organisations, such as the [government-supported] Federation of Belarusian Trade Unions, [the pro-presidential civic-political association] Belaya Rus and the Belarusian Republican Union of Youth. If you remain in these organisations, you are actually confirming your support for [president] Aleksandr Lukashenko.

2. Join the independent trade unions at your workplace, and if there is not one, organise it yourself.

3. Organise a mass meeting, declare “no confidence” in the results of the elections, and send it to the Central Electoral Commission. Collect the signatures of those who did not vote for Lukashenko.

4. Present demands to the management of your workplace, and the local authorities, for the cessation of aggression and violence on the part of the security services; for guarantees of safety for the enterprises’ workers and their families; of a guarantee that no-one will be dismissed on account of being seized [by the police] on the streets.

5. Record any mass meetings and demands in minutes; record videos; take photos and send this material to independent media.

In unity there is strength!

In solidarity, Maksim Poznyakov, president of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union.

This statement was published here on 13 August.

The Belarusian Independent Trade Union English-language page is here.

Belarusian Independent Trade Union contact details: Telephone.+375 17 424 18 80. Fax. +375 17 424 18 90. E-mail: bnpsoligorsk@gmail.com

===

An appeal by the recently-established Telegram channel ZabastovkaBY (Strike Belarus)

Belarus is in the grip of a protest movement … and now many people are demanding that the factories be stopped, in order to stop police violence. But that is just the start.

We don’t just need a one-off strike for free elections. We need an organisation, that will rouse workers every time that the manager or boss “loses the plot”. All of us spend most of the day at our workplaces, and it is from the situation there, from the fear of losing our jobs, that the most oppressive unfreedom grows among us.

We need effective organisations of working people, constantly active, and independent of the authorities and the owners of companies.

Furthermore, such organisations are needed not only at the gigantic state-controlled industrial enterprises. Today the majority of Belarusians already work in the private sector, and the situation there is often no better than at the state-owned workplaces. And those private bosses, no less than the state enterprises, are “sponsors of the system”.

We hear about these issues less often, because there is not a single businessman who would want an organisation in his enterprise that could stop him feeding his appetites. But without organisation by working people, and without struggle in the private sector, that feeling of oppressive unfreedom that is suffered by most Belarusians will never disappear.

What we are fighting for:

►The democratisation of the political system;

►The immediate release of those who have been detained without cause at demonstrations;

►A ban on the privatisation of enterprises;

►No job losses;

►Abolition of Decree no. 3 “on the prevention of social parasitism”;

►A ban on fines and the cancellation of bonuses [in workplaces];

►Abolition of the contract [labour] system;

►Expansion of social welfare provision;

►No to the pension reform;

►For trade unions that stand up for our rights.

What to do:

Meet up with your colleagues outside of work time. Organise chats on social media and messaging networks. Work out which departments could most effectively stop production or the provision of services by striking. Join up with our resources, and at the right moment be ready to go on strike. (14 August 2020.)

■ Londoners! There’s a picket at the Belarusian embassy tomorrow (Saturday).

■ Belarusian workers support protesters, by Maxim Edwards on Global Voices – a first-class survey of actions

■ And here is some analysis by Volodymyr Artiukh, published on Open Democracy just before the election.

Some social media clips

■ Redfish film of security forces clashing with demonstrators in the centre of Minsk.

■ Film of a mass meeting at Grodnozhilstroya, a construction company. The chair asks who has voted for Lukashenko, “don’t be shy”, a handful raise their hands. He asks who voted against, an overwhelming cheer goes up. Posted on Facebook.

■ Film of a mass meeting at the huge Minsk automobile factory (MAZ). The crowd shouts “[Lukashenko] Go!” and “honest elections!”. Posted on Facebook by Boris Kravchenko, a Russian trade union official.

■ Medical staff demonstrating in Minsk, as reported by Current Time TV. Those interviewed say they are protesting at the appalling character of the wounds inflicted on patients by the security forces.

■ A film circulating widely on Russian social media. A police officer, completely unprovoked and without warning, smashes the windscreen of a passing car. The elderly driver gets up to complain and is beaten by five officers, in broad daylight, and arrested. Those filming the incident are exclaiming “bandits! fascists!”.

Thanks to Gabriel Levy for sending this to me and graciously permitting me to repost it here. // TRR

Mardikor

“Every Day We Go Out on the Road”: A Documentary About the Lives of Female Mardikors Has Been Made in Tajikistan
Fergana
July 2, 2020

Tajik journalists have made the documentary film Mardikor [“Day Laborer” or “Handywoman,” as the filmmakers themselves have translated the term], which details the plight of female day laborers in the city of Bokhtar, 100 kilometres from Dushanbe. The picture was created as part of MediaCAMP (Central Asia Media Program), implemented by Internews with financial support from USAID, writes Asia-Plus.

Pop-up mardikor markets exist in all the cities and major towns of Tajikistan. But whereas earlier only men offered their services there, women’s markets have also recently appeared. Women who are divorced or left without the support of husbands who have gone to work abroad are willing to undertake any hard work for the sake of two or three dollars a day.

