The Cabbies Left While the Cossacks Stayed: Rostov-on-Don on the Eve of the World Cup

rostov arena-2Rostov Arena. Photo courtesy of ftbl.ru

The Cabbies Left, The Cossacks Stayed
Gleb Golod
Takie Dela
June 8, 2018

The banks of the Don River in Rostov were always quite different. The right bank was landscaped, featuring bars and restaurants suited to every taste, singing fountains, and amusements. The left bank featured a wild beach chockablock with sand and trees. It was a favorite spot for picnickers and outdoor shish kebab cookouts. People used to swim there until the Don was completely polluted.

The new Rostov Arena has been built on the the left bank. Nine months and 913 million rubles [approx. 123 million euros] turned the wild beach into a landscaped park and river embankment. All that is left of the levberdon, as Rostovians call it, is a pier that extends nearly to the middle of the mighty river.  Over the long years it has been there, it has rusted, and there are holes in its covering here and there. The locals loved it, however. In the evenings, you would always find a couple in love, a photographer and his model, a small group of friends, and an old fisherman who had good luck catching herring in the middle of the Don.

Since May 1, when the park on the left bank officially opened, it has been standing room only on the pier. Locals stroll there with their children, joined by the foreigners who have arrived earlier in Rostov-on-Don. Someone worried about safety decided to limit the number of people on the pier and welded an iron grille to the entrance, but this has not stopped the flood of visitors. Cyclists toss their bikes over it, men help their female companions climb over it, and parents ferry their children from one side of the grille to the other.

Every half hour, an improvised river taxi docks alongside the pier. It charges adults 500 rubles for a ride. Children sail for free.

“Business? What business? The main thing we sell are emotions. River cruises are soothing. Adults can relax while the kids doze,” a man in a sailor’s hat and striped shirt advertises a short cruise on the Don while docking at the pier.

“Business has been good, of course, since so many people started coming here,” he admits. “I would give the embankment a ‘C’ for now. There is not much in the way of infrastructure or development. We’ll see how it looks a year from now.”

The boat pilot does not waste any time. He has struck up a conversation with a young boy, whom he has given a tennis ball. The boy persuades his parents to go for a ride on the boat. They quickly give in. The vessel weighs anchor and speeds off toward the other shore.

The Stadium and the Park
The boat pilot gave the new park a “C,” but the locals like the new sports facilities and playgrounds, and the fact the park is well maintained. But it lacks trees, many of which were cut down during the beautification.

“There is a lot of exercise equipment, and the air is fresh, but I probably won’t be coming here in the summer. There are few trees and little shade. But you know what the heat is like here in July. You could kick the bucket,” says a young woman in workout gear.

The local are not imagining things. There really are many fewer trees. The park was built without consideration of the place’s specific features. Consequently, the “city’s green shield” was left with huge gaps in it, says Alexander Vodyanik, environmentalist and assistant secretary of the Russian Public Chamber.

The “wild” green area on the left bank, which stretched all the way to Bataysk, a suburb of Rostov-on-Don, moistened the winds sweeping in from the Kalmyk steppes, winds that are especially palpable in the spring. It was the primary source of fresh air, supplying it just as ably as a forest, says Vodyanik. The place had to be beautified, but a completely different park should have been built, a wetlands park.

“Historically, this place functioned as a city beach, and it should have been turned into a city beach. People swim at a beach, but the Don has been so badly polluted for so long that swimming was definitely off limits in this part. In that case, swimming pools could have been set up while simultaneously purifying the water. This has been done in Germany on the Rhine, which is much dirtier than the Don, and the project has been a success,” says Vodyankik. “But a park was built here instead. An instant lawn, which has already gone bad, was rolled out. Eighty percent of the poplars were cut down. We had problems with our woodlands as it was, but they were damaged even further.”

The so-called Tourist Police are identified as such on the armbands they wear. A female student from Namibia leads a tour for her friends, who have arrived to enroll at the Don State Technical University. A young man named Aman hopes to get a ticket to the match between Brazil and Switzerland. If it does not work out, however, he will just go for a stroll around the city.

