In 1973, 16-year-old Víctor Yáñez travels from his home in Chile to the former USSR to study agriculture. But when a military coup strikes at home, he’s stranded in Communist Russia . . . for the rest of his life.
Martina: It was the fall of 1988, when Víctor Yáñez found himself listening to his radio in secret. In a tiny Russian town 2,000 miles from Moscow, Víctor and his friends were listening to one of the few American radio stations to reach the Soviet Union. Finally, the piece of news they were waiting for: the referendum in Chile.
Víctor: En la Unión Soviética no se hablaba de Chile porque era una dictadura de derecha. Los periódicos extranjeros estaban prohibidos. Era el año 1988 y todavía no había internet. Si querías saber de Chile, tenía que ser en secreto. Fue así como me enteré del referéndum.
Martina: When the results came in, Víctor was stunned. Through the static, he learned that 54% of Chileans had voted General Augusto Pinochet out of power. The dictatorship was falling. Although Víctor lived half a world away, the results had huge implications for him. As a Chilean, he would finally be able to go home.
Víctor: Yo había llegado a Rusia quince años antes, en un viaje de estudios durante el gobierno de Salvador Allende. Cuando empezó la dictadura de Pinochet, ya no pude volver a mi país. Yo había vivido la mitad de mi vida en Rusia, sabía muy poco de Chile y estaba lejos de mi familia. Ahora iba a tener la oportunidad de volver a casa, pero yo tenía una duda: “¿Cuál era mi país en realidad?”.
A Russian environmentalist untangles a “ghost” fishing net. Such nets are deadly to wildlife, including the endangered Russian desman. Photo by V.I. Bulavintsev
The Russian Desman Hangs by a Thread
Yevgenia Volunkova Takie Dela
November 28, 2019
In Russia, the Red Book of Rare and Endangered Species is about to be reissued almost eight years late. Scientists fear that rare and endangered species of mammals and birds of interest to hunters will not be included. At this very moment (the commission’s final session will be held tomorrow, November 29, 2019), zoologists are fighting for the inclusion of more than a dozen species that are in dire straits. Among them are the Asian black bear (Ursus thibetanus), the reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), the greylag goose (Anser anser), the Siberian bighorn sheep(Ovis nivicola), and the killer whale (Orcinus orca).
What Went Wrong
The Red Book of the Russian Federation is supposed to be reissued every ten years, but the most recent edition dates to 2001. An updated version of the Red Book was planned for release in 2017. At the time, scientists had made lists of rare and endangered species for the new edition, and the lists had been approved by the Red Book’s commission, but then everything went wrong.
The Russian Federal Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (Minprirody) suddenly changed the roster of the commission that reviews and approves the book. Zoologists who could stand up for rare animals were, for all practical purposes, removed from the commission. As a result, many species in need of protection vanished from the list. The new commission for some reason decided not to include 23 species of animals that had previously been listed in the Red Book.
Scientists were publicly outraged, and the process of reissuing the Red Book was suspended. In October 2019, Minprirody tweaked the commission’s roster again. Of its 44 members, only 20 scientists have remained. The other 24 members are officials from Minprirody, subordinate agencies and institutions, and regional hunting departments.
“If you remove the scientists from the commission and put hunters and bureaucrats on it, it’s clear how they are going to vote,” says Sofia Rosenfeld, a biologist and member of the commission’s expert panel on geese. “People must be smart and objective in order to evaluate the scientists’ proposals. Hunters cannot be objective. Business interests are obviously trying to delist the species from which they profit. And yet the fact that these species are on the verge of extinction bothers no one.”*
The Leftover Principle
Alexei Zimenko, the director of the Biodiversity Conservation Center, and I are talking in his office. Located in a small old building on Vavilov Street in Moscow, the Center occupies several rooms off a corridor. It has not been remodeled in a long time, but inside it is a cozy as a biology classroom. Zimenko sets the most recent edition of the Red Book on the table. According to him, the book has not been updated for so long because there are “gigantic problems with the protection and study of wildlife” in Russia.
“Since 2000, the country’s main priority has been economic success. But environmental issues and nature conservation are considered obstacles to this success,” Zimenko says. “Biological research is financed on the leftover principle. For example, at one point Barguzin Nature Reserve, on Lake Baikal, had a powerful research base and material support up to and including its own airfield. But in the early 2000s, we gifted the oldest employee three freestanding lamps for lighting, so that he could scrape by somehow. And at another Far Eastern reserve, there is now just one scientist on staff, and three more travel there and stay for a month, at most.”
According to Zimenko, the delay in republishing the Red Book could be due in part to the fact that there are very few or no scientists researching many of the animal species in Russia.
“Due to insufficient data, several species may not make it into the Red Book. But this country has excellent researchers who are ready to work with limited resources. So, we do have information on many species. But, for example, when it comes to the Russian desman (Desmana moschata)—a rare Red Book species—we have three researchers total: two at the Oka Nature Reserve and one in Moscow. And we have just one person in the whole country who researches moles.”
Things Are Bad for the Russian Desman
Using the example of the Russian desman, Zimenko tells me about how scientists research Red Book species.
The small, semi-aquatic creature lives in bodies of water in central Russia and along their banks. Estimating its numbers is a job best done from August to September, when the water is not high. A group of researchers travels to the desman’s habitat and inspects the shoreline meter by meter. They wander the banks and the shallows in search of the animal’s burrows—it is the numbers of these that are counted. In point of fact, a similar “walking” count is made for all animals. Ground squirrels, for example, are counted by the numbers of their burrows, and tigers, by their paw prints. The “heel” of every print is measured with a ruler: it is a different size for every tiger. That way one can grasp how many tigers have passed through an area and whether they were males, females, youngsters, or adults.
There are not enough people for such a colossal amount of work: a small group cannot physically manage to inspect a huge area. So, there is little current data on the state of the Russian desman, as for many other species.
“In the early 2000s, we conducted a nationwide inventory of the desman with the help of hunting researchers who had previously been in charge of doing counts of the wildlife in their districts. Today, there are few such researchers, and their duties have been reduced, along with their funding. Furthermore, the desman is not a commercial species, so counting it basically is of no interest to anyone. Therefore, we can get current data on the state of the desman only after studying several sites and estimating its overall numbers. And it’s the same thing, unfortunately, with many species. How, for example, can we estimate the numbers of the polar bear, if it travels across the ice for half a year, and every trip to the Far North is terribly expensive? Back in the day, my fellow scientists lived right in the nature reserves and were able to make observations without gigantic outlays of money for flights. Today, there are very few scientists who work in the necessary fields.”
