All my photo projects are somehow connected with nature, with long walks and studying the environment. I think that without a clear understanding of nature’s role in our lives, we to some extent deprive ourselves of support.
My project The Neva: A River for People, People for the River is an attempt to find a balance between harmony and destruction in the relationship between humans and nature. The role of nature is played by the Neva River, thanks to which my hometown of St. Petersburg was built over three hundred years ago.
Nature has always only been raw material for the builders of cities, and the Neva’s resources were used at the expense of its gradual destruction. In accounts of the city’s history, the Neva has served as an inert backdrop for heroic conquest. For ordinary people, however, the river has always symbolized the individual’s path in life, her destiny. In my project, the Neva is a metaphorical life line for St. Petersburg and the three towns situated along its 74-kilometer course—Shlisselburg, Kirovsk, and Otradnoye.
The importance of rivers and canals for the city used to be strongly underscored. Russians were instilled with a love of water. Under Peter the Great, every householder was obliged to have a boat, and every home on the waterfront had to have a pier. Even the scanty trade by which many boatsmen in old Petersburg supported themselves—the extraction of firewood, logs, and boards for subsequent sale or use—was practiced with gratitude to the Neva as a benefactress. In old Petersburg, these accidental finds had their own name: “gifts of the Neva.”
People nowadays have an ever more aggressive and consumerist attitude to the Neva. On the other hand, there is no doubt the people who live in the Neva basin love their river. This contradiction is one of the subjects of my project.
An incident occurred in the skies over Leningrad on August 21, 1963, resulting in the emergency landing of a Tu-124 passenger plane on the Neva near the Finland Railroad Bridge. The river is around 400 meters wide at this point. A passing steam tugboat towed the plane to the Neva’s right bank. The windshield in the nose of the plane was broken to secure the tow cable. The passengers were evacuated and sent to Moscow.
Peter the Great was a big fan of the national pastime. During his reign, hockey matches on the ice of the frozen Neva could attract as many as several thousand spectators.
Shlisselburg. In 1912, the Finnish archaeologist Julius Ailio recorded the following tale in the village of Mikulainen on the shore of Lake Ladoga: “The Neva River used to be tiny. If a tree fell, it would lodge between one bank and the other, and you could cross the river by walking over it. Then fifty or sixty years later, the river widened. Shepherds would toss burning brands across the river to each other to make campfires. But then the river eroded the land at its source and became quite broad.”
In 1716, by decree of Peter the Great, fishermen from Russia’s northern provinces were settled on the left bank of the Neva between its tributaries, the Murzinka and the Slavyanka, to supply residents of the capital with fish. Originally, the settlement was called just that—the Fishery Settlement [Rybnaya sloboda]. The name was later changed to Fishermen’s Village [Rybatskoye]. The locals still call the ravine in modern Rybatskoye Pike Harbor.
The Visyachka [“The Hanger”] is a ruined pedestrian bridge on a man-made embankment in the backwater of the Nevsky Shipyard in Shlisselburg.
The Neva smelt [koryushka] has long been considered a symbol of Petersburg. In 1705, Peter the Great issued a decree to support fishermen who caught smelt. According to legend, Peter called the smelt the “tsar fish,” since it could feed the growing population of his new capital city as it was built.
St. Petersburg ranks among the top per-capita consumers of water in Russia. Every twenty-four hours, the city “drinks” the equivalent of a lake one square kilometer in size and three meters deep. Despite the official ban, industrial waste continues to be poured into the river.
The origin of the name Neva is not completely clear. Some historians think it comes from the Finnish word neva, which translates as “bog” or “fen.”
Thanks to Ekaterina Vasilyeva for her permission to reproduce excerpts from her project here. You can look at her entire photo essay about the Neva on her website or on Republic. Translated by the Russian Reader
Rosneft: “Greenpeace Are a Bunch of Corrupt Scum” NSN
March 18, 2016
Greenpeace said the oil company intends to “bite off” part of a future national park. A Rosneft vice-president responded harshly.
Greenpeace has called on Russians to defend a group of islands on Lake Ladoga from the oil company. In a communique received by NSN, Greenpeace claimed that at the behest of Alexander Hudilainen, head of the Republic of Karelia, the Federal Ministry of Natural Resources plans to transfer nearly 4,000 hectares of the future Ladoga Skerries National Park to the oil company. According to Novaya Gazeta [see translated article, below], Rosneft intends to build a health spa on islands in the protected area.
In an interview with NSN, Mikhail Leontyev, Rosneft’s vice-president for public relations, was categorical.
“Greenpeace are a bunch of corrupt scum. These are people who are paid to attack corporations. I have no desire to service their publicity machine. Spare me from them at least for a day, and better yet permanently,” Leontyev told NSN.
In its appeal to defend the Ladoga archipelago, with its unique Scandinavian landscape, Greenpeace claims the lands the authorities intend to exclude from the park are inhabited by golden eagles, which are on the endangered list, and that seals bask on the area’s shores in the summer.
Alexander Hudilainen has been readying especially valuable forests on the shores of Ladoga for investors
At the behest of the government of the Republic of Karelia, the Russian Federal Ministry of Natural Resources is cutting nearly 4,000 hectares from the future Ladoga Skerries National Park for implementation of investment projects. It is believed that the principal interested parties are subsidiaries of Rosneft, which had previously announced plans to build a major health complex in the Ladoga area. The sale of lots included in the protected area, which has has already undergone an environmental impact statement, could theoretically produce a windfall for the republic’s budget, but in reality it would halt work on establishing the national park, which Vladimir Putin has personally asked to be expedited. A final decision on redrawing the national park’s boundaries is expected within the next week.
The Ladoga Skerries are located along the northwest shore of Lake Ladoga in the Lahdenpohja, Sortavala, and Pitkäranta districts of the Republic of Karelia. A number of rocky islands and narrow straits form a unique picturesque landscape not found anywhere else in Russia. Many attempts have been made to preserve the natural environment in these parts, but for various reasons none of the projects for establishing a specially protected natural area has been implemented. Work on establishing a national park was renewed in 2007 amid massive public discontent over the leasing of lots in the skerries to logging and mining companies.
There was no sign of trouble even a month ago. On the contrary, people were confident that the years-long saga of establishing a Ladoga Skerries National Park (the first plans to create a protected area date back to 1989) was coming to a successful conclusion. On January 29, 2016, the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources officially signed off on the findings of a official environmental impact analysis and due diligence review of the grounds for conferring the status of a federal specially protected natural area on the region. The next step should have been a Russian federal government decree establishing the park. But on February 15, a meeting was held at the Russian Federal Ministry of Natural Resources where it was decided to exclude lots totaling approximately 3,750 hectares from the planned Ladoga Skerries National Park in order to accommodate the construction of so-called socially significant facilities. The initiative had come from the Karelian authorities or, rather, personally from head of the Republic of Karelia Alexander Hudilainen, who had in fact made the request to the federal authorities.
Cutting to the quick
According to sources in the Karelian Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, nearly all of Rautalahti Peninsula and Sammatsaari Island in the Sortavala District, which are part of the Ladoga Forestry Area, as well as several smaller lots in the Oppola and