“I really like it here. The city is pretty and has an interesting history. Things are good, the park is good. Everything is terrific and cozy,” he says in English. “By the way, could you tell me where the stadium is? All the signs are in Russian, which I don’t actually understand.”

Rostov Arena was built at a distance from residential areas, so loud fans will not bother locals even on match days. The stadium is accessible by bus and taxi. True, fans will have to walk the last 500 meters to the turnstiles. This decision was made for security reasons.

Cabbies Leave the Fan Zone
Specially accredited taxi drivers will ferry fans from the left bank to the right bank and the fan zone on Theater Square. The most popular taxi services in Rostov-on-Don, Uber and Leader, accessible on the Rutaxi app, will not be working during the World Cup because they are not officially registered as commercial transport services.

Among the major cab companies, Yandex Taxi and Taxi 306 have been accredited to work during the World Cup. Roman Glushchenko, executive director of Taxi 306, told us  a total of 500 cars had been accredited in Rostov-on-Don, but he refused to discuss whether that would be enough cars to handle all comers.

According to gypsy cab driver Leonid, around 150 drivers of the ten thousand drivers affiliated with the company 2-306-306 have been accredited. Cabbies like Leonid mainly work for themselves rather than licensed carriers, which are practically nonexistent in the city, he explains. The gypsy cabbies use Yandex, Uber, Gett, and Leader as dispatchers, either directly or through small intermediary firms. So, when the issue of accreditation for the World Cup arose, it was a problem for drivers, who had to obtain permits, sign a contract with a licensed carrier, and paint their cars yellow or white. The Rostov Regional Transport Ministry issued the full list of requirements for accreditation.

“I’m not going to lift a finger to get accreditation,” Leonid admits. “Why should I give myself a headache by getting permits that would mean I would start making a loss? Licensed cars must be stickered with the taxi company’s ID tag. I don’t want to have this for a number of reasons. I would also have to register as an independent entrepreneur, get a license from the Transport Ministry, which was free until this year, and insure my cab, although premiums are higher than usual. And that’s over and above the 25% cut I give to Yandex. I know lots of gypsy cabbies. Not a single one of them has bothered to get accreditation. It’s just bad business for them.”

To prevent the few accredited taxis from jacking up rates for Rostovians and fans, the Transport Ministry has established a single rate for the entire World Cup.

Leonid plans to spend the World Cup in Sochi. He says the transport system there is better, applying for a license is easier, and the city is generally better prepared after hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics.

“Who wants to sit in traffic jams driving back and forth to the stadium?” he grumbles.

Although the World Cup lasts only four weeks, Theater Square, which will house a fan zone that can accommodate 22,000 fans, was closed to car traffic and public transport on May 13 and will remain closed until July 21. In the mornings and evenings, buses are already stuck in traffic on Sholokhov Avenue. When the World Cup kicks off, share taxis (marshrutki) will be removed from Red Army Street. Officials have promised they will be replaced with new buses.

There are plans to show all the matches on giant screens, organize entertainment for fans, and open food courts on Theater Square. The fan zone is a few hundred meters from the ruins of an entire residential neighborhood, destroyed by fire last year.

The square itself is home of the Gorky Drama Theater, hence the square’s name. It is one of two Russian buildings whose models are exhibited in the Museum of Architecture in London. (The other is St. Basil’s Cathedral.) The late constructivist landmark resembles a stylized caterpillar tractor. Corbusier called it a “gem of Soviet architecture.” Unfortunately, the fan will not be able to see it. The theater could not be cleaned up in time for the World Cup and has been draped with several banners.

Rostov-on-Don-Maxim-Gorky-Drama-TheatreThe Maxim Gorky Drama Theater in Rostov-on-Don. Postcard image courtesy of Colnect

Painted Residents Greet Cossacks
The authorities promised to repair and reconstruct many historic buildings and entire streets in preparation for the 2018 World Cup, but with a few weeks left before the championship, it was clear they would run out time.

Residents of Stanislavsky Street, in the downtown, recount how workers have been laboring outside their houses round the clock, trying to finish their work not by June 1, as city officials had promised, but at least by June 14, when the World Cup kicks off. When you are in a hurry, mistakes are inevitable: a female pensioner was unable to exit her building because the door was blocked by paving slabs. Other houses wound up a meter lower than the newly beautified street, and residents have had to jury-rig stairways to the pavements.