“The short film Mardikor tells the story of these women, most of whom are the abandoned wives of migrant workers. Their husbands do not return from the Russian Federation for years on end and do not send money to support their families. The majority of unemployed women at this labor market do not even have a school-leaving certificate. More than half are mothers with many children,” says the film’s director Mahpora Kiromova.

Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up. Film poster (below) courtesy of Mahpora Kiromova’s Facebook page. Translated by the Russian Reader

mardikor

Lugansk Miners Occupy Pit to Protest Wage Arrears and Closures

lugansk-1From Saturday’s motorcade: “Employers, corporations and chain stores: we will not allow you to insult people”

Lugansk miners occupy pit and defy security forces
People and Nature
June 9, 2020

Mineworkers are staging an underground occupation in defiance of the authorities in the Lugansk separatist “republic” in eastern Ukraine, who have responded with a campaign of intimidation and arrests.

There were 123 mineworkers underground at the Komsomolskaya pit, in the mining town of Antratsit, for the third day running on Sunday (7 June), the News.ru site reported yesterday. One who had fallen ill was brought to the surface.

The protesters are demanding that their wages for March and April be paid in full. A similar underground protest on 21 April resulted in some money being handed over by Vostok Ugol, a new company set up in the “republic” and charged with closing pits and cutting the labour force.

lugansk-3

An earlier protest, in Zorinsk in the Lugansk “republic”, on 4 May, against the closure of the local pit. Photo from Dialog.ua

The Lugansk and Donetsk “people’s republics” were set up by separatist military forces, supported by the Russian government, who clashed with the Ukrainian army in the military conflict of 2014.

The militarised regimes have clamped down on labour and social movement activists, and made independent journalism impossible in the “republics”—meaning that protest has been rare, and news of it does not travel easily. But this week mineworkers and their supporters have taken action nonetheless.

On Sunday the Lugansk “republic” police blockaded the Komsomolskaya mine and stopped food and drink being passed in to the occupiers. Galina Dmitrieva, a local trade union activist, received a a message saying that state security ministry (MGB) officials were on their way to the mine.

After that, mobile phone reception was blocked and the popular Vkontakte social media (similar to Facebook) was blocked. News.ru published text exchanges with local residents who said that the internet could only be accessed with Virtual Private Network (encrypted anti-spying) technology.

Transport in Antratsit was shut down, and on Sunday evening the authorities announced that this was because a medical quarantine was in place.

Aleksandr Vaskovsky, co-chairman of the Independent Union of Mineworkers of Donbass, said in a statement to News.ru:

A quarantine was announced in Antratsit on the evening of 7 June and the whole town closed down. The intention was to deprive the striking miners of subsistence. A curfew was declared and a military force assembled. This force was assembled at Rovenki, and they completely surrounded the Frunze pit, where miners had also tried to strike. […]

In Antratsit on 7 June, from the evening, they started arresting people who had given informational and organisational support to the miners, and organised the strike movement at other pits. They sought out activists at other pits and in other towns. There were arrests in Krasnodon, Rovenki, Krasnyi Luch and Belorechensk. State security ministry officials just came and, without any documents, were taking people with all their computers and mobile phones to an unknown destination.

We were able to find out where some of these arrestees were, in the MGB’s buildings. During the course of the day they had been tortured, with the aim of identifying other activists. At 8:00 another seven people were kidnapped, including two women, one of whom is pregnant.

Vaskovsky told News.ru that workers at Belorechenskaya mine tried to stage an occupation on Monday, but were prevented from going underground by managers.

Since the separatist “republic” was established in 2014, out of 32 pits, 10 have been closed. The mines now employ 44,800 people, less than half of the workforce before the military conflict began.

The Eastern Human Rights Group said on its Facebook page yesterday (8 June) that MGB officials had been in the Dubovsky quarter of Antratsit, where the Komsomolskaya pit is, since Friday, “questioning workers about the instigators of the protest”. Two miners had been arrested and sent for questioning to Antratsit; their whereabouts were unknown. The union president at the mine, Georgii Chernetsov, had been questioned but not detained. The statement continued:

Now a road block has been set up in Dubovsky, and MGB officers have gone to the families of the protesting mineworkers, to put pressure on the protesters through their families. Mobile phone signals have been cut off throughout Antratsit district, although WhatsApp and Viber are working.

This activity by the security forces of the Lugansk “republic” is directed at intimidating workers and suppressing the protest movement in the occupied part of Lugansk district.

Pavel Lisyansky of the Eastern Human Rights Group, based nearby in Lisichansk, in territory controlled by the Ukrainian government, wrote in a Facebook post:

The Russian Federation’s occupying administration in [the Lugansk “republic”] is disturbed by the systematic protests by the labour collectives at the mining enterprises, which are related to the restructuring of the industry, in other words the threat of mass closures.

In the course of these protests new leaders of public opinion have emerged, who have the support of the local population and do not fear the repressive actions by the occupying administration’s special forces.

