It’s All Free for the ROC

Dmitry_Medvedev_and_metropolitan_Varsonofius.jpegDmitry Medvedev, then President of Russia, and Varsonofius, then Metropolitan of Saransk, during National Unity Day in 2011. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Free for the ROC: Petersburg City Hall Allocates Two Land Plots for Church Construction
Alexei Kumachev
Delovoi Peterburg
July 31,2018

Petersburg city hall [aka the Smolny] has allocated two land plots for church construction in the Primorsky and Petrograd distrists. According to documents published on the Smolny’s website, the land will be provided free of charge. It was reported previously that the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) had announced plans to build a Sunday school on Heroes Avenue and a church on Konstantinovsky Avenue.

The St. Petersburg Diocese of the Moscow Patriarchate will receive a land plot on Krestovsky Island. The total area is 2,000 square meters. A ten-year lease will be signed within a month.

Earlier, it was reported the ROC’s plans for the lot on Konstantinovsky Avenue involved construction of 254 square meter church, a 400 square meter school building, a 32 square meter belfy area, and a 28 square meter baptistery.

The proposal to transfer the land to the ROC was made by Petersburg Deputy Governor Igor Albin at a meeting of the city government.

The estimated cadastral value of the land is ₽15 million. According to Anna Sigalova, deputy director for investments at Colliers International in Petersburg, the plot could be sold for around ₽300 million [approx. €4 million]. The analyst added the price could change if the plot were rezoned for residentialhousing construction.

In addition, the ROC will receive a land plot in the Krasnoye Selo District for free. This is the previously mentioned plot on Heroes Avenue. The total area of the site is 2,200 square meters.

The ROC plans to build a two-storey Orthodox school with its own church on the site. The work will be done by the congregation of the All Saints Church in southwest Petersburg. The term of the free lease is ten years. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko signed the documents ceding the land to the ROC.

On July 18, we reported the Petersburg and Leningrad Region Arbitrage Court had agreed to hear a lawsuit filed by the city’s Property Relations Committee (KIO) against the congregration of the Intercession of the Blessed Virgin Church (St. Petersburg Diocese, ROC) concerning the ownership rights to the church, which was built on the former grounds of South Primorsky Park, opposite the house at 24 Valor Street.

16 сентябрь 2015 (12)Intercession of the Blessed Virgin Church while still under construction in September 2015. Photo courtesy of the church’s website

The 16,600 square meter plot had earlier been rezoned for construction of religious buildings and handed over to the ROC. The church building itself, however, was constructed. without the necessary permits. The first hearing of the lawsuit, which claims the city’s right of ownership to the church in the park, has been scheduled for September.

In July 2017, the Smolny transfered a nearly 5,000 square meter plot of land in the elite [sic] village of Komarovo to the ROC. The media wrote at the time the summer cottage of Varsonofius, Metropolitan of St. Petersburg and Ladoga, could be built on the site. At the same time, Petersburg Legislative Assembly member Boris Vishnevsky drew attention to the fact that a nearly half-hectare land plot was transferred to the Petersburg Diocese only due to the house on it.

In 2013, the ROC leased the land until 2062. The plot’s value was estimated at ₽30 million. Later, officials explained why they had decided to transfer it to the ROC.

“The plot contains a piece of real estate, a house whose cadastral number is 78:38:0022359:29, and whose rightful owner is a religious organization [i.e., the ROC],” said Petersburg Deputy Governor Mikhail Mokretsov.

According to Mokretsov, an inspection established the plot was used for religious purposes. The Smolny leased the plot to the St. Petersburg Diocese on July 25, 2017.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Yuri Shchekochikhin to Vladimir Putin, March 25, 2002

shchekochikhinYuri Shchekochikhin (June 9, 1950–July 3, 2003)

Oleg Pshenichny
Facebook
June 19, 2018

A letter from Yuri Shchekochikhin to Vladimir Putin. Thanks to Dmitry Nosachev for the heads-up.

I heard with my own ears how arrogantly young journalists then spoke of him. They claimed he was paranoid. They claimed he was obsessed with the mafia and the KGB’s machinations. They all but called him a clown. I won’t point fingers. There is no need.

_______________________________________________

March 25, 2002

To: Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, President of the Russian Federation

Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich,

I was extremely surprised that, at a time when the whole world has been busy fighting terrorism, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) has been busy with little old me, thus violating Article [98] of the Russian Federal Constitution, which guarantees the immunity of State Duma members.

You will remember the Three Whales Scandal, I hope. It was a big surprise to me that, after the hearing of the State Duma’s Security Committee and my article in Novaya Gazeta on the subject, Pavel Zaytsev, the special investigator who had been handling this criminal case, was summoned for questioning by the FSB—not to find out the truth about how the mafia was organized, but only because of me, deputy chair of the State Duma’s Security Committee and a member of its Commission on Combating High-Level Corruption in Government.