According to Zimenko, things are bad for the Russian desman. Compared with Soviet times, the state of the species has deteriorated dramatically. Today, there are approximately 7,500 of them in the wild. For such a tiny animal, that is incredibly low—there should be tens of thousands. In the 1990s, the oversight of bodies of water decreased significantly, and people began fishing in droves, often using nets. If a desman gets caught in a net, it becomes entangled and drowns underwater. Things got even worse when Russian-made nets were replaced with ones made in China from monofilament fishing line. They are impossible to escape, and some of these nets are so cheap that fishermen often simply discard them. The nets are washed away by floodwaters, becoming conveyor belts for destroying aquatic life.
“We tried to ban the import of those fishing nets to Russia. They destroy not only the Russian desman, but fish and birds as well. Even moose were getting killed, as it happened. Consequently, the decision was made to ban the import of equipped (readymade) nets. But importing reels fitted with monofilament line to Russia is still permitted. A great country has been unable to solve a seemingly simple problem. It is shameful! And so the Russian desman is hostage to our troubles with the government management of natural resources and wildlife conservation. Among other things, the Russian desman reacts to climate change—drought and the lack of floods affect its reproduction. The desman is hanging by a thread.”
Cut Out and Shot
But if the Russian desman can at least be found in the Red Book, many other species on verge of extinction risk not even getting into it. For example, the Asian black bear (Ursus thibetanus), whose situation, according to researchers, is catastrophic.
The scientific community has long been in favor putting the Asian (white-chested) black bear in the Red Book. But the hunting community has prevented that in every way possible. At issue are the bear’s paws and bile, which are in great demand in China. The Asian black bear winters in the hollows of large trees. Hunters cut down the tree, chase out the bear sleeping there, and shoot it. Or they cut out an opening in the tree through which they can extract their “trophy.”
Female bears also give birth to their young only in tree hollows while they are hibernating. They give birth and feed their bear cubs in a semi-drowsy state. Hunters do not differentiate whom they kill, but the bear cubs are often left behind and usually die.
In the Maritime Territory (Primorsky Krai), where the white-chested bear lives, large trees are being intensively cut down. And this is the second problem: with every passing year, it becomes harder for the bear to find a place to winter. It is forced to winter among tree roots or burrows in the ground, like the European brown bear (Ursus arctos), but in such conditions it is more vulnerable to predators and hunters. If it does not find a place to winter, a bear cannot even lie down to hibernate. A bald bear in the forest that has not fallen asleep or managed to shed its fur, according to zoologist Nikolai Formozov, is a “heartbreaking sight.”
Formozov has a Ph.D. in biology and is a member of the Red Book commission’s expert group on mammals. He has advocated for the inclusion of the Asian black bear in the Red Book.
“The white-chested bear was in the Red Book of the USSR. Later it was removed, even though things had got worse for it. In the Soviet Union, its population was estimated at 7,000 individuals—fewer than the polar bears in the Arctic. Today, even by the hunters’ inflated numbers, pulled out of thin air, there are only 5,600. In fact, of course, there are fewer than that. And at the same time, the hunters say that it is safe to cross it out of the Red Book. That, in my view, is a crime!”
The Death Throes of a Species
Formozov calls what is happening with the white-chested bear the “death throes of a species.”
“The species is in bad shape, and some not-so-obvious signs make it easy to understand. When a species is on the verge of distinction, it often shows up in inappropriate places. Previously, the basic foodstuffs for the Asian black bear before hibernation were the acorns of the Mongolian oak and pine nuts. When the acorns weren’t ripe, the pine nuts came to the rescue, and vice versa. So, the bear alternated between acorns and pine nuts. But the cedars have been cut down. And now we see hunger driving them into the flood plains, to eat cherry trees. Right next to villages. In that situation we get the reaction ‘Oh, there are so many of them!’ But this is an illusion. It has happened that up to twenty white-chested bears have been killed by poachers during such forays. The same thing was written about Caspian tigers when they began showing up in inappropriate places—that there were a lot of them. But this was the very end of that tiger’s existence. It disappeared completely, remaining only in the form of taxidermic mounts. The same thing happened with the cheetah in Kazakhstan . . . These are its death throes.”
Things are nearly as bad for the saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica). The saiga antelope lives in Kalmykia and the Astrakhan Region. In good times, there were 800,000 of them. By the early 2000s, only 5,000 remained. Among those 5,000 only about five percent are males, because poachers hunt the animal for its horns: like the paws of the Asiatic black bear, the saiga antelope’s horns are used in Chinese medicine.
“There are none of them left to reproduce,” says Formozov. “The situation is simply catastrophic. Alexey Yablokov proposed adding the saiga antelope to the Red Book back in August 2003, but at the time the hunting lobby would not stand for it. The situation for this species continued to worsen, and here we are, sixteen years later: we defended our position and got the saiga antelope listed in the Red Book.”
And then, at its last meeting, the commission did not even review the case of the Manchurian sika deer (Cervus nipponmantchuricus), whose situation is critical. In the 1930s, hardly any of them remained. Today in the Far East, where there is an extremely high level of poaching, the numbers of sika deer and of other hoofed animals are so low that tigers are not able to raise their cubs. There are almost no places where female tigers can catch prey and bring it back to their cubs. Therefore, the numbers of tigers have also been falling.
The Curlew That We Lost
By international standards, in order to be sure that a species has gone extinct, we must wait fifty years from the time it was placed on the endangered species list. However, even now, twenty years later, it is impossible to identify the species that we have nearly lost.
“The spoon-billed sandpiper (Calidris pygmaea) is very close to extinction,” says Formozov. “The sociable lapwing (Vanellus gregarius) is also close to disappearing. But the biggest loss in recent years is the slender-billed curlew (Numenius tenuirostris), which nested in Western Siberia. Nobody has been able to locate it for quite some time now. Its migratory routes and stopover sites are well known. It is a ‘tasty treat’ for birdwatchers, who have been looking for it a long time. In the 1990s, they spotted fifteen specimens, then seven, then three; several years ago, they spotted one. Now there are none.”