For the last month, the mood of protest has grown stronger in Perevalsky, Antratsit and Lutuginsk districts in the occupied part of Lugansk region. The leaders of the worker protests have the support and solidarity of other labour collectives in the coal mining enterprises.

It is for this reason that the Russian Federation’s occupation administration has decided to take measures to counter the protests.

On the Ukrainian side of the front line, the Eastern Human Rights Group on Saturday staged a motorcade “to draw attention to the problem of the breaches of labour and social-economic rights of workers during the pandemic and quarantine measures”.

lugansk-2The Eastern Human Rights Group’s motorcade

The group said: “We are concerned about the situation in which the state labour inspection does nothing; about the pressure and bribery practiced by criminal groups against trade union leaders, to try to influence workers and employers (there has been a case at Toretsk that we will report on); the unlawful dismissal of workers; and so on.”

Thanks to People and Nature for permission to republish this article here.

Food Couriers Strike in Moscow

cs-2Food couriers striking outside the offices of Delivery Club in Moscow on June 5, 2020. Photo by Mitya Lyalin. Courtesy of RTVI

“Bring Back the Old Rules”: Couriers at Delivery Club in Moscow Strike
RTVI
June 5, 2020

Couriers at the food delivery service Delivery Club in Moscow held a strike on June 5. According to them, working conditions at the company have recently taken a turn for the worse. For example, the company has started giving couriers long-distance orders, as well as frequently fining them. The workers walked out in protest. Our correspondent followed the industrial action and listened to the protesters’ demands.

Around forty couriers, nearly all of them wearing the company’s bright green raincoats, came to Delivery Club’s offices this afternoon. The couriers did not chant slogans. They wanted to speak with company management. Although they were not deterred by heavy rain and waited for over two hours, no one from Delivery Club management came out to speak with them.

In a conversation with RTVI, one of the protesters expressed his dismay.

“We have gathered here to get them to cancel the excessive fines against us. Take me: I deliver on foot. I used to get orders within a three-kilometer range, but now they’ve been sending me as far away as five kilometers. Think for yourself how a foot courier can walk so many kilometers and how long that takes,” he said.

According to him, this can cause him to arrive an hour late to a customer’s home or office.

“Then the customer gives us a funny look. But if we fail to take the orders, the company fines us,” he explained.

“Courier Strike at Delivery Club.” TV 360° live-streamed the June 5 industrial action in Moscow.

Another courier said that he and his fellow strikers wanted the company to go back to the old rules, under which workers were able to make all their deliveries on time and none of them was fined.

“Delivery drivers make 3,000 to 5,000 rubles [approx. 40 to 65 euros] for 14 to 16 hours of work, if they do 30 orders. Foot couriers make three to three and half thousand rubles max. At the end of our shifts, management can issue six or seven fines. Each fine amounts to 300 rubles, so that comes to 1,800 rubles [approx. 23 euros],” another young man said.

The couriers say that in the past, when orders were issued within the areas where they chose to work, they were always on time, because they knew, for example, where they could shorten their routes.

“We had everything worked out. Now the situation has changed. We bring people cold food, and I don’t think Delivery Club wants its reputation to suffer. I would like to go back to the old rules,” a female courier said.

The delivery drivers also have problems. They told RTVI about Delivery Club’s clumsy system for compensating their petrol costs. For example, they can be ordered to pick up food from a restaurant far away from their original location, but Delivery Club does not compensate them for their travel there. They are compensated only for travel from the restaurant to the customer, which, according to them, is a small amount of money.

On June 4, TV 360° aired this short but informative report about the upcoming strike.

The couriers coordinated their actions in community Telegram chats. A day before the strike, the Telegram channel Rasstriga, citing one of the couriers, reported the upcoming strike, forcing Delivery Club to announce that they were verifying the report. A spokesperson for the company said that during the period of self-isolation there had been more orders, and consequently the average earnings of their couriers and drivers had increased.

cs-1A striking Delivery Club courier speaking to reporters. Photo by Mitya Lyalin. Courtesy of RTVI

The same day, a video message from couriers in the Moscow suburb of Khimki was posted on Rasstriga. One of the speakers compared the work of delivery drivers to that of taxi drivers. According to him, they had to travel all over the city.

“We all have families, and we all have children to feed as well,” another courier added.

On the morning of June 5, Delivery Club issued a statement saying that the dissatisfaction of couriers could have been sparked by an experiment with increasing the size of delivery areas. However, the company added, the test was only carried out for a few days, and was terminated before there were reports of an impending strike. Now, according to the company, all unfair fines for couriers had been canceled, and the company had begun returning money previously paid in fines to the couriers.

Ivan Weiss, the head of the Union of Couriers of Russia, also spoke about the problems of delivery people. In a conversation with TV 360°, he said that many couriers and drivers were fined unfairly.

Weiss gave an example.

“A person starts work at 2:15 p.m., and they already have several unfulfilled orders from 2:05 p.m., and so they end up getting fined 1,500 rubles. There is no limit to the indignation a person feels when they need to earn this money.”