I would not have attached much importance to the incident were it not for one circumstance.

Several years ago, Vyacheslav Zharko, a junior field agent in the St. Petersburg Tax Police, gave me documents showing that ships were entering the Russian Navy’s bases in Lebyazhy and Lomonosov[] without being inspected by customs and border control.

There were several signatures on the documents authorizing this financial escapade, including that of the then Deputy Prime Minister [Oleg] Soskovets and yours, Vladimir Vladimirovich.

[Mikhail] Katyshev, who at the time was the First Deputy Prosecutor General, gave orders to open a criminal case and set up an operational investigative group in the Prosecutor General’s Office after reading the documents submitted by Zharko.

It was this criminal case that led to the arrest of Dmitry Rozhdestvensky, head of Russian Video. Unfortunately, however, due to political motives, the investigative team, led by [Vladimir] Lyseiko, dealt only with the embezzlement of funds by Media Most, “forgetting” about the evidence relating to Russian Video’s Marine Department.

During the investigation of this criminal case, I had to fly to St. Petersburg on several occasions to arrange for Zharko’s protection and security, since his life was in real danger. [Georgy] Poltavchenko, then head of the St. Petersburg Tax Police, and [Viktor] Cherkesov, then head of the FSB’s Petersburg office, were simply afraid to help the young field agent in investigating the high-profile criminal case. I was quite surprised it was Zharko who was summoned from St. Petersburg to handle the arrest of [Vladimir] Gusinsky.

I don’t want to bother you with the details of the criminal case, although I imagine you are familiar with them. It is a different matter that concerns me. In December 2001, Zharko, who had transferred from the Tax Police to the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) of the Russian Defense Ministry, was detained at Sheremetyevo 1 Airport on trumped-up charges of using a counterfeit passport and illegally crossing the border, put under arrest at the behest of the Deputy Prosecutor General, and remanded in custody to Lefortovo Prison. The arrest, especially an arrest sanctioned by such a top-ranking official, on charges of committing a crime that carries a punishment of up to two years in prison, and the subsequent change in his pretrial status, as ordered by Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov, would seem incredible were it not for one circumstance. While Zharko was jailed in Lefortovo Remand Prison, FSB field agents tried to “crack” [kololi] him (I use the word “crack” deliberately) while figuring out whether he had in his possession documents bearing your signature and relating to the criminal case. What especially angered me was that the officers attempted to force Zharko to confess that he and I were mixed up with Boris Berezovsky. During their conversations, it was said that I received $50,000 a month from Berezovsky, part of which I gave to Zharko, who in turn gave some to Mikhail Katyshev.

Vladimir Vladimorovich, I have spoken with Berezovsky once and only once in my life. It was in the State Duma building. It just happened.

Most important, however, I don’t like it that I, deputy chair of a State Duma committee, have been targeted by the FSB. I don’t like it that my phones have been bugged and that someone has been trying hard to find means to discredit me.

Vladimir Vladimirovich, I don’t think this letter will end up in your hands. I once sent you a letter about Mr. [Nazir] Khapsirokov, one of the most notorious characters investigated by the Commission on Combating Corruption, during the last sitting of the State Duma. It was when he was appointed deputy head of your administration. In that letter, I wrote to you that you wanted to put together a team while a pack of dogs was circling you. After receiving a reply from a clerk in your administration, I realized the pack had encircled you once and for all, and that it was stronger than the team. Therefore, I am sending a copy this letter to the chair of the State Duma and the head of the Yabloko Party faction in the State Duma, of which I am a member.

Respectfully,

Yuri P. Shchekochikin
Deputy Chair, State Duma Security Committee
Member, State Duma Commission on Combating High-Level Corruption in Government
Member, State Duma (Yabloko Party Faction)

It is widely believed Mr. Shchekochikhin was poisoned to death. Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Pinterest

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

Leave Our Governor Alone!

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Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko (right) would rather be somewhere else. Photo courtesy of Turku.fi

I gather that Russia’s president for life is dismissing regional governors at a furious pace to shore up his shaky position against the wildly dangerous non-candidate Navalny in the run-up to next March’s self-reappointment to the post of Russia’s president.

I could not care less about all that as long as Putin leaves Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko alone. (Poltavchenko is the vaguely unhappy looking man on the right, in the picture above.)