The slender-billed curlew. Drawing by Henrik Grönvold, as published in M.A. Menzbir, Hunted and Commercial Birds of European Russia and the Caucasus (Moscow: I.N. Kushnerev and Co., 1900–1902). Courtesy of Wikipedia
Formozov explains that while the commission argues over mammals and there is a chance to protect some of them, things are practically hopeless when it comes to birds.
“Not one of the birds was put on the endangered list, not even those for which there was impressive data,” laments Formozov. “Such is the situation, for example, with the European turtle dove (Streptopelia turtur). In my childhood, there were lots of them; they were found everywhere in the Moscow Region. Now the numbers of the turtle dove have fallen, at a minimum, by a factor of fifty, at a maximum, by a factor in the hundreds. This is due to the unfortunate situation in their wintering habitats: forest belts have been cut down in the steppe zone, while chemicals are used to fertilize fields. For these and other reasons, there is nowhere for the bird to winter.”
“The hunters, in response to our proposal to put the turtle dove on the list of protected species, say, ‘We’re not to blame for the reduction in numbers. Why do you want to forbid shooting them?’ They say that inclusion in the Red Book would be of no use because they will continue hunting them. Where’s the logic?”
“There is data on the decline in numbers. There are guidelines for compiling the Red Book: when there is a certain decline in numbers, you must put them on the list. Period! But, they say, ‘No, we’re not including them. Next question!’”
Again We Have Achieved Nothing
The commission met on November 1, for the first time since the public outrage of the scientists over their removal from the commission on rare and endangered species. This time it was a “correct” commission: the roster has been changed to include as many scientists as necessary. But even so, much of what happened at the meeting remains a mystery.
“First, the ministry came up with the idea of asking the regions’ opinion about the feasibility of listing the taxa we had proposed in the Russian Red Book,” recounts Sofia Rosenfeld. “We got their answers and were dumbfounded. Their responses show how bad things are in these regions! In the best case, they can write the name of a species without making mistakes; in the worst case, what they write is sheer nonsense.”
“For example, a region has a species in its regional Red Book, but they brag that everything is fine with it and that it is hunted! It’s obvious that they completely fail to understand what’s going on. And now, if one region is against listing a species, and eighty are for it, that’s it, we cannot list it! This is unprecedented. On November 1, we achieved nothing, and not one question was put to a vote. They threw out all of our geese again. We ended up drafting internal memos and petitions.”
“It is everything you wanted to know about the attitude towards scientists in Russia,” Rosenfeld says, smiling, in response to my remarks about the ruin.
Rosenfeld’s computer monitor shows an enlarged photograph of geese in flight. She has been counting birds on photos all day, entering the data into a separate spreadsheet.
“I have to examine 20,000 photographs and count up all the geese. And also determine where there is a swan, a brent goose, or a greylag goose,” Rosenfeld comments on her work. “But I’m also constantly monitoring everything that is happening with the Red Book, writing memos and substantiations, and giving interviews. My life is spent dealing with paperwork, and I’m unable to do real work!”
At the last meeting of the rare species commission, Rosenfeld represented geese.
“We proposed listing the greylag goose (Anser anser) in the Red Book: it has been doing poorly in Russia,” she recounts. “When spring hunting for geese was opened (in Soviet times, it was outlawed—Takie Dela), it was a real blow to the greylags, because that is right when the species is nesting. Spring hunting causes huge damage to all our geese. This is a horror and a disgrace for Russia, and no civilized country has it anymore. Imagine: geese fly across fifty regions to breed, and everywhere they are shot! And later the rest of them are shot at their breeding sites. A goose is sitting on her eggs, and hunters are running around the wetlands. A goose flies up from under a hunter’s feet—bang! Or the male tries to lead people away from the nest—bang! And geese are monogamous birds, after all. You kill its mate—that is it, it will no longer breed, at least this season. Or maybe not at all. Geese are like people: some grieve so much for their partner that they won’t form another couple for the rest of their lives. The whole world has understood this, but we in Russia have not! On hunting sites and forums, hunters talk about how cool it is to hunt geese when they are sitting on their eggs or have just flown into breeding sites, having traveled thousands of kilometers! They say things like, ‘They don’t fly off, they try and lead us away,’” explains Rosenfeld.
Rosenfeld recounts that in 2018, the website The Petersburg Hunter posted a photo with the results of the previous year’s spring goose hunting. One of the users reported that their team of three people had bagged 183 geese in a single day. In the Nenets Autonomous District, a group of hunters bagged 700 geese in the spring of 2017. And there are many such examples.
Autumn migration of birds in the Dvuobje Wetlands. Photo by Sofia Rosenfeld
“I have nearly lost my mind trying to fight this. Personally, I don’t understand how it is possible to have fun murdering another living being, but I am not a crazy Green. I am convinced that hunting has a right to exist as long as it does no harm to what is hunted. But what I am seeing now is terrible. Quick, quick, shoot, before they fly off to a neighboring region, or to Europe, or to China, quick, quick! The main thing is that our neighbor does not get it! It is obvious that current hunting regulations cannot cope: it is essential to make protective measures stronger. And the only way to save the birds that are disappearing right before our eyes is to list them in the Red Book,” Rosenfeld says.
When asked how many greylag geese are left today, Rosenfeld says that it is not a matter of numbers, but of speed. If the population has fallen by half in ten years, that is enough to list the species in the Red Book.
In addition to the greylag goose, scientists have proposed listing three subspecies of the bean goose (Anser fabalis) in the Red Book. In twenty years, the numbers of the taiga bean goose have fallen from 110,000 to 45, and this is a disaster.
“There are motorboats and good equipment nowadays. A motorboat sails by a spot where a female is sitting in her nest, and the male tries to lead the hunter away and is shot. The bean goose remains only in places impassable to boats. But there are no geese left where the rivers are navigable. All these arguments in defense of geese were rejected by the commission. I think that everyone is under the influence of high-ranked oligarchs who hunt. Do you know what birds will definitely be listed in the Red Book? Two subspecies of godwit. Because nobody wants them—they’re not hunted. The battle is over the geese, ducks, sheep, goats, and deer,” Rosenfeld explains.