Around fifty buildings in Rostov-on-Don’s historic center have been hung with giant photographs of the buildings or World Cup banners because they could not be repaired in time. Among them is the famous house of Baron Wrangel, where the leader of the Whites during the Russian Civil War spent his childhood and youth. The house is a neoclassical architectural landmark. The mansion was nationalized during the Soviet period and turned into a kindergarten. The kindergarten shut down in the nineties, and the building was abandoned. Over the years, it has become quite dilapidated and has been repeatedly vandalized, so it looks hideous.

But when only a few months remained until the World Cup, no one had any brighter idea than to drape the landmark with a picture.

2010_04_24_domvrangelyaThe Wrangel House in Rostov-on-Don. Photo courtesy of RostovNews.Net

The Rostov branch of the Russian Society for the Protection of Historical and Cultural Landmarks (VOOPIK) tried to persuade city officials a dilapidated Wrangel House would look better than a picture emblazoned on a tarp. They circulated a petition and sent a letter to Governor Vasily Golubev, all to no avail.

“We got a reply less than half a page long. It acknowledged receipt of our letter, but there had been an onsite meeting of a commission chaired by Deputy Governor Sergei Sidash. On the basis of arguments made by commission members, they had decided to drape it in banners,” says Alexander Kozhin, head of VOOPIK’s Rostov branch.

800px-Гостиница__Московская_The Moscow Hotel, in downtown Rostov-on-Don, before the 2007 fire. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The same plight befell the Moscow Hotel, a nineteenth-century eclecticist building. In 2007, it was badly damaged in a fire and has been awaiting reconstruction ever since. The dilapidated Gorky Library (originally the Sagiyev Family Tenement House, an Art Nouveau landmark) is covered in scaffolding. It has been decided to demolish the Pavlenkova Tenement House, on long-suffering Stanislavsky Street, altogether.

sar-htosThe Sagiyev Family Tenement House aka the Gorky Library, in downtown Rostov-on-Don. Photo courtesy of voopiik-don.ru

 

1526621588_pavlenkovoyThe ruins of the Pavlenkova Tenement House, in downtown Rostov-on-Don. Photo courtesy of Rostov.ru

A few weeks before the start of the World Cup, images of a building on Sholokhov Avenue appeared in the news and social media. Happy residents peered from the windows: a fiddler holding his instrument, an artist at an easel, a girl blowing soap bubbles, a football fan wearing a Spartak FC scarf, and patriots with the Russian tricolor draped on their backs. The balconies are adorned with balloons and potted plants.

All of them were painted images on yet another banner covering up unfinished repairs.

The upcoming championship has not changed the life of Rostov-on-Don’s real residents all that much. Schoolchildren and university students started and finished their final exams earlier, so schools and universities would be closed when the World Cup kicked off. The old airport was shut down, replaced by the new Platov Airport outside the city. All political rallies and marches have been prohibited during the World Cup.

The police will not be alone in enforcing this and other prohibitions. In early May, Don Cossacks in Rostov announced that three hundred Cossacks, included mounted Cossacks, would be keeping the peace on the streets as “volunteers.” They have assured the public that, at their own behest, they would not engage in violence and would leave their whips at home. If the police, however, are breaking up a fight, the Cossacks will back them up. The volunteers in papakha hats will pay particular attention to LGBT fans.

TASS_1044980_673“Cossacks.” Photo courtesy of Russia Beyond

“If two men kiss at the World Cup, we will tell the police to check them out,” they said.

The first World Cup match in Rostov-on-Don kicks off on June 17. A total of five matches will be played on the left bank of the Don: four matches in the group stage and one match in the round of sixteen.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Zeitgeist Checklist

taste real mexicoA Williamsburg-inspired eatery in snowy central Petersburg, 5 February 2018. Photo by the Russian Reader

It’s remarkable how the MH17 final report and Ukrainian political prisoner and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov’s hunger strike have exacerbated two sad trends among Russia’s left/liberal/creative/academic intelligentsia.