Sure, Poltavchenko returned to his adopted hometown of Petersburg, after several years of bureaucratic carpetbagging, as an appointed satrap, who later obtained spurious legimitacy by winning a low-turnout, rigged election against a slate of astroturfed opponents. In a fit of uncharacteristic cynicism, Poltavchenko dubbed this farce “Democracy Day,” but we have forgiven him long ago for that outburst—by default, as it were, because 99.999% of us Petersburgers could give a hoot about local politics and have no clue about the Tammany Hall-style thuggery that once again covered the Cradle of Three Revolutions in shame on September 18, 2014. We are more the artsy, creative types here in the ex-capital of All the Russias. We go in for fo bo, hamburgers, craft beer, and conspicuous hipsterism.

In Petersburg, taking politics seriously is not cool.

But all the Sturm und Drang of 2014 matter less than Poltavchenko’s signal virtue, which consists in his striking tendency not to do or say much of anything, at least visibly or publicly. Unlike his colleague Ramzan Kadyrov, headman of the horrifying Chechen Republic, who is constantly running off at the mouth and scaring the bejeezus out of everyone, Poltavchenko has gone for whole weeks and months without saying or doing anything significant or noteworthy, much less frightening.

Whatever his other vices as a satrap and “former” KGB officer, it appears he would find it profoundly embarrassing to frighten anyone, especially just to show off, the way Kadyrov does it.

In an authoritarian political system in which making news means feigning to be a rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth nationalist fascist Orthodox maniac, tabling Nazi-like law bills in the Duma as fast as they can be typed up and printed out, there is something to be said for a guy who always looks as if he is always bored out of his mind, as if he would rather be home watching TV, fishing in the lake next to his dacha or tinkering with his car.

Which, of course, is an old Lada, not a Land Rover.

Or so I’d like to imagine. TRR

 

Makarov: Russia Is God’s Last Hope on Earth

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Religious procession in Petersburg, September 12, 2017. Photo courtesy of Alexander Demyanchuk/TASS

Legislative Assembly Speaker Vyacheslav Makarov Calls Russia God’s Last Hope on Earth 
Delovoi Peterburg
September 12, 2017

As reported on Fontanka.ru on Tuesday, September 12, Vyacheslav Makarov, speaker of the Saint Petersburg Legislative Assembly, called Russia God’s last hope while addressing participants of a religious procession that had marched down Nevsky Prospect.

“Russia has its own special mission in the world. The meaning of Russia’s existence is to solve problems that no other country can solve. Russia is a world power, God’s last hope on earth! That is why the Lord invisibly protects Russia from enemies and safeguards its little world for a salvational outcome in order to protect our country in its heavenly and earthly dimensions,” Vyacheslav Makarov said.

banners
Religious procession in Petersburg, September 12, 2017. Photo courtesy of Alexander Demyanchuk/TASS

He noted the adversities that have ravaged Russia are bound up, among other things, with the murder of the tsar and his family.

“Exactly one hundred years separate us from events that radically changed our Fatherland, a great, multi-ethnic country, events that plunged it into the madness of civil war, in which children rebelled against their parents, and brother fought against brother. And the subsequent losses and sorrows, trials and tragedies through which the people passed were predestined by the destruction of the state, the murder of the tsar and his children, and militant atheism,” said Makarov.

cossacks
Religious procession in Petersburg, September 12, 2017. Photo courtesy of Alexander Demyanchuk/TASS

In turn, Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko noted that Alexander Nevsky had chosen the right way for building the state, had repelled outside aggressors, and had helped the Russian people maintain its identity through Orthodoxy.

Today, Petersburg held a citywide religious procession in honor of the Day of the Translation of the Relics of Alexander Nevsky. The sacred procession went down Nevsky Prospect from Kazan Cathedral to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. According to the regional directorate of the Interior Minister, over 100,000 people took part in the event.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Petersburg’s Largest Communal Apartment

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Life in One of Russia’s Largest Communal Apartments
Yulia Paskevich
Gorod 812
March 23, 2017

Apartment No. 2 at Detskaya Street, 2, on Vasilyevsky Island, is Petersburg’s largest communal apartment. At any rate, its tenants think so. City officials cannot say for sure how large the apartment is. According to certain documents, its total area is 1,010.7 square meters; according to other documents, the figure is 1,247.7 square meters. All we know for certain is that is contains 34 rooms and 40 common areas. Gorod 812 visited the apartment, concluding it was not the sort of communal apartment where one would want to live.

Art Around the Corner
During my first visit to the apartment, I was horrified. The odors gave me a headache, and I could not understand how people could live in such conditions. I then made a repeat visit, and I discovered the apartment had another, civil half. It left me with a murky impression. The apartment dwellers would tell me things were good, but they would not open their doors, although most of the people I encountered were decent and pleasant.

The apartment probably holds the record not only for sheer size but also for utter neglect. Visitors are usually shown the floor, which is caving in, the rotten wiring hanging overhead, and the crumbling walls. They are usually asked not to take off their coats and shoes at the entrance, as is the custom in most Russian homes, because the stroll down the hundred-meter-long hallway is cold and dirty. Some residents agree to speak with reporters only off the record. They do not want workmates to find out where they live.