Yamal Gets It
When Rosenfeld is not doing paperwork, she is doing field work. For many years, she and her colleagues have been doing air counts and ringing Anseriformes on the Yamal Peninsula, in the Nenets District, and on the Taymyr Peninsula. In some places, they go out into the field with telescopes and count birds. Where there are no roads, they use an airplane.
“Across our huge country, all of the data we get is the result of the incredible work of mad scientists,” says Rosenfeld, smiling.
Rosenfeld says that the attitude toward bird monitoring in the country’s northern regions should be an example to other Russian officials.
“In Russia, monitoring has been entrusted to bureaucrats who have no money, gasoline, or concept of what to do and how to do it. It is set up like this: the federal government subsidizes the monitoring of wildlife. Here are three rubles for you to spend on monitoring rare species, and for hunted species, here are three hundred rubles. Next, region, you can do as you like: if you want, you can count geese. Or deer. Or seals. There is no system. A region can spend money on monitoring from its own regional budget, but, in our country, there are few wealthy regions that want to monitor anything. We have established a system only in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District,” Rosenfeld explains.
This year , Rosenfeld was in the field from April to September. First, she counted moose and deer on the Yamal Peninsula from the air. Next, she did an aerial survey of waterfowl and hoofed mammals on the Yamal and Taymyr peninsulas and in Yakutia (from Taymyr through the Lena River delta). Then she counted waterfowl during their autumn migration in the Nenets Autonomous District.
“When the work is done,” Rosenfeld explains, “we say to the authorities, ‘Here’s where you have geese; there are the deer; here you need to make a nature preserve; forbid hunting here; there, oilmen are a danger.’ And they follow our recommendations. That is how it should be, but only the Yamalo-Nenets District and the Nenets District work with us in this way. They have realized the importance of waterfowl. The officials themselves admit it: ‘But we have no other hunting resources left—all the rest have been knocked out!’ And that is the case: the wild reindeer and moose have been knocked out, and if the geese are knocked out, what will you have left?”
Proper Monitoring and How it Works
When Rosenfeld explains how the work of protecting and monitoring wildlife is done in the west, she rolls her eyes.
“Europe understood long ago that in order to use something, you have to keep track of it. Understand what is happening with the resource—how it is doing, whether it is decreasing or increasing, and how much you can remove without harming the population. This thing was thought up in the U.S. in the 1800s, and ever since they have had the best system for monitoring hunting resources.
“The U.S. and Canada have government-funded fish and wildlife services, and their officials work in every state and province. For the management of waterfowl alone, there are special councils for every migratory route. And how many and which animals can be hunted and how to protect them are decided only after an annual report is submitted. The annual report includes data about the numbers, the success of breeding programs, and other population parameters. It is the result of a colossal amount of work by government teams!”
“If the monitoring data is off, they immediately give scientists the signal: ‘For some reason we have too few of this duck. Figure it out, and here is the funding!’ They spare no expense. In two or three years, the scientists figure it all out and say, ‘Here is what is happening, do this and that.’
“‘Good,’ says the government. ‘We did what the scientists told us, and everything is fine with the duck again.’
“That is what monitoring is for! When we were [in North America], looking at all this, my heart nearly broke!”
Rosenfeld is sure that something can still be done to protect nature in Russia.
“We can save species that are going extinct and put everything back on track. However, we have to amend the legislation and the hunting rules, and adopt strategies for migratory birds. We need to free ourselves of xenophobia and cooperate with all countries. But the most important rule is not to push things to the point of no return, when a species is slowly dying out and nothing can be done about it,” she says.
At the next meeting of the commission, which will be held tomorrow, November 29, scientists expect a separate vote on “disputed species,” a list that includes the Asian black bear, the Yakutsk bighorn sheep, the Barguzin reindeer, the greylag goose, several types of bean goose, and others.
According to Rosenfeld, the natural resources ministry has been rushing to complete all of the procedures for adopting the final list for the Red Book’s reissue.
“We’re still battling for the geese and others, but I don’t know what will happen. At some point, they can bang their fists on the table and say, ‘This is how it’s going to be!’ Then we will rouse the public again. What do we have to do to save these poor birds and beasts? We will stop fighting only when Russia starts listening to scientists again,” says Rosenfeld.
Translated by Mary Rees. All photos courtesy of Takie Dela
*How the Red Book Works
The Red Book is an annotated list of rare and endangered species of animals and plants in need of total protection. Species listed in the Red Book are withdrawn from economic use: they cannot be hunted, caught, or sold. In Russia, the Red Book has legal force, and criminal or administrative liability is stipulated for causing harm to Red Book species.
In addition to the Red Book of the Russian Federation, each region in the country has its own Red Book. A species listed in a regional Red Book is not necessarily included in the federal Red Book. For example, a species in the Saratov Region may be threatened, but in the Tambov Region it is doing well, and its state nationwide is generally good as well. In this case, it will only be listed in the Saratov Red Book. On the other hand, a species included in the federal Red Book must be listed in all regional Red Books.
In the Red Book, animals and plants are divided into six categories: probably extinct; threatened with extinction; population is rapidly declining; rare species; undefined status; vulnerable species. Listing each species in the Red Book is the result of many years of work by botanists and zoologists across the country. Scientists study the numbers, dynamics, and state of a species to decide whether to include it in the Red Book or not, whether to re-categorize already listed species—for example, if there has been a positive trend over ten years, the species has spread its habitat or increased its numbers, scientists think about whether to change the category from rare species.
Scientists report the results of their research to a special commission, which consists of expert sections on birds, mammals, fish, higher plants, lower plants, fungi, and so on. Experts analyze and discuss the collected data and then submit their proposals for including species in the Red Book to the commission’s bureau, which consists of scientists (who constitute the majority of members) and officials from the hunting, fishing, agriculture, etc., authorities. Proposals made by scientists to include a particular species in the Red Book had always been approved, but this has not been the case since 2017, when things went awry.
Translated by the Russian Reader. In the spring of 2020, the Red Book of Russian Federation was officially amended and reissued. Forty-three mammals and birds were added to the new Russian federal list of endangered species, including the saiga antelope, the wild reindeer, the greylag goose, the Siberian bighorn sheep, and the bean goose.
Staunton, July 12 – Despite the absence of coverage in government-controlled media, the protests in Khabarovsk continue, and they are being supported by demonstrators in other cities across the country, a sign that the issues the residents of that city raise are not restricted to that region but are finding an echo elsewhere.