The first trend involves intelligenty out-Putining Putin and his regime’s put-on anti-Americanism by ramping up the number of social media posts and hasbarical hate-a-grams about the US, its sinister machinations, and its signal failings.

This is part of the same operetta in which the nefarious NATO is a greater threat to world peace than a country that reserves the right to invade its closest neighbor and join in crushing a democratic, grassroots rebellion in a faraway country whose people have never harmed Russia in any shape or form.

But it’s no fun talking, much less doing anything, about that at all, because it would require real collective effort. So, depending on your political tastes, it’s much easier, as a Russophone, to hate on NATO or Hamas.

Some Russians go for the trifecta, hating on both “terrorist” organizations, while also indulging in the most satisfying infantile pleasure on our planet today: Islamophobia. You know, Europe has been overrun by Islamic terrorists and that whole tired spiel, which gives such a sense of purpose to otherwise wildly ignorant people who have betrayed their own country and countrymen so many ways over the last 25 or 30 years it should make all our heads spin.

The other trend, which has also kicked into high gear again, is going hipster as hard as you can. There are any number of “projects,” “creative clusters,” eating and drinking establishments, festivals, semi-secret dance parties, and god knows what else in “the capitals” to make the younger crowd and even some of the middle-aged set forget they live in a country ruled by a ultra-reactionary kleptocratic clique that can have any of them abducted for any reason whatsoever at a moment’s notice and charged with “involvement in a terrorist community” or some such nonsense and ruin their lives forever.

That’s no fun to think about it, either, and it’s altogether scary to do something about it, so why not pretend you live in Williamsburg while you can?

The day before yesterday, I translated and posted an essay, by Maria Kuvshinova, about Oleg Sentsov’s hunger strike and the non/reaction to this brave call to action on the part of Russia’s creative so-called intelligentsia. At some point, I thought the essay might be a bit off the mark, but on second thought, despite its obvious quirks, I decided Ms. Kuvshinova had sized up the Russian zeitgeist perfectly.

Post-Soviet infantilism is total. It affects the so-called intelligentsia no less than the so-called ordinary folk. Infantilism means being unable to empathize, being unable to put yourself in another person’s shoes, even if that person is President Putin, a man with a quite distinct sense of ethics, a man who has been studied backwards and forwards for twenty years. Apparently, the message sent to the creative communities through the arrest of Kirill Serebrennikov was not registered. If you want to be a dissident, start down the hard road of doing jail time for misdemeanor charges, facing insuperable difficulties in renting performance and exhibition spaces, becoming an outsider, and experiencing despair. If you want a big theater in downtown Moscow, play by the rules. Like your average late-Soviet philistine, Putin regarded the creative intelligentsia with respect at the outset of his presidential career. (See, for example, footage from his visit to Mosfilm Studios in 2003.) However, a few years later, he was convinced the creative intelligentsia was a rampantly conformist social group who would never move even a millimeter out of its comfort zone and would make one concession after another. A lack of self-respect always generates disrespect in counterparts. // TRR

Totally Wired

DSCN5713A view of Kolokolnaya Street, in downtown Petersburg, crisscrossed by telecom cables. Photo by the Russian Reader

Telecom Operators Taking Their Time Clearing Nevsky Prospect of Wires
Zhanna Zhuravlyova
Delovoi Peterburg
May 15, 2018

Clear Sky, a program designed to move underground the thick network of wires stretching over Nevsky Prospect, has been launched. The results so far have not been promising. Only three out of dozen and a half telecom operators have gone underground.

The first three telecom operators have removed their fiber-optic cables from Nevsky Prospect and moved them underground into conduits built as part of the city’s Clear Sky program. These trailblazers were Prometei, Obit, and Centrex Smolny, a wholly owned affiliate of city hall’s IT and Communications Committee (KIS), which acted as the project’s general contractor, according to Centrex Smolny’s director Felix Kasatkin.