The building the apartment occupies was erected in 1958, and is now surrounded by so-called elite residential estates. The Erarta Contemporary Art Museum is nearby. It is not a big hit among the residents.

The building’s first story was originally an outpatient medical clinic. In 1983, the clinic acquired a new building, and its old digs were remodeled as a dormitory for medical staff from the nearby Pokrovskaya Hospital and Children’s Infectious Disease Hospital No. 3. The numbers of doctors’ surgeries are still attached to the doors of some of the rooms in the apartment. There is not a single, thick load-bearing wall inside the apartment. The entire space has been divided by partitions, so voices and noises carry.

“When a neighbor in the next room sneezes, you say ‘Gesundheit’ aloud,” remarks Elena Pogor. “He thanks you.”

Nadezhda Khondakova, an employee at a medical center, took up residence on Detskaya Street in 1989, when three to four people lived to a room.

“I was born and raised in Karelia,” she says. “After graduating from medical college, I was assigned to the children’s hospital and got a place in the dormitory. The room had always been neglected. It was temporary housing, so no one paid much attention to maintenance. Besides, renovations were not carried out there right away.”

Outwardly, the apartment has seemingly been divided in two. The right half is cleaner and brighter, while the floor is sinking in the left half.

“As a technician said, the heating main runs under this half of the apartment,” Khondakova explains. “Every three years, we install a new floor, but they all rot.”

Communal Legends
On March 1, 2005, the dormitory was officially designated an apartment, giving residents the right to privatize their rooms. But little has changed. The entry doors are still unlocked, so anyone can get into the apartment. Previously, homeless people would venture into the apartment to warm up or wash up, sleeping right in the kitchen. Residents try and avoid letting not only children into the hallway but cats as well. Who knows what might happen to them.

In 2011, the apartment was declared unfit for habitation. Two years later, Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko signed an eviction and resettlement notice. At the time of the signing, 27 families (62 people) officially resided in the apartment.

Old-timers recall the queues for the showers and toilets. There were two of each, and people started queuing for them at five in the morning. They also remember showdowns in the kitchen and rats. They lived modestly. If you ran out of something, you could borrow it from a neighbor without asking.

“You would leave detergent in the kitchen and someone would use half the bottle,” recalls Tatyana Pogor. “Spoons were stolen, people had their trousers swiped from the clotheslines. Half a chicken once vanished from the oven. That was unpleasant, but they left a note saying whether they found it tasty or not. Once, there was a knock-down-drag-out fight over the shower.”

When ten families had received authorizations for new apartments, the housing authority ceased issuing the authorizations.

“The apartments were issued chaotically,” says Khondakova. “It was not only people whose housing was subsidized who were affected. My neighbor Tatyana privatized her room and was resettled in a one-room apartment. I’ve been in the queue for separate apartment for twenty years, and I’ve never been offered anything.”

The residents tell me about about a drunken neighbor lady who was moved into a one-room apartment in the Moscow District, about a women who did not want to move out, and a family who happily took up a new life in the Petersburg suburb of Pushkin.

The activists argue the apartment should be resettled completely and everyone should be moved into separate accommodations.

“It’s not the district that issues us apartments. The city has been handling the resettlement,” Khondakova underscores. “We know where residential buildings are being built: Parnas, Veterans Avenue, and Shushary [in the far north and far south of the city, respectively.] But we have not said we want to live only on Vasilyevsky Island.”

After the ten families departed, the residents who were left behind divvied up the remaining space among themselves, including around 40 common spaces, such as washrooms, hallways, and the laundry room. Tatyana Lobunova’s 24-square-meter room includes 40 square meters of hallway and kitchen space, for which she pays the city’s housing authority 4,000 rubles a month [approx. 63 euros]. Khondakova pays rates between 7,000 and 8,000 rubles a month. However, a table in the apartment’s kitchen is littered with bills left unpaid by debtors. Some residents demonstratively refuse to pay the maintenance and cleaning fees for their rooms.

The Residents
Residents are reluctant to let visitors into their rooms. As you gaze at the dilapidated kitchen and toilets, you imagine this shambles reigns throughout the apartment. But you would be wrong. The residents’ own rooms are clean and tidy. Many of them have equipped their rooms with small kitchens and cook food there. The doors to the different rooms vary as well. Residents sequestered behind more expensive doors do not want to chat with reporters, while the activists who demand total eviction and resettlement live in the part of the apartment where the floor caves in.

The author of a petition on Change.Org to resettle the apartment, a petition that has gathered nearly 18,000 signatures, has lived in the apartment six years. An actress at the Ne-Kabuki Theater, Tatyana Lobunova bought her room from builders. They had purchased the room for a song, plastered the walls, and resold it. Lobunova had lived in a communal apartment before. She grew up in a nine-family apartment on Konnogvardeiskaya Boulevard, in the city’s downtown. So the idea of living in a communal apartment did not intimidate her.