Weiss also spoke about the expanded delivery areas. According to him, a foot courier can be asked to pick up an order five or six kilometers away. Weiss also said that while he supported the couriers at Delivery Club, holding an outdoor protest during the self-isolation period could backfire on them.

Translated by the Russian Reader. If you want to learn more about the lives of food delivery people in Russia’s major citiesd, check out the recent photo reportage, “In the Imperial City,” by the well-known Petersburg documentary photographer Mikhail Lebedev, who has gone to work as a courier during the pandemic, and journalist Yana Kuchina, published by Takie Dela on May 24, 2020. Here’s a sneak preview.

016c_08-440x440-c

“Since the beginning of the self-isolation regime, the number of couriers has increased more than fivefold. Every day, 50 to 100 new people appear on the delivery chat. People are losing their jobs, and the delivery service is the easiest way to find a new source of income.”

Little Kyrgyzstan

Moscow’s Little Kyrgyzstan (2017)

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian Federation has become one of the most important destinations for immigration in the world, second only to the United States and equal to Germany. Unlike Europe, however, the majority of people going to Russia aren’t political refugees and asylum seekers, but economic migrants looking for employment opportunities.

Most of the migrants are from the former Soviet space, with Central Asia at the forefront of this massive human flow. Tens of thousands leave the republics of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan every year to find seasonal employment in Russia’s main cities. Many stay for years, others never return, but their remittances form an important share of their country’s economy. The World Bank estimates that, in 2014, money sent back home by migrants represented 36% of Tajikistan’s GDP, and 30% of Kyrgyzstan’s.

Moscow’s Little Kyrgyzstan presents the story of ten immigrants from Kyrgyzstan living in Moscow, showing the diverse reality of millions of immigrant workers in Russia in their own words. It also broaches various themes that affect their everyday lives, such as the overbearing and corrupt Russian bureaucracy, harassment from the police, and anti-immigrant sentiment among the general population. It looks into the effect of the current economic crisis in Russia on the lives of migrant workers and the changes that followed Kyrgyzstan’s entry into the Kremlin-led Eurasian Economic Union in August 2015.

To provide context, the stories of the ten characters are punctuated by comments from two leading Russian experts on migration—Dmitry Poletaev and Valery Solovei—as well as an exchange between participants to a round table in Moscow on the need to introduce a visa regime for Central Asian migrants to Russia.

Credits:
Franco Galdini, Producer & scriptwriter
Chingiz Narynov, Director
Susannah Tresilian, Narrator
Soundtrack by Salt Peanuts

For more on the story visit:
https://thediplomat.com/2017/03/a-glimpse-into-moscows-little-kyrgyzstan/

_________________

Thanks a billion to Bermut Borubaeva for the heads-up. The extraordinary challenges faced by Central Asian migrants in Russia have been an abiding theme of this website over the nearly thirteen years of its existence and will continue to be in the future. // TRR

Muruzi House

brodThe young woman (left) and the late Russian-American poet Joseph Brodsky (right) have nothing to do with the story, told below, of a Central Asian female migrant, working as a residential building caretaker in Petersburg, and her temporarily misplaced daughter. In recent days, however, this “graffiti” portrait of the Nobel laureate, which was quickly painted over, has been the talk of Brodsky’s hometown. The brutal conditions in which Central Asian migrant workers live in Petersburg and other Russian cities are virtually never the talk of the town, although it is their poorly paid drudgery that makes it possible for the “natives” to lead such rich spiritual and intellectual lives, chockablock with fine poetry and heated debates about “street art” and aesthetics. Photograph courtesy of the Instagram page Dom Muruzi

George Losev
Facebook
May 28, 2020

While I was at work, I found a little girl outside the entrance of a residential building. She was calling for her mother, her mommy. She was lost. Although the girl could speak Russian, she was unable, of course, to say where she lived and when she had last seen her mommy. But she was enjoying playing with a broken plastic motorcycle.

I couldn’t go to the police. Who knew what problems with papers the little girl’s family had? In any case, the police would shake down the girl’s mother and father and rob them.

An old lady in the neighborhood with whom I organized an ACSC (ad-hoc committee for saving the child) agreed with my assessment. During the ten minutes of our existence as a committee, we couldn’t come up with anything. Fortunately, the mother—a local building caretaker—showed up and fetched her daughter.

How disgusting it is to live in a society where you can’t go to the police, because the police are robbers and looters with blank stares.

George Losev is a housing authority electrician and revolutionary leftist activist in Petersburg. Translated by the Russian Reader

And Now We Have to Prove We Got Sick on the Job

pni-no 10Psychoneurological Resident Treatment Facility (PRTF) No. 10 in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of City Walls

And Now We Have to Prove We Got Sick on the Job
Galina Artemenko
MR7.ru (Moy Rayon)
May 18, 2020

The first case of COVID-19 at Psychoneurological Resident Treatment Facility (PRTF) No. 10 in Petersburg was at the very beginning of April. All efforts were made to hush up the story, but they failed. MR7.ru reported that the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection and three other relevant agencies had recommended that the regions remove the most severely disabled people from PRTFs. The ministry had also recommended that  social welfare facilities switch their employees to long live-in rotations while raising their salaries. Finally, the chief public health physician in the Petersburg office of Rospotrebnadzor had issued an order permitting volunteers to work at PRTFs.