According to Kasatkin, another three or four operators are ready to move their overhead lines, currently stretched between poles and buildings, underground in May. There are around a dozen and a half telecom providers whose lines crisscross the space immediately above the Nevsky. According to market insiders, the cost of dismantling the old lines and rerouting them to the access points into the underground conduits could range from ₽100,000 to ₽2 million. The cost depends on how many times the cables cross Nevsky, and how close they are situated to the necessary access points.

It is utterly impossible to force operators to remove the lines. The overhead lines may be ugly, but they are completely legal.

A Multi-Channel Story
The problem of overhead lines on the Nevsky surfaced in 2012, when Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko voiced his outrage over the large number of lines, which disfigured the city’s main thoroughfare, in his opinion. The solution appeared obvious: move all the telecom operators into Rostelecom’s underground conduits. Many of them, however, resented the prospect, complaining about the state telecom operator’s rates, the speed with which it performed work, and its frequent refusals to configure networks.

That was when an alternative and somewhat extravagant solution was advanced: putting the telecom lines in Vodokanal’s water main conduits. A design was drafted, but never implemented.

The final solution seemed simpler. The city would build its own infrastructure within Rostelecom’s conduit, offering to rent the space to telecom operators. The idea was that they would be more open to this proposal than to collaborating with Rostelecom, with whom they were in constant competition.

Built for Free
Ultimately, ten underground conduits were built under the Nevsky, and collective access fiber-optic cables were inserted in them. Ownership of the conduits is currently being transferred to Centrex Smolny, and telecom operators are encouraged to lease the fiber-optic cables.

Kasatkin emphasizes the rates for leasing the cables are as low as possible, since they include only servicing charges. There is no need to recoup the costs of constructing the conduits, since they were built at the city’s expense. Despite our best efforts, we were unable to find the relevant government purchase order for performance of this work, nor could Centrex Smolny could not provide us with specific information on on the matter.

According to Rustelecom, around twelve kilometers of conduits were constructed for the Clear Sky project. The cost of laying one kilometer of conduit is around ₽100,000, says Yuri Bryukvin, head of Rustelecom. So, along with the cost of materials and incidental expenses, the total costs could have amounted to ₽1.5 million. KIS chair Denis Chamara reported ₽30 million were spent on the project.

Broken Telephone
Telecom operators who have received Centrex Smolny’s offer say the cost of leasing one kilometer of fiber-optic cable is approximately ₽500 a month. One conduit can contain eight, sixteen or more fiber-optic cables.

All the telecoms who operate in the city centere have fiber-optic cables that cross the Nevsky five or six times, explains Vladislav Romanenko, commercial director of Comlink Telecom. In this case, a telecom would pay up to ₽50,000 a month to lease fiber-optic cables.

Andrei Sukhodolsky, director general of Smart Telecom, whose lines also hang over the Nevsky, says the company has not yet been made an offer by Centrex Smolny.

“I have definitely not received official proposals in writing,” Sukhodolsky claims. “Theoretically, we would agree to move our lines if we could understand the costs.”

“The cost of the lease you quote is quite decent, but we have not received a commercial offer to lease fiber-optic cables,” says Romanenko. “Currently, we are considering laying our own cable in Rostelecom’s conduits.”

ER Telecom told us they were working to move their communications lines, but they did not specify where they were moving them.

The initial list of streets that should have been cleared of unnecessary wires under the Clear Sky project featured a dozen streets, including Bolshaya Morskaya Street, Moskovsky Prospect, and Izmailovsky Project. So far the KIS has no specific plans to go beyond the Nevsky. And, perhaps, the issue will no longer be relevant after the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Market insiders point to Moscow as a positive example. The city moved its cables underground with no hitches and in much greater numbers. In Tatarstan, the authorities have obliged building owners to dismantle all structures that have not been vetted by the city on pain of paying a hefty fine.

“So the building owners dismantled the telecom lines on their own,” our source at Comfortel told us.

Our source at the KIS was at pains to emphasize that operators removed the lines “voluntarily and at their own behest.”