The cosmetic repairs in her room quickly crumbled. The new wooden window turned black and rotted, a crevice emerged under the wet wallpaper on the outside wall, and the room smelled moldy. A sofa was tossed out by way of combating cockroaches. Now the room is chockablock with cockroach traps. When I asked her whether she was really unaware of the investment she was making, she shrugs.

“I had to live on Vasilyevsky Island,” she explains. “A family theater means working nonstop. I get four hours of sleep a day. If I lived a ways from the theater, I would probably get no more than two hours of sleep a day.”

Lobunova stores letters from various officials in a folder. She produces one from the presidential administration, who advised tenants to exercise their right to turn to the local authorities to redress their grievances.

Currently, the number of proprietors who actually live in the apartment is not so great. People prefer to let their rooms for eight to twelve thousand rubles a month. It is hard to tell one renter from the next. There are people knocking about, and the heck with it.

A native of Pskov Region, Elena Pogor has lived in Petersburg around six years. Initially, she and her husband rented a room, but then friends suggested they live in the apartment at Detskaya, 2, up money to buy her own apartment or room.

“In Dedovichi, where I grew up, there are no jobs at all,” she explains. “The wages there run from seven to ten thousand rubles a month. You can earn twelve to fifteen thousand rubles a month at the regional power plant. We consider the people who work there wealthy.”

The room where she and her husband live is in the better-maintained part of the apartment.

“It all depends on people and upbringing,” argues Pogor. “We have made friends with the neighbor lady Roza and her daughter. They’re good, tidy people. It’s a shame the repairs were started and not finished. On the one hand, I could not care less. I’m not planning to stay here long in any case, but I want to live decently.”

A Potential Squat 
The Vasilyevsky Island District Administration has its own plans for the apartment. In 2015–2016, an overhaul of the common property was undertaken. Workers showed up, removed the toilets, stripped off the tiles, poured cement floors in the bathrooms, and left. Tenants had to parquet the floor in the hallway themselves. The district administration has dubbed this exercise “works toward eliminating the apartment’s hazardous condition.”

The district administration told us that the “paperwork affirming the elimination of the hazardous conditions [was] currently being vetted.”

Eliminating the apartment’s hazardous status would facilitate its being sold as real estate. The question is, who would buy it and for how much. There is little hope the city’s communal apartment resettlement program would come to the rescue. It has being going sluggishly in the district: in 2016, it resettled a mere forty apartments there. So there is virtually no chance a huge communal apartment will up and vanish by itself. For the time being, the only prospect is that, as conditions worsen, the rent will grow cheaper.

Then the apartment will undergo its latest metamorphosis and turn into a squat.

For Your Information
Communal apartments will celebrate their one hundredth anniversary in the summer of 2018. There are 78,534 communal apartments in Petersburg, housing 250,027 families. 4,816 such apartments were resettled in the city during 2016.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Yulia Pashkevich and Gorod 812

Has Petersburg City Hall Made a Shambles of New Hospital Construction?

Part of the old facilities at the Botkin Infectious Diseases Hospital in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Dima Tsyrencshikov/The Village
Part of the old facilities at the Botkin Infectious Diseases Hospital in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Dima Tsyrencshikov/The Village

Petersburg Municipal Hospital and Clinic Construction Program on the Skids
Svetlana Zobova
Delovoi Peterburg
February 3, 2017

Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko has botched ex-Governor Valentina Matviyenko’s ambitious program of building 32 healthcare facilities at a cost of upwards of 30 billion rubles. The city lacks a force that could consolidate physicians and builders to campaign against construction delays.

DP has audited all the municipal healthcare facilities that have been built, are under currently construction or are in the planning stages. The circumstances surrounding them are far from ideal. In each specific case, we can speak of certain objective causes as to why a particular clinic has not been completed or is not yet treating patients. But if we look at the issue as a whole, it becomes clear our city has no system for overseeing and managing the sector. Accountability is split between two committees whose specialists, to put it mildly, are not very happy with each other.

Both doctors and builders tell obscene jokes about each other behind each other’s backs and complain of their opponents’ extreme incompetence and their unwillingness to compromise. They cannot work together to finish nearly any of the projects. But no one is ready for a showdown that could reverse the situation and establish new, functioning rules of the game.

The few examples when new hospitals and clinics have been successfully opened either conceal sad stories of protracted construction delays or were overseen by federal officials, and the degree of oversight and accountability were thus on a completely different level. Aside from federal facilities, this study did not take into account facilities that merely underwent renovations, only those that were slated for complete makeovers or new facilities.