The virus spreads most quickly in closed places such as hospitals, barracks, and residential treatment facilities. And we have heard the sad stories of infection at the nursing home in Vyazma, and the deaths of elderly people in nursing homes in Italy and Sweden. I hope that, after the pandemic, the conclusions will be clear. PRTFs are factories of misery, and facilities housing over a thousand patients should not exist.

On condition of anonymity, Nastya (her name has been changed), a young attendant at PTRF No. 10 told us about her experiences during this time. PTRF No. 10 houses more than a thousand people living with severe disabilities, who are cared for by approximately 400 staff members. According to official reports, more than 400 people at the facility have been infected, and two disabled girls who lived there have died.

At the beginning of April, we all got phone calls: they were asking people whether they were willing to volunteer for long rotations. We were told everyone would be under observation to make sure covid did not get into the residential treatment facility and to keep the patients from getting ill. But the director said there would be no long rotations, because there was no money, and we were supposed to get extra pay for that. But he was unable to pay bonuses to the staff. So we were not shut down and kept working as normal. As during an ordinary quarantine, access to the residents was closed to their parents. But we kept coming in for our shifts as usual—until April 8, when our residents started going off to hospital with pneumonia, while the first case of covid was confirmed on April 10. The same day, the tenth, people from the district office of Rospotrebnadzor came to the facility. There was a meeting, where we were told the decision had been made to shut us down. So we began working on long rotations. Right now, while I’m in hospital, only two wards [at the PRTF] are on watch. They’re under quarantine, while all the rest are clean.

So when they had called and assembled all us volunteers, all of us were locked up in the facility. Hermetically sealed.

We had been promised the ward would be divided into a red zone and a clean zone, but that had not been done. We made the zones ourselves. Well, what I mean is that we assigned the residents to one of two stations so, at least, they wouldn’t be going back and forth. We had two stations on the ward, connected by corridors.

Yes, we have one doctor on duty on the ward, but he or she is a psychiatrist, not an infectious disease specialist.

We did not have any PPE, only gloves, which have always been issued in the residential treatment facility, and the cotton-gauze bandages that we sewed ourselves. The first week was more or less okay. We worked. And then everyone began to get sick—both residents and staff. Everyone’s temperature started to rise. At first, everyone on the ward tried to treat themselves with Antigrippine. We had smears taken on April 13. There were still smears that came back negative, but on April 22, everyone’s smears came back positive, so I think that of the sixty people or so whose smears had come back negative [on April 13], they were false negatives, meaning that the entire facility was sick. Staff who had mild cases went home, while those with more severe cases went to hospital. And the residents also went to hospital.

I was also taken to hospital. When I got there, we were heavily fed malaria pills. I had almost no fever, but I had a cough and was gasping for breath. I have been in hospital since April 20.

The money? I don’t know whether they will pay us—they didn’t even pay all the wages they had promised. We didn’t sign anything about agreeing to work with covid. We took our management’s word for it. Now we have to prove that we worked with covid and got sick at work.

I know that [Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov] came to the facility, and he and the director agreed that not only the doctors would get paid, but also the nurses, and the attendants, and the cafeteria workers, because everyone had worked directly with covid.

The residents didn’t understand what was happening. And we didn’t understand at first either, we didn’t know what the condition was until we got sick ourselves.

No, I wasn’t scared, I just wanted to go home. Well, it was scary when the young male residents on the ward started having disorders, and the psychiatric hospital wouldn’t accept them because our facility was under quarantine.

Residents who were ill with covid were taken to regular hospitals without being given psychiatric medication. That’s rough. I ended up at the same hospital as an old woman from our facility. I saw how the hospital nurses could not cope with her—they simply could not put her diapers on. Until she was transferred to the psychosomatic ward, I took care of her. Ordinary nurses and attendants don’t have the skills to interact with such people. They don’t know how to dress them, how to feed them, how to give them medicine. I think it was very wrong on the part of the municipal health committee or whoever was involved in this, that such people were sent to ordinary hospitals. This is intolerable. They pissed and shat themselves, and they yelled, and some of them smashed everything up and behaved badly. The staff at ordinary hospitals do not encounter this [ordinarily]. And they were without psychiatric medication. Later, they learned how to tie them down.

What will happen next? As long as we all sit on our asses waiting for something to happen, there is no hope that everyone who was cheated will be paid properly. But we are afraid that if we start this commotion, it will bounce back on us quite hard. So far I have started alone, but one soldier does not make a battle. They will take it out on me and my family. I will be fired and fired with cause, and then I will not be able to get a job anywhere.