*********************

The overhead lines on the Nevsky usually contain eight to sixteen fiber-optic cables, which means the price of leasing a single conduit for moving lines underground could be as much as ₽8,000 a month. Then it would make sense to take advantage of Centrex Smolny’s offer. But of an operator is running a large number of cables, he would find it more profitable to lease a conduit from Rostelecom. We have already moved our cables to Rostelecom’s conduits without waiting for the offer from Centrex Smolny. It’s odd certain operators postponed the move to May, since construction work is not carried out by telecom operators only when the temperature dips below –15°C.
—Dmitry Petrov, director general, Comfortel

We have been preparing for the move for three years or so. In one spot, where our cables cross the Nevsky, we took advantage of Centrex Smolny’s offcer. The terms for leasing the fibers really are good. Centrex Smolny is clearly not making any money on this project, but they are probably not losing any money, either. The important thing about the project is the telecom operators are not commercially entangled with Centrex Smolny, while many telecoms have long, complicated relationships with Rostelecom: for example, when a lot of illegal fiber-optic cables were laid in the conduits, something that is still a matter of controversy.
—Аndrei Guk, director general, Obit

Translated by the Russian Reader

Vladimir Mayakovsky, “Zigzags in the Evening”

astral plane.jpg

Vladimir Mayakovsky
Zigzags in the Evening

The windows shattered the city’s colossal hell
Into minuscule light-sucking hellets
The cars cavorted like rust-colored devils
Horns exploding in the ear like rockets

And under the sign for herring from Kerch
An oldster, run over, groped for his glasses
And wept when amid the evening’s lurch
A tram threw up its pupils at a dash

While in the holes of skyscrapers where ore blazed
And tunnels were piled by the iron of trains
The aeroplane yelled crashing into the place
Where the injured sun’s eye drained

And finally balling up the blankets of gaslights
Loved out the night was drunken and a mess
While somewhere beyond the suns of streets
Hobbled the moon flabby and utterly useless

Photo and translation by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrades Stas and Lena for the heads-up. Originally published in the Futurist anthology Milk of Mares (Moscow: Gileya, 1914), the poem was later republished in a slightly different rendering, featuring punctuation marks, as “The City’s Colossal Hell.”

 

Sonnet 17

DSCN5068

Who will believe my verse in time to come,
If it were fill’d with your most high deserts?
Though yet, heaven knows, it is but as a tomb
Which hides your life and shows not half your parts.
If I could write the beauty of your eyes
And in fresh numbers number all your graces,
The age to come would say ‘This poet lies:
Such heavenly touches ne’er touch’d earthly faces.’
So should my papers yellow’d with their age
Be scorn’d like old men of less truth than tongue,
And your true rights be term’d a poet’s rage
And stretched metre of an antique song:
But were some child of yours alive that time,
You should live twice; in it and in my rhyme.

Source: Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Photo by the Russian Reader

Ekaterina Nenasheva: Fire Safety at Russian Shopping Malls

nenasheva-1.jpg

Ekaterina Nenasheva
Facebook
March 28, 2018

#KemerevoIsNotAlone #InsecurePlacesList #OkhotnyRyadShoppingCenter

What should you look for in terms of fire safety at a shopping center? I decided to call the Emergencies Ministry and find out everything firsthand.

“What, I’m supposed to reread you the whole booklet?”

The man on the other end of the line, whom I had reached after a couple of transfers, was not very happy to hear from me.

“What’s your district? You need to talk to your own fire inspector.”

I waited again to be transferred.

“You realize we now have these temporary reprieves for small businesses. It’s now impossible for us to carry out a normal fire inspection. We need a court order. We can, of, course, call a facility and find out what’s happening there. But beyond that . . .”

The fire inspector told me it was absolutely normal and legal to ask a shopping mall’s security guards and employees about their fire safety system. If doors are locked, why is that? How do they work? What would happen during a fire? If shopping mall staff and, especially, security guards had the least bit of training, they would easily be able to answer any and all questions.

The guys and I headed to Okhotny Ryad Shopping Mall in Moscow. We immediately located the evacuation plan, which made it easier to find the emergency exits. The funny thing about the emergency exits at Okhotny Ryad is the plan says they exist, but in reality the doors are marked “Staff Entrance” and “Keycard Access Only.” Naturally, all of these doors are locked. All of them.

nenasheva-2

“We don’t have any exits,” said a guard, “only entrances from the outside.”