DP received quite detailed replies from the city’s Construction Committee and Healthcare Committee about the causes of the delays at dozens of facilities and the complications with bringing operating facilities online. However, there was no answer as to why these processes have been implemented so poorly, with so much anguish and pain.

Good Intentions

To equip the city with the three dozen modern medical facilities it so badly needed, the Matviyenko administration allocated around 30 billion rubles. However, under the current administration, construction companies have been paid less than 10 billion rubles from the budget, completing only a few facilities in fits and starts. Our sources in the Health Committee say the sector’s underfunding has been due to delays in construction.

In some cases, the quality of their work has caught the eye of the prosecutor’s office, while in other cases, expensive medical equipment has been ruined due to mistakes and miscalculations. Deadline overruns have been ubiquitous. It would be wrong to say that the only cause has been poor work on the part of builders and designers. The city authorities have kept on awarding new contracts even to those contractors who have attempted to turn over blatantly shoddy facilities to doctors and brazenly lied.

DP discussed the problem with a dozen head physicians and their deputies, as well as well as contractors and city officials. We got the impression Petersburg has not become Russia’s northern healthcare capital less because of the economic crisis and a lack of financing, and more because of bureaucracy and the complete absence of a genuinely efficient system for managing municipal construction projects. In several instances, it is obvious that if city officials had done nothing at all, it would have been much better, as was the case, for example, with the closure of the maternity hospital on Vavilovykh Street.

Petersburg’s Hospitals

When she departed from Petersburg, Valentina Matviyenko left a legacy of numerous ambitious construction projects, including healthcare facilities. She had planned for the construction or reconstruction of 32 medical facilities by 2016, including new hospital wings, outpatient clinics for children and adults, dentistry clinics, ambulance stations, and specialized early treatment and prevention centers (as per Petersburg Government Decree No. 149, dated 10 February 2011).

As of late 2016, city authorities had built and opened only six facilities on the list. Another four facilities have been built, but their directors, the Construction Committee, and contractors have been bogged down in fierce arguments as to the quality of the construction. The other projected facilities have either been frozen or not assigned a contractor, and their designs are now outdated.

Initially, Governor Poltavchenko seemed inclined to keep improving healthcare in Petersburg. In 2012, he added several dozen future facilities to Matviyenko’s list. Design and construction work on the facilities was to have been completed in 2013–2014.

For example, the new governor promised to rebuild the morgue at the Bureau of Forensic Medicine, design a hospice, build several antenatal clinics, design new wings for the Kashchenko Mental Hospital, and build a TB prevention and treatment clinic in Kolpino.

A little later, Matviyenko and Poltavchenko’s plans were drafted as a program for the healthcare sector. The document originally promised that city officials would arrange for the construction or reconstruction of 29 ambulance stations and medical facilities capable of taking in 36,000 patients a day by 2015.

In reality, the healthcare facilities construction program has been the most disastrous line item in the city’s targeted investment program for several years running.  In 2016, none of the medical facilities under construction used 100% of the funds allocated to them in the budget. Certain facilities did not touch literally any of the funds allocated to them.

The prosecutor’s office and the Audit Chamber have highlighted construction delays. The city’s vice-governors for construction policy and Construction Committee chairs have come and gone, but federal officials are still asking the same questions.

At our request, the Construction Committee listed all the medical facilities that have been either built or constructed in the last ten years. According to the officials there, from 2009 to 2011, the three years before Poltavchenko took office, eleven major facilities were brought online. After he arrived in the governor’s office, from 2012 to 2016, another eleven facilities were completed, according to officials, although two are still closed, and the others opened considerably later than they were completed.

The city’s Health Committee provided us with different information. Officials there calculated that 28 facilities had been completed between 2006 and 2016, although Poltavchenko’s program had stipulated either renovating or building 63 facilities from scratch. The difference in figures is due to the fact that officials from the two committees used different timespans. In reality, both lists show outright that the city has got worse at building medical facilities since Poltavchenko’s team came on board.

As health professionals who were well versed in the issues told us, city officials would always ask contractors the same questions during regular on-site debriefings. Why is the facility not under construction?  You’ve been working here for five years, but you’re still at stage one. How much of your advance have you gone through? Who produced such a bad design?

Subordinates would be reprimanded, and contractors would be fined and have their contracts torn up, but nothing would change. Construction completion dates would be postponed, and cost estimates would be increased.

By 2016, the list of construction projects had been greatly reduced. Currently, the target invested program lists 14 medical facilities, almost all of them projects from the Matviyenko period that have been subjected to protracted delays.

The construction sector professionals we surveyed estimated that, on average, one and half years are needed to design a large medical facility, while it would take another three years to build the facility.  A small ambulance station could be built in a year. In Petersburg, however, actual times to completion are many times longer. It takes five to 15 years to build many facilities.