After yesterday’s unprecedentedly large meeting, Khabarovsk residents went back into the street today twice, once in the early afternoon and then again in the evening, with even more radical slogans because they have not received any response to their demands (sibreal.org/a/30722202.html).
But by talking about a possible restoration of the Far Eastern Republic, they beyond doubt have attracted the attention or and possibly repressive actions by the Russian authorities in the capital who will see this not only as a violation of the law on the territorial integrity of the country but a threat to its existence.
That is especially true because it involves a predominantly ethnic Russian area and consequently Moscow can’t rely on Russian nationalism alone to provide support for any crackdown. Instead, if a crackdown does come, Russians will be divided; and that is something that people in the Kremlin are worried about as well.
(On the complicated and brief life of the Far Eastern Republic, which existed as a buffer state between the RSFSR and Japanese-backed groups further east, see Henry Kittredge, The Far Eastern Republic of Siberia (London, 1923), Canfield Smith, Vladivostok under Red and White Rule (Seattle, 1975), and Alan Wood, Russia’s Frozen Frontier (London, 2011) and Ivan Sablin, The Rise and Fall of Russia’s Far Eastern Republic (London, 2018).)
Protesters on the streets of Khabarovsk on July 11, 2020. Courtesy of BBC News
Vasily Ryabinin, a former employee of the Norilsk office of Rosprirodnadzor (Russia’s federal environmental watchdog), Greenpeace activists, and Novaya Gazeta reporters have discovered that Norilsk Nickel has continued to dump industrial waste into the Kharayelakh River and Lake Pyasino.
The place where waste from a Norilsk Nickel facility is being discharged into the tundra and thence, via streams, into the Kharayelakh River. Photo courtesy of Novaya Gazeta
Water contaminated with heavy metals, sulfurous acid, and surfactants is currently being pumped from the tailings storage facility at the Talnakh processing plant, owned by Norilsk Nickel, and drained into the tundra. The waste flows via streams into the Kharayelakh River, which empties into Lake Pyasino.
Witnesses have called the police, the Emergencies Ministry, Rosprirodnadzor, and the prosecutor’s office to the drainage site.
“This is a complete breakdown of law and order, and a crime against nature and our children. The clean-up must start immediately,” says Vasily Ryabinin.
The Norilsk Nickel security service has arrived at the scene. The pumping station that has been discharging waste into the river has been shut down.
Employees of Norilsk Nickel’s security service. Photo by Elena Kostyuchenko for Novaya Gazeta
Almost immediately after that, the Norilsk rescue service arrived at the scene.
Vladimir Zhenikhov, senior duty officer of the rescue service: “Now the brass will decide what to do. It’s a good thing everything has been documented. I had heard before that something was being discharged into the tundra here.”
Vladislav Shatura: “It’s amazing that they let us in here at all. Norilsk Nickel can decide not to let anyone in. Norilsk Nickel can do anything it wants.”
And now the police have arrived.
The workers who arrived are hurrying to dismantle the pipes!
Рабочие, вызванные на место, в спешном порядке демонтируют трубы! Напомним, «Новая» и Гринпис сегодня обнаружили и засняли, как «Норникель» сливает ядовитые отходы в реку, а оттуда в озеро Пясино.
“Workers called to the scene are hurriedly dismantling the pipes! Novaya Gazeta and Greenpeace today discovered and documented how Norilsk Nickel has been dsicharging toxic waste into the river, and thence into Lake Pyasino. Less than a month has passed since the diesel spill at Power Plant No. 3.”
People from the prosecutor’s office have arrived at the scene. The police car in which the prosecutors got here has been crushed by the Norilsk Nickel tractor removing the pipes.
Photo by Elena Kostyuchenko for Novaya Gazeta
Prosecutor Vladimir Bolshunov: “We have called the Investigative Committee, and Rosprirodnadzor is now waiting for a car and is also on the way. They will be taking samples. We have ordered a copter and will be trying to lift [what?] up, despite the wind. It’s all we needed, of course, but we’re going to go to work and do a comprehensive job with the whole thing.”
The Emergencies Ministry officers thank the journalists and activists: “Well done.” Officer Denis Makarov says of Norilsk Nickel: “They aren’t afraid of anything.”
Norilsk: Exposing the Lies and Appealing to Potanin
225,518 views • Jun 18, 2020 Ekologika
There has been an environmental disaster in Norilsk, but another one is about to happen. My measurements show that oil products are moving towards the Kara Sea, and all the “cleanup measures” are nothing more than a profanation, a pretty picture for journalists. This is a crime, and there is a specific criminal behind it.
I have two demands for Mr. Potanin:
1) Stop lying and concealing the real state of affairs from the public.
2) Take urgent measures to prevent the pollution of the Kara Sea.
To give the head of Norilsk Nickel more incentives to act, we will appeal not only to him, but also to the international community! Together, we can prevent a large-scale environmental catastrophe.
Don’t forget to click on the “subscribe” button and share this video! Watch the previous videos on this channel about the environmental disaster in Norilsk.
Thanks to Anastasia Shaboltas and Gabriel Levy for the heads-up. For more mainstream accounts of the environmental disaster in Norilsk, see the accounts published by the Moscow Times and the Norwegian-Russian environmental organization Bellona. YouTube video annotation translated by the Russian Reader
“#Hangers for the Health Ministry,” “Give us a choice,” “Without state-funded abortions there will be backroom abortions,” “The Health Ministry violates human rights,” “Banning abortions is no solution”: a protest installation set up by feminists outside of Hospital No. 1 in Chelyabinsk. Photo by Anastasia Zelentsova. Courtesy of Novaya Gazeta
“Go Find a Place That Will Give You an Abortion When You Have a Cough like That”: The Challenges Women Face During the Pandemic
Alla Konstantinova Mediazona
June 4, 2020
Since early April, most hospitals in Russia have been focused on battling the coronavirus pandemic, and the Russian Health Ministry has recommended postponing routine surgeries. Under this pretext some medical facilities have begun refusing to perform abortions and other gynecological operations. Consequently, unemployed women have been forced to take out loans for abortions at private clinics or give birth to children they may not be able to feed.