“I don’t know anything. Go ask that policeman over yonder,” replied another guard.

“What have I got to do with it?” the policeman wondered, laughing.

“Look, we have emergency exits in every shop. Got it?” replied a third guard, who had a mustache.

“Can we go and take a look at them?”

“No, you can’t. You know what? If something happens, we’ll save you. Got it?”

We could not understand how we would be rescued by guards who still did not know how the emergeny exits in their shopping mall worked. We went to pull on the other doors on the upper floors. We found ourselves outside the restrooms. A female cashier explained she did not know what exactly was beyond the door, but you could only get through it with a magnetic key. If there were a fire, she would exit the shopping mall via the regular entrance to the mall.

“What’s the big deal? You grab your stuff quickly and take off.”

nenasheva-3

Wherever we went, a mustached guy in a gray blazer would come running. He sweated and was out of breath. He had obviously hurried. He would stand off to one side and stare at us.

“Did you forget something? Well, what? What do you want?”

After asking his questions, the man would turn around and slowly walk away from us.

“Everything works here. Everything. The doors operate on magnetic keys, but in a fire they open automatically.”

“How does that happen?”

We were nearly chasing him in an attempt to continue the conversation.

“The guards line up in the corridors, and the emergency . . . begins.”

The dude swallowed half his words.

“Who the heck are you guys? Should I really be talking to you?”

Irriated, the mustached Mr. Suit vanished. Now we were certain the guards would save us.

So, what conclusions can we draw?

1. Shopping mall staff and security are obliged to know how the emergency exits function, and how the fire safety system is organized. It is our right to ask them about it. The staff at Okhotny Ryad Shopping Mall are completely ignorant about the building’s layout, where the exits are, and how they work. Meaning that the guards, who are supposed to save us, have had no training whatsoever and have not even bothered to take a glance at how the building is laid out. Can we trust such people in an emergency? No.

2. The doors in the shopping mall are kept firmly locked. Neither staff nor security know  how they work. Can we trust a safety system like this? No.

3. The evacuation plan does not always synch with reality. Where the plan says there are exits, there are always signs saying, “Staff only.” The signs pointing to the emergency exits are confusing and could lead you into a dead end. This is scary. Given a system of signage like this, would you be able to escape if a fire slightly less ferocious than the one in Kemerovo broke out? No.

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The Okhotny Ryad Shopping Mall is a prime candidate for the #InsecurePlacesList. In addition, we encountered another problem: a total ignorance of fire safety rules on the part of mall employees. Therefore, I demand employees fix the problem. I will no longer be patronizing the Okhotny Ryad Shopping Mall. Sure, it’s a local fix, but I will #boycott the mall. I also plan to relate our adventures to the Emergencies Ministry.

Do you go to Okhotny Ryad often? How do things stand in terms of fire safety at the shopping mall you frequent?

I am still proposing we do inspections of shopping centers right away. Sure, we are not professionals, but it’s enough to reach out to to mall employees and find out whether they know the rules. If they don’t, it is a clear violation of the law.

1. Go to your local shopping malls. Look and see what is going on with the emergency exits. Study the evacuation plan. Ask security guards and mall management about their arrangements. Record your findings by snapping pictures and making videos.

2. Write up the results of your spot checks and post them on social media. Identify and tag the shopping malls in your posts and tag the posts with the hashtags #KemerovoIsNotAlone, #InsecurePlacesList, and anything else you can think of.

3. Don’t hesitate to call the Emergencies Ministry and report violations, rude behavior, etc. It all helps.

After launching spot checks like this and expanding the list, we can think about filing class-action complaints against the shopping malls and continuing to publicize the issue on social media.

I regard posts about insecure places, like shopping malls, in which fire safety rules do not function, as an elementary tool of self-defense and a means of protecting my friends and loved ones.

Currently, any and all information and all spot checks are truly important. Unfortunately, no one else will do this work for us. So join us!

You can also post your findings on the Facebook group page Act!

P.S. Dmitry Gudkov and his Open Elections team are organizing training sessions for people who want to learn how to conduct fire safety inspections professionally.

Translated by the Russian Reader. All photos courtesy of Ekaterina Nenasheva