The Causes Are Plain to See

The Smolny believes that the virtual breakdown of its grand social policy plans has been due to insufficient funding. Thus, in 2017, Petersburg’s most renowned delay-plagued construction project, the Zenit Arena, gobbled up nearly a billion rubles. But this is fibbing, for, in reality, line items for financing the building of facilities that have obviously been abandoned were simply stricken from the budget, because no one was spending any money on them.

In addition, according to the city hall officials we talked to, careless contractors are to blame for construction delays and poorly designed projects, and for not calculating their risks. As you might guess, in this way of seeing the world, officials bear no blame for the fact they are surrounded by bunglers and swindlers.

But there is a more complex view of the issue. A source at one of the city’s largest hospitals told us that the ceremonial communiques and press releases issued by city officials belie the serious friction between the Construction Committee and the Healthcare Committee, as well as between the relevant vice-governors. For while hospitals and clinics are still under construction, the Construction Committee’s budget is replenished. They even purchase medical equipment. But when hospitals start treating patients, the money for that is allocated via the Healthcare Committee. This does not mean, of course, that the Construction Committee deliberately delays building projects. Of course, they want to get delay-plagued facilities off their hands as quickly as possible. But Construction Committee staffers bear no personal accountability for missed deadlines and the poor quality of construction.

A senior official, who has worked in the Healthcare Committee since the Matviyenko administration, says during the past four or five years he and Vice-Governor Olga Kazanskaya have had to wage a “quite serious fight” with the construction bloc in the Smolny. Describing the state of affairs in the Construction Committee, the official spoke of confusion and complained about the frequent change of leadership.

A telling example occurred when we asked Igor Albin, vice-governor for construction, to explain why the Botkin Infectious Diseases Hospital, whichas far back as 2015 he had publicly promised would soon reopen, was still not treating patients. However, he gave us no explanation, shifting the blame for the situation on Healthcare Committee staffers. In turn, they said it was the Construction Committee who was responsible for construction at the Botkin. Off the record [sic], they told us about a long list of defects and unfinished work to which contractors wanted doctors to turn a blind eye, making them sign off on the facility even though it was unfinished. Of course, a dispute like this could go on indefinitely until someone takes responsibility for the entire project.

No Accountability

Our source in the medical community, who spoke out about the construction community in a somewhat biased way, argued that no one except medical professionals had any interest in bringing facilities online. As a consequence, officials failed to make purchase requests for equipment, did not calculate the costs of logistics, and fined the medical facilities.

“There is way too much politicking and money at each stage. Everything is bureaucratized and corrupt in the extreme. What matters is that everything looks right on paper,” said our source.

He was surprised that, under Poltavchenko, the Construction Committee did not “tremble” for failing to execute the annual budget. Under Matviyenko, he claimed, failing to spend funds allocated under the yearly budget was considered an extremely grave offense for officials to commit.

Another senior medical administrator sees the root of the trouble not in corruption per se, but, rather, in the overall “muddle” and the fact that “the system doesn’t function.”

“Every staffer needs to know his function and the consequences that await him in case of failure. Step left, step right, and you can step on a land mine and blow up. Now, though, there is basically no accountability for mistakes, and no one feels personally to blame.”

The Construction Committee has no specific department or expert responsible for medical facilities. A personal curator is usually appointed to oversee each of them. A considerable part of the work is overseen by the Fund for Capital Construction and Reconstruction, which is controlled by the committee. Its longtime head was Andrei Molotkov. It was Molotkov who was criticized by Igor Albin for the numerous missed deadlines and unscrupulous contractors. Ultimately, in April 2016, Molotkov resigned his post, a job that is still vacant.

The Healthcare Committee employs one senior professional builder, Igor Gonchar, head of the Office for Medical Facilities Development. However, he deals with repairing and rebuilding the facilities his committee oversees. Since 2014, the Healthcare Committee has also been tasked with designing healthcare facilities. It was a seemingly reasonable step, meant to reduce the risk of drafting projects that were not suitable for physicians and had to be redone on the fly. In the last three years, however, the Healthcare Committee has not spent nearly 40% of the money allocated to it for design, i.e., 158 million of the 250 million rubles allocated in its budget for survey and design work.

Gonchar gave detailed answers to our questions, explaining that, out of eight planned facilities, the design work had been completed for six of them. Problems had arisen around a large project, estimated to cost 100 million rubles: new wings for Children’s Hospital No. 1. Due to the fact that, last year, changes were made to the law on historic preservation, the specs for facilities adjacent to historic Pozhelayev Park had to be redrafted. Similar difficulties have arisen with another problematic facility, the Dunes Children’s Rehabilitation Center. However, the difficulties having to do with historic preservation were in that case aggravated by the bankruptcy of the design subcontractor, Oboronmedstroy.