In April 29-year-old Tatyana Shapovalova, from the village of Solomenny, which is part of Petrozavodsk but is physically separated from the city, found out that she was eight weeks’ pregnant. Shapovalova already has four children, but only the youngest lives with her and her common-law spouse. Her parental rights have been restricted, so one child is being raised by Shapovalova’s sister, and the other two by foster parents.
“Our living conditions are very bad,” Shapovalova says, explaining the decision.
She and her husband decided to end the pregnancy: the village obstetrician-gynecologist sent Shapovalova off for tests, an ultrasound, and a consultation with a psychologist. The trips to the psychologist and doctors and waiting for the test results took a month.
“It took a week for the blood panels to arrive, and a week for everything else,” she says.
The fact that she would have to pass a Covid-19 test before the surgery was something Shapovalova learned from the village gynecologist one week before her appointment at the perinatal center in Petrozavodsk—ending a pregnancy as covered by compulsory health insurance is currently done only at this facility. One building at the Gutkin Municipal Maternity Hospital has been turned into a coronavirus observation ward, while the other has been converted into a coronavirus treatment facility. Tatyana caught a cold and had a strong cough, but she had the Covid-19 test smear.
“Six days later, I got a negative result for the coronavirus. The next day, I traveled to Petrozavodsk to the perinatal center,” Shapovalova continues. “I was already at twelve weeks. But in the reception area they heard my cough and went to consult with the head physician. I sat there for about forty minutes. Then the nurse came out and said, ‘You’re denied hospitalization.’ I said, ‘I have a negative test result for the coronavirus.’ And she replied, ‘Go find a place that will give you an abortion when you have a cough like that.’”
Petrozavodsk residents have at times had to wait even longer—sometimes two weeks—for the results of Covid-19 tests, says Irina Koroleva, the director of Women’s Clinic No. 1.
“For example, on June 1 we received the test results only for May 14. All of the labs in the city have had problems with the reactive agents for the swabs. If check-up results are not provided in time, the perinatal center has the right to refuse a woman service. It is the same with childbirth: if a woman is in labor, she’s sent to the maternity hospital, which has been converted into a coronavirus observation ward. Or the baby will be delivered in a single-bed ward in the perinatal center’s emergency room.”
The head doctor of the perinatal center, Yevgeny Tuchin, explained that Shapovalova had been denied treatment on the basis of a Health Ministry order.
“An artificial termination of pregnancy is not performed when acute infectious diseases and acute inflammatory processes are present in any location, including a woman’s reproductive organs,” he wrote in response to a query from Mediazona. “The abortion is performed after the patient recovers from these illnesses.”
Shapovalova insists that they did not even examine her at the perinatal center, and the only person with whom she spoke was the nurse, who merely heard her cough.
In Russia, an abortion is performed at a woman’s request only within the first twelve weeks of pregnancy; abortions are provided to rape victims “according to social indicators” for up to twenty-two weeks. Because of the delays with tests and the unexpected refusal at the perinatal center, Shapovalova missed this deadline.
Now Shapovalova, who is currently unemployed, lives in an unfinished wooden house, and was already restricted in her parental rights, has to give birth to a fifth child.
[In early April, the Health Ministry recommended that the heads of Russian hospitals “consider postponing” routine surgeries, citing as a reason for the decision the complicated epidemiological conditions in the country. At the same time, the ministry recommended not reducing routine treatment for patients with renal, cardiovascular, or endocrine diseases, or cancer. The Ministry of Health did not mention gynecological diseases or abortions, thereby creating additional problems for Russian women.]
Not Only Karelia
Shapovalova did not demand a written refusal of an abortion from the doctors. Medical lawyer Anna Kryukova says that now it will not be easy to prove the illegality of the doctors’ actions.
“A written refusal is provided after a written inquiry,” says Kryukova. “She didn’t insist on it, and the powers that be took advantage of it.”
In April, a female employee at the No to Violence Center (nasiliu.net) telephoned forty-four Moscow hospitals: only three of them agreed to schedule her for an abortion as paid for by compulsory health insurance. The Moscow Department of Public Health told us that, during the pandemic, many hospitals had classified elective abortions as routine or non-urgent surgeries. Later, the Department of Public Health reported that hospitals that had not been repurposed for treating Covid-19 are performing abortions, as before.
In an interview with Mediazona, Karina Denisova, a spokesperson for Hospital No. 1 in Chelyabinsk, called a social media announcement that they would no longer be performing abortions in their outpatient clinic a “misprint.” After protests by Chelyabinsk feminists, who set up an installation featuring clothes hangers next to the hospital entrance (in Soviet times, some women performed abortions on themselves using hooks made out of hangers) the hospital admitted that the published information had been “incorrect.”
Like Shapovalova, a resident of Kovrov in the Vladimir Region will also have to give birth. Obstetrician-gynecologist Alexander Rusin says that the woman was also denied an abortion.
“At Kovrov Central Municipal Hospital,” Rusin says. “They said, ‘It’s the coronavirus: we are closed for routine surgeries.’ What did the woman do? Nothing, as far as I know. Well, deadline was nearing, she was at eleven weeks. She left. Of course, I consider [the hospital’s actions] illegal, a violation of the law.”
“I Eat Macaroni to Save Money”
Irina Drozdova of Vsevolozhsk was supposed to have her tubes tied on April 13. Twenty-five-year-old Irina decided on the operation after an exceedingly difficult childbirth.
“The anesthesia for the C-section and the post-natal stress triggered cardiomyopathy,” she says. “Now I take pills that are incompatible with pregnancy, and I’ll be taking them for the rest of my life. Plus, they put me on a defibrillator, and it is just one of the indications for sterilization under compulsory health insurance.”
Getting ready for the operation, Irina underwent dozens of tests, but it was suddenly canceled.
“They refused because of the situation with the coronavirus, but I had spent three months doing the paperwork, consulting with a cardiologist, and undergoing an ultrasound—everything was ready. In order to reschedule, I have to go through another complete workup,” Irina says.
In April, dozens of maternity hospitals across Russia were repurposed to treat the coronavirus, and the Health Ministry recommended that facilities that did not close should do consultations with pregnant women online.
Twenty-nine-year-old Muscovite Anastasia Kirsh, who gave birth to a daughter in May, connected via WhatsApp with her gynecologist in the women’s clinic at the Yeramishantsev Maternity Hospital.