PRTF No. 10 in Petersburg had previously been closed for quarantine due to the coronavirus. A patient at the facility had recently returned from treatment for other ailments at another facility, where he contracted the coronavirus. Ivan Veryovkin, the head of PRTF No. 10, then suddenly removed his facility’s intensive care unit from infection surveillance and suggested that volunteers come in the morning and leave in the evening.

As MR7.ru has argued recently, the epidemic has shown that PRTFs are “factories of misery,” and it is time to shut them down.

Translated by the Russian Reader. In case you were wondering who, exactly, was housed in Psychoneurological Residential Treatment Facility No. 10 in Petersburg, the Russian version of Wikipedia has the depressing answer. (The only other language in which there is an article on the subject is French, but the French article merely explains what PRTFs are in Russia.)

By the end of the twentieth century, there were 442 official PRTFs in the Russian Federation, but by the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, their number was 505. According to data for 2019, there are about 650 PRTFS in the Russian Federation, housing 155,157 patients. Most of these patients (112,157) are officially incapacitated.

According to the data for 2003, more than half of all patients in PRTFS (68.9%) were people with reduced intelligence: people who had been diagnosed with mental retardation and various types of dementia. At the same time, intellectual disabilities in persons transferred from orphanages are often associated not so much with a real decrease in intellectual capabilities, as with pedagogical neglect [sic], lack of proper training and education, insufficient rehabilitation programs, and lack of rehabilitation centers for post-orphanage training.

According to information for 2013, during the year, about a thousand people were admitted to PRTFs in Moscow; in total, 10,500 patients lived in PRTFs in the city (of which 8,245 were men aged 18-58 years). About 5,000 were admitted to PRTFs from orphanages without undergoing psychiatric re-examination.

Half a Million Migrants in Moscow Have Lost All Sources of Income

d8a5aa0e-9470-11ea-be48-fa163e074e61Photo by Sergei Lantyukhov for NEWS.ru

Study: Half a Million Migrants in Moscow Have Lost All Sources of Income
Sociologists say government should introduce social security for foreigners, otherwise “social tension” inevitable
Sergei Vilkov
NEWS.ru
May 12, 2020

More than half the migrants in Moscow have lost their jobs, and a significant portion of them have also lost all sources of income, according to a study done by a group of sociologists, led by Evgeni Varshaver, at the Center for Regional and Urban Studies in RANEPA’s Institute for Applied Economic Research. NEWS.ru took a look at their preliminary findings, which have been presented to the Russian government in the form of a briefing paper. The sociologists analyzed the risk of a sharp uptick in crime and social unrest among migrants, as well as making recommendations, one of which was to provide migrants with social security and health insurance. The lead author of the study backed up the findings with his own arguments.

An Invisible Army

While 32% of Moscow residents who are Russian nationals have lost their jobs or been sent on unpaid leave [due to the coronavirus pandemic], 54% of those who come from other countries have lost their jobs in the Russian capital. 32% of migrants have lost all sources of income, while among Muscovites who are Russian nationals this figure is 17%. Only about one in ten guest workers reported that their financial situation had not changed, the report says. (NEWS.ru has a copy of the report.)

If one extrapolates the data from the study to all migrant workers in Moscow, then, given that their number has been estimated by experts at about 1.5 million people, around 500,000 people have completely lost their livelihoods, according to the briefing paper. Reports continue to appear about migrants who have lost their homes and remain in the Russian Federation with no fixed abode [i.e., they are homeless de jure, if not de facto—a critical distinction in Russia, where everyone is required by law to be registered with the authorities at their actual residence]. Migrants often do not receive the free medical care to which they are entitled by law, and other forms of medical care are often too expensive for them.

As the researchers note, migrants are, at the same time, at special risk for the epidemic. The apartments that they rent are, on average, twice as densely inhabited as those of Russian nationals.

Speaking of a possible increase in crime among migrants due to the pandemic, the researchers argue that “although it is possible to assume a slight increase in the number of property crimes by this category of persons, expectations of an explosive increase in crime among migrant workers are not borne out.”

The researchers argue that there was no surge in criminal activity among guest workers during previous crises. This was partly due to oversight by diasporas and similar communities.

When NEWS.ru asked whether diasporas can really control their fellow countrymen, the head of the research group, Evgeni Varshaver, warns against extreme views on this issue. Migrants, he says, like all other people, listen to figures of authority. It is also important to understand that if such respected people have been living in Russia for a long time, they have often been incorporated into local elites (albeit, sometimes, as something exotic), and it is in their interests to prevent the growth of crime among migrants, because in the eyes of their “partners” in Russia, they are responsible for the behavior of their compatriots. Varshaver admits, however, that this influence is often exaggerated.