A view of the new campus of the Botkin Infectious Diseases Hospital in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Dima Tsyrencshikov/The Village
A view of the new campus of the Botkin Infectious Diseases Hospital in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Dima Tsyrencshikov/The Village

Sabotage

One of the most unpleasant consequences of delaying when medical facilities are brought on line is the premature purchase of expensive medical equipment. For when a senior official says a hospital or clinic is about to open, his underlings will willy-nilly have to purchase CT scanners and MRI machines. But then no one is responsible for the fact they have to spend several years in a warehouse, where they are not only of no use to patients but also run through their warranties and sometimes even are damaged due to improper storage conditions.

According to medical professionals, premature equipment purchases are also part of a cynical calculation by officials. They can report the city has already purchased everything a hospital in the midst of construction needs and demand its administrators move into a poorly constructed building.

“In my opinion, the people running the city are not very interested in healthcare, because it involves more political questions,” says Lev Averbakh, executive director of CORIS Assistance LLC (Saint Petersburg) [a private ambulance company]. “I think there no political will for it. No one says, ‘Let’s finish them!’ as with the stadium, for example. Besides, they have begun reducing the number of hospital beds available while changing the regulations. Under the new rules, not as many beds are needed in Petersburg as were required under the old rules.”

Another professional from the field of private medicine argues that Olga Kazanskaya, now the ex-vice-governor for social policy, and Healthcare Committee Chair Valery Kolabutin lack medical training.

Sergei Furmanchuk, co-founder of Hosser [a Petersburg-based company specializing in the design and construction of medical facilities], argues that problems arise when design work is done by people who have never done design work, and they do the construction work as well. He believes that each case has to be examined individually. However, it has to be acknowledged that having a lot of experience and even medical training, unfortunately, is no guarantee of impeccable work, as, for example, in the case of Rosstroyinvest and the Botkin Hospital, Petrokom or Oboronmedstroy, which is currently undergoing bankruptcy proceedings, abandoning several large healthcare facilities unfinished.

Translated by the Russian Reader

P.S. This article, its author, and Delovoy Peterburg obviously have a heavy axe to grind more against one faction of Petersburg city hall (still referred to as “the Smolny,” the headquarters of the Bolsheviks during the 1917 October Revolution). Normally, I would not translate and post this kind of potential journalistic hit job, although it does describe an urgent problem—the collapse of Russia’s post-socialist free healthcare system—more or less objectively, a problem I have touched on elsewhere in my translations of less dodgy printed matter.

But the author does signally fail to point out the role of Putin’s infamous “power vertical” in encouraging the lack of accountability among local officials, whether in Petersburg or Vladivostok.

Petersburg’s current governor, Georgy Poltavchenko, was first appointed outright by President Putin after the latter “upmoted” the city’s previous governor, Valentina Matviyenko, to the Federation Council, which she now chairs, after she had become deeply unpopular for, among other things, trying to ram Gazprom’s infamous Okhta Center skyscraper down the throat of Petersburgers, and flagrantly failing to clean snow from streets and rooftops during one particularly snowy winter, leading to massive residential property damage and a cityscape described by many locals as resembling what the city looked like during the 900-day WWII Nazi Siege.

Poltavchenko was later “freely” “re-elected” to the governorship in an election marked, as usual, by irregularities, running against a field of sock puppets that had been preemptively purged of any real competition.

From the get-go he has seemed more concerned with the matters spiritual and ecclesiastical than really running the city, which has looked especially dingy this winter, when it has become apparent that the previous street maintenance and cleaning system has collapsed altogether, possibly for a lack of poorly paid Central Asian migrant workers to keep it “affordable.”

Is is fair, though, to blame all local failings on the almighty power vertical? Probably not, and that is why I devote so much of this blog to Russians doing it for themselves at the grassroots, often against daunting odds and in the face of outright police repression. But their efforts won’t make a dent in all the issues they are tackling until the country becomes a real federation and power is devolved maximally to the regions, cities, towns, and neighorhoods.

In this light, it amounts to cynical mockery to repeatedly refer to President Putin as a “strong leader,” as the new Fascist Pig in the Poke did during his campaign and now after he has occupied the White Pride House in Washington, DC. Putin is not a strong leader in any sense, but his weakness has been especially apparent in the myriad ways his regime has disempowered Russians at all levels, making it increasingly difficult for them not only to solve but also even discuss the problems that concern them most.

Finally, I should point out that the original article in Russian features a map of the city marked with all the hospitals and other medical facilities built, currently under construction or abandoned under the municipal program described, above, as well as a table with more detailed information about each of these real, abandoned or planned facilities. I was not able to include the map or table in this translation. TRR