“If I needed to find out test results, get a referral to the infant feeding center, renew a prescription, or had an urgent question, it was possible to resolve that online, which was very convenient. Other services—gynecological exams, measurements, ultrasounds—were performed in the clinic as usual.”
Coda Story has told the tale of a Moscow woman who had to take out a loan for an abortion, because her husband had lost his job when the quarantine started, and the family had no means of support left. At Moscow Hospital No. 40, she was denied a free abortion under compulsory health insurance.
“You should not even count on a surgical abortion under compulsory health insurance. Routine surgeries, except in emergency cases, are currently not being performed,” a doctor told the woman. “Your case is not an emergency: there is no reason to hospitalize you. […] If you want to fight for your rights, you will miss all the deadlines.”
Unemployed single mother Anna Kazakova, from the Moscow suburb of Yegoryevsk, where the maternity hospital had been turned over to battling the pandemic, was faced with a choice: schedule an abortion under compulsory health insurance in Kolomna, fifty kilometers from home, and make numerous trips back and forth, first for tests and then for the operation, or pay to terminate the pregnancy at a private Moscow clinic, which would take a single day.
“They were sending everyone off to give birth fifty kilometers away at the Kolomna perinatal center,” she explains. “But what was I supposed to do with my four-year-old daughter? Drag her back and forth with me? They would start ‘losing’ the tests and making lots of referrals to psychologists, as is usually the case. There is all this hubbub in Russia about supporting families and mothers. But in fact, you have nothing coming to you. And an existing child doesn’t count either. If I tell them I won’t be able to support a second one in such conditions, I won’t get anything but condemnation,” says Anna.
After borrowing 15,000 rubles from a friend, Anna had a medical abortion at a private clinic in Moscow. Now she thinks about how to repay the debt.
“I eat macaroni to save money on food,” she says. “I applied for social security, but they said that I was not eligible for any benefits.”
“They Were Turned Down—and They Left, Sadly Wiping Away Tears”
Medical lawyer Anna Kryukova believes that “no one has directly prohibited” abortions in Russia, but that all the instances of refusal are the consequence of fear and ignorance on the part both of doctors and patients.
“The battle against Covid-19 has been farmed out by the federal government to the regions, but they all still look to Moscow,” Kryukova argues. “Doctors are used to saluting at every turn—god forbid they do something wrong, or they will be dismissed from their posts. This is due to fear: it is easier to follow orders now than to get whacked upside the head for these violations later. The outreach work has also been done very poorly: people are already so frightened of the virus, and nobody is explaining anything to them.”
Many patients need surgical help now, but they are afraid to go to the doctor because of the coronavirus, says Ph.D. in medicine and obstetrician-gynecologist Kamil Bakhtiyarov. He works in a private clinic in Moscow where paid medical and surgical abortions are performed.
“Women are so frightened that they come in for termination of pregnancy practically wearing spacesuits,” he says. “They’re terrified, deeply terrified. The first question they ask is, ‘Are you working with Covid patients?’ For patients who need surgical treatment the problem of hospitalization comes up: in the first place, many clinics have been repurposed to threat Covid cases, and secondly, people themselves are very much afraid. A person doesn’t want to go to an ordinary hospital because there it’s six people to a room.”
Despite the pandemic, patients should insist on their right to medical care, argues Kryukova.
“People should still seek medical care and exercise their rights. The problem is that the victims [mentioned in this article] apparently did not do that,” she says. “Unfortunately, the patient community does not know its rights very well. These women were simply turned down verbally—and they left, sadly wiping away tears. Nobody chases after patients nowadays: for something to change, the person who needs the medical treatment has to take the first step.”
SPREAD THE WORD. MAKE POSTS, SHARE, PUBLICIZE Yulia’s case. Yulia and her mother believe that publicity about their case will help them. Please share this information far and wide, especially with media outlets. When making posts on social media, use hashtags:
Yulia Tsvetkova is a 27-year-old artist from the city of Komsomolsk-on-Amur (far Eastern Russia). Yulia has been formally charged with illegally producing and distributing pornographic materials on the Internet (Paragraph “b”, Part 3 of Article 242 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, punishable by up to six years of prison). These charges stem from her role as administrator of a feminist body-positive online community through social media. The page is called “The Vagina Monologues,” and features abstract depictions of female sexual organs and educational drawings women’s bodies. Pornography charges also stem from a series of body-positive drawings she made as part of a series entitled “A Woman is not a Doll.” Until recently, she was also the director of the Merak activist youth theater, which produced 9 plays under her direction.
Yulia was arrested on November 20, 2019 after which searches were carried out at home and at work. She was under house arrest from November 23, 2019 until March 16, 2020. She and her mother have been questioned over 30 times. While under house arrest, Yulia was denied access to necessary medical care. She and her mother have experienced months of harassment and death threats.
It is worth noting that the criminal investigation against Yulia was not the result of any complaints from youth or parents in her local community. Rather, she was targeted by St. Petersburg-based homophobic activist Timur Bulatov, who has a past criminal record and in his own words is engaged in a “moral jihad” against LGBT people and their allies by making complaints about them to law enforcement agencies. Bulatov has continued to harass Yulia and her mother, publish their home address, and call on his supporters to kill them.
According the Coalition to Free the Kremlin’s Political Prisoners, “art materials in Tsvetkova’s case cannot be recognized as pornographic. From our point of view and based on expertise of various experts who have examined the works, these materials are no more pornography than images of the genitals in the school anatomy textbook.” International human rights organizations have called for her release, and many individuals around the world are demonstrating on her behalf.
Yulia’s case will be tried in early July 2020. There is an urgent need for publicity of her case. All charges against Yulia Tsvetkova should be dropped and her case dismissed immediately.
Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for the heads-up and Nicole Garneau for this fantastic video and act of solidarity. You can read more about Yulia Tsvetkova on this ebsite. \\ TRR
Yulia Tsvetkova, “A Family Is Where There’s Love” (courtesy of artist and RFE/RL)
Man Suspected of “Condoning Terrorism” Remanded in Custody by Pskov City Court
Lyudmila Savitskaya Sever.Realii
June 13, 2020
Pskov City Court has remanded in custody for two months 47-year-old Alexei Shibanov, whom the regional FSB office suspects of “condoning terrorism” and publicly calling for extremism in sixteen entries on his personal page on the social network VK (Vkontakte), lawyer Tatyana Martynova has reported to us.