“However, this does not mean that it does not exist at all. It does exist, and the smaller the locality, the more intense the communication among elites and ordinary migrants, and the more these two groups rely on each other: the first can help with money or put in a word with the migration service; the second, if push comes to shove, can stage a protest rally.  In a large city, due to greater differentiation and multilayered social structure, this link is not so obvious, and the possibilities of atomization are greater. But now let’s get back to what prompted us to discuss diasporas, namely, whether migrants will commit more crimes. I think that they will, along, however, with other deprived groups, and this is understandable in circumstances of acute impoverishment, but this surge will not be as powerful as predicted in some pro-migrant and anti-migrant publications,” says Varshaver, a senior researcher and head of the Migration and Ethnicity Research Group at RANEPA.

In addition, the authors of the study refer to the findings of sociological studies of past years, indicating that among migrant workers in Russia, “the prevailing attitude has been to comply with the laws of the country of residence.”

In 2016, RANEPA sociologists surveyed 2,412 migrant workers in different regions of Russia. 83% of them indicated that it was absolutely necessary to comply with the laws of the host country. However, it would be strange to expect respondents to say the opposite, although even in that study, 3% of migrants chose the option “No, it’s okay if not all the rules are followed.”

A Reason for Welfare

Separately, the researchers considered measures to support migrants. They identified as positive the fact that the presidential decree of April 18 granted foreigners the right to stay in Russia regardless of the length of their residence permits. The requirement to obtain a work permit was then temporarily lifted, meaning that if migrants were out of work and their permit expired, they would not have to buy one. From the same decree, it followed that migrants no longer had to work in the region where they were issued a work permit. The ability to move to another region without bureaucratic barriers has significantly expanded the options of migrants for finding work in crisis conditions, according to the authors of the study. Simultaneously, volunteer aid programs have been implemented, and some migrants are now able to receive charitable support in the form of food and compensation for housing costs.

However, these measures do not solve the problem. According to the RANEPA researchers, it is necessary to ensure that the minimum needs for food and housing of migrants who remain in Russia are met until they have been employed or they can return to their countries of origin. During an epidemic, the link between the well-being of local residents and the circumstances of migrants is more pronounced than in other periods, including after the the risk of property crimes has been taken into account, they argue. In addition, it is necessary to ensure better access to medical care for migrants and to lessen the load on temporary detention centers for foreign nationals subject to deportation.

“This will inevitably be an unpopular decision; moreover, such assistance should be provided along with the assistance that is provided to non-migrants,” explains Varshaver. “A pained reaction on the part of nationalistically minded Russians to the decision to provide this assistance is inevitable, but on the other side of the scale you have total impoverishment accompanied by real hunger, a possible increase in crime, and other negative social consequences, and so it is necessary to make an informed decision, which obviously is to take care of all those who were forced to stay in Russia when the borders closed and hence cannot go anywhere.”

These measures seem to be necessary at the moment. Otherwise, a significant number of migrants will lose their livelihoods, which, regardless of how valid current alarmist expectations are, will lead to significant social tension, the authors of the study claim.

cd21b5aa-9471-11ea-a603-fa163e074e61Photo by Kirill Zykov for Moskva News Agency

When asked how the end of “non-workdays,” as announced by President Vladimir Putin, would affect the circumstances of migrants, Varshaver explains that it is difficult to make forecasts.

“On the one hand, there has been a lot of talk about the situation with migrants, and aid resources have been mobilized, which is why the crisis has been dampened as much as possible. On the other hand, every day of quarantine has a negative impact on the economy as a whole and on migrants in particular. On the third hand, yes, of course, the exit from the quarantine, for example, of the construction industry (I wonder if it has really gone into a full lockdown?) will also enable migrants working in construction to start earning money. On the fourth hand, not all migrants work in construction. There is also, say, the hospitality sector, which the crisis has affected and will continue to affect much more, and this is the second important area of migrant employment, and many who were employed, say, as waiters, are now out of work. On the fifth hand, the summer season is beginning, and this means dacha construction and agricultural work, which means additional jobs. Generally, predicting is not easy, but that the lives of migrants are now no bowl of cherries is a fact, and most likely they are no bowl of cherries to an even greater extent than life for Russian nationals,” says Varshaver.

In late March, NEWS.ru investigated how the crisis brought on by the coronavirus epidemic had severely affected people from Central Asia who work in Russia or even found themselves passing through the country. Transit areas in some of the capital’s airports experienced a collapse due to flight cancellations. Workers and visitors from neighboring countries faced not only being forced to wait for weeks to be sent home without having a source of income. NEWS.ru talked to migrants waiting to leave and found out how the spread of COVID-19 and related quarantine measures had affected these people. We also learned that problems with departing Russia were not the only ones that had impacted migrants, further aggravating the situation of one of the most vulnerable groups in Moscow.

Additional reporting by Marina Yagodkina

Translated by the Russian Reader

Coronavirus Outbreak at Novatek Construction Site in Murmansk Region

Worker Tells of 1,900 Infected Construction Workers at Novatek Site
According to him, work team got hold of computer file containing actual numbers of infected and test results
Artyom Alexandrov
NEWS.ru
April 28, 2020

Workers employed by contractors Velesstroy Montazh at a Novatek construction site in Murmansk Region have refused to report for their shifts due to a coronavirus outbreak in the workers’ dormitories that management has preferred to ignore. NEWS.ru has talked to workers who allege that the results of their tests for the virus have been withheld from them, and both healthy and sick workers have been encouraged to work. To top it all off, the employees fear they won’t be paid.

Novatek’s Artic LNG 2 project involves the construction of a facility for the production of liquefied natural gas on the Gyda Peninsula in the Gulf of Ob. To implement the project, a center for the construction of large-capacity offshore facilities, which the local press has dubbed the “factory of factories,” is being erected near Belokamenka in Kola Bay in Murmansk Region. The agree to build the construction center was signed in 2015. Such a a large project has not been undertaken since Soviet times.

NOVATEK

Reports of a coronavirus outbreak at the construction site started appearing in the media and social networks in mid-April, and since then the situation has become more alarming. However, neither Novatek nor local authorities believed that work should be stopped. Construction workers were tested for the virus, but officially there was not talk of a serious outbreak.

Work has been halted, however, by a “grassroots initiative.” A construction worker named Ilya told NEWS.ru that everything changed dramatically after workers got hold of an Excel file in which management had allegedly recorded the real number of cases and actual test results.

“We were not informed of the test results. In fact, until now, almost all of us know them only thanks to the documents that surfaced. It turned out we have a huge number of cases in every house where workers live. There are 205 people in my dorm and 171 infected people. There are a total of 4,000 workers, and 1,900 have been infected,” said Ilya.

According to the crisis center in Murmansk, 867 people at the construction site were confirmed to have the coronavirus. However, the other figures for the numbers of infected were not a big surprise to the workers since many of them have long since complained of symptoms of COVID-19, including fever and loss of smell. But, as was mentioned above, despite the fact they submitted to tests in good faith, they were not told the results. Despite massive health problems among their employees, construction site management has pretended that everything is fine.

“I have gone to the GP four days in a row and still haven’t received any information. If you say you’re not feeling well, they don’t really treat you. They only hand out anti-fever medicine. Some of the guys have pneumonia, however, but there are no antibiotics. Management has told us to pack up and travel to the hospital if we want. The infectious disease hospital is located 128 kilometers from here, in Monchegorsk. And yet they’re also scaring us by saying that things are so bad there, we’d better stay here,” said Dmitry, another construction worker.

Several nurse practitioners work at the site, but according to the workers, they are not equipped to fight the epidemic. There is also an Emergencies Ministry mobile hospital near the site where thirty-nine of the most severely ill patients have been taken, as well as to the Murmansk Regional Hospital. Large-scale hospitalization of the workers has not occurred, however. For some reason, construction site management does not even want to separate healthy workers from sick workers in the dorms.

“The dorms haven’t even been disinfected. No one has been moved, although the infrastructure permits it. People could be grouped together, after all. There are one to three healthy people in each room, and they could be housed in one place, but no,” Dmitry said.

On April 11, Andrei Chibis, the region’s governor, publicly stated that “all measures for quarantining, separating, and strictly monitoring” the construction site had been implemented. Chibis later said that the COVID-19 outbreak had been localized with quarantine measures, the work site had been isolated, and new workers were not being transported to the facility.  Despite what Chibis said, however, according to Ilya, he was first tested for the coronavirus only on April 22, while many other workers were tested even later.

Consequently, the builders worked until April 17, after which they had refused to go to work.

“Nearly everyone has stopped working, except those who keep the dorm facility running—food suppliers, canteen workers, sewage cleaners, and so on. However, management has recently been threatening to put everyone back to work, sick and healthy alike. The foremen have been insisting we go to work, especially the machine operators. And yet they suggest we go back to work without any preferential treatment or incentives whatsoever. But how can we work when we’re sick? This is now even prohibited by law,” said Ilya.

Initially, the construction workers were told that they were in “self-quarantine,” and they would be paid in full. Later, there was talk they could switch to sick leave, but their wages would be docked accordingly. However, this was all talk, as no orders were issued. The workers are afraid that the downtime could be deducted from their wages. The situation should be clarified when they are paid an advance for the current month on April 30, while their salaries will be paid on May 15. At the same time, there have been no threats of penalties. Nor do the workers complain of a deterioration of living conditions—they are being fed and accommodated as before.

Neither the Murmansk Region governor’s office nor Velesstroy Montazh or Novatek responded to our requests for information before press time.

On April 28, the prosecutor’s office of Yakutia’s Lensk District launched a probe into whether the rights of rotational workers at Gazprom’s Chayanda field had been violated. The probe was prompted by the protests that several hundred rotational workers staged over unacceptable working conditions. Video footage of the uprising was posted online. Workers complain that management does not care about their health and safety during the pandemic. More than ten thousand people are employed at the field. Just as in Murmansk Region, disaffected workers alleged that the results of their COVID-19 tests had been withheld from them.

Thanks to Sergei Vilkov for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Novatek and NEWS.ru. Translated by the Russian Reader. See all of my coronavirus coverage here.