Shibanov will be jailed until August 10.
On VK, Shibanov had commented on the suicide bombing of the Arkhangelsk FSB office in 2018, the criminal case against journalist Svetlana Prokopieva (who has also been charged with “condoning terrorism),” the protests against plans to build a church in a park in Yekaterinburg, the suicide of a Russian National Guard deputy commander in Moscow, and the incident in Smolensk Region in which an armored vehicle hit two Russian National Guardsman. The suspect expressed his agreement with Georgian TV presenter Giorgi Gabunia’s televised tirade against Vladimir Putin, and he criticized the actions of the Moscow police during the summer 2019 protests in the city.
At his court hearing, Shibanov said that he made all the entries himself. An FSB investigator testified that more than two persons had read them. Experts at the Moscow State Linguistic University had found in the texts linguistic and psychological cues “to commit violent actions,” “incitement and veiled calls to commit destructive acts,” and “evidence of the condoning of terrorist activity.”
According to Martynova, Shibanov was detained on June 11. He was sitting on a bench when a busload of Russian National Guardsman drove up to his house. They put him on the ground, and one of the officers stepped on him with a boot. After that, Shibanov’s house was searched and his computer and laptop were seized.
After the bombing in Arkhangelsk, the FSB opened several criminal investigations into “condoning terrorism” over comments published on social networks and in the media. Yekaterina Muranova, a resident of Karelia, was 350,000 rubles for a comment on a social network. A resident of Kaluga, Ivan Lyubshin, was sentenced to five years in prison. Vyacheslav Lukichev, a 24-year-old anarchist, anti-fascist and environmental activist from Kaliningrad, was sentenced to a fine of 300,000 rubles for posting an article about the Arkhangelsk bomber [Mikhail] Zhlobitsky on Telegram. Criminal charges have been filed against Pskov journalist Svetlana Prokopieva.
A telegram informing Svetlana Prokopyeva that her criminal trial has been scheduled for one o’clock on June 16 at the Pskov Regional Court and, beneath it, a copy of the criminal indictment against her. Photo courtesy of her Facebook page
The trial in my criminal case begins at one o’clock tomorrow afternoon. After eighteen months of endless reminders about freedom of speech and the persecution of journalism as such, everyone is probably sick of my case. (And yet I’ll remind you that I’m being put on trial for voicing an opinion, for my work as as a professional journalist, and for trying to understand something and prevent it.) And then there’s the coronavirus, which is a whole different level of worry.
Yet I would still ask you to follow the trial. I think it’s important, not because it’s my life, but for the following reasons.
In the column “Crackdowns for the State” I argued that a powerful regime was using powerful instruments to restrict civil liberties. Since I wrote that
you can be handcuffed and taken to a police precinct for not wearing a mask (for the sake of your own health, of course);
and there have been innovations to electoral law: soon we will have a referendum in which our votes will decide nothing, even formally—but then you knew that.
In other words, the state has become harsher and more repressive, and criminal cases for “condoning” terrorism have been multiplying and multiplying. The reasons for them are more and more absurd. You now longer have to feel sorry for [suicide bomber Mikhail] Zhlobitsky or analyze the terrorist attack in detail. Nadezhda Belova is being persecuted for commenting on a news report; Lyudmila Stech, for reposting something without a adding a single word of her own commentary. The new Pskov case is really amazing, but I will write about it later. The craziest keeps on getting crazier.
The security forces really did detect a threat in this case, but decided that the threat was me, and that they had to take me on, not abstract “radicalization.”As if they think that if you don’t discuss a problem, it doesn’t exist. But there is a problem, and it won’t work itself out. The stronger and dumber the crackdown, the angrier the protest, especially if it’s driven deep inside. And the coil twists tighter.
Theoretically, it would take only one judge, making a ruling according to common sense and the spirit of the law, to put an end to all this nonsense. It would take only one prosecutor, refusing to pursue such absurd charges. Or even just one police investigator, dropping a case like mine for lack of evidence.
But now we’re talking science fiction, kids.
The reality is that a journalist is going on trial for doing her job. It is much more terrifying, of course, when journalists are killed or maimed. But those are crimes, and criminals are tracked down and punished. In my case, though, it’s all completely legal.
Shiyes Railway Station. Photo courtesy of Znak.com
Arkhangelsk Authorities Announce Closure of Shiyes Landfill Project Znak.com
June 9, 2020
The Arkhangelsk regional government has unilaterally terminated its agreement with Technopark LLC on overseeing the investment project for the construction of a landfill at Shiyes. The decision was announced on June 9 by the press service of the region’s governor and the regional government.
The project has lost the preferential granted to priority investment projects in the region, including tax incentives and special conditions for leasing land plots. Arkhangelsk authorities had earlier asked Technopark to terminate the contract by mutual agreement, but the company did not respond, officials explain.
“Alexander Tsybulsky, the acting governor of Arkhangelsk Region, ordered the regional government to terminate the Shiyes Ecotechnopark project,” said Yevgeny Avtushenko, the regional government’s deputy chair. “The decision to remove it from the register of priority investment projects in the Arkhangelsk Region was the next stage in this process.”
Construction on the landfill near Shiyes railroad station in Arkhangelsk Region began in 2018. The plan was to bring about half a million tons of waste annually from Moscow and Moscow Region over twenty years. Technopark LLC invested in the construction project. Residents of the region strongly opposed the dump, and environmental activists set up a camp near Shiyes station and declared an indefinite protest campaign. In 2019, there was a series of clashes between opponents of the landfill and security forces.
Construction of the landfill was supported by the now-former governor of Arkhangelsk Region, Igor Orlov, who called environmental activists “riffraff.” Orlov was forced to resign in early 2020. Alexander Tsybulsky, who took his place, had criticized the landfill.
Construction work at Shiyes was suspended in June 2019 due to protests, and a few months later Shiyes was excluded from the list of places where authorities planned to ship Moscow’s garbage. In January 2020, the Arkhangelsk Regional Arbitration Court ruled the permanent buildings on the site of the future landfill illegal, ordering the investor to demolish them. The lawsuit, which took almost a year, was filed by officials in the neighboring village of Urdoma with the support of the local population. Environmental activists hailed the court’s decision as a historic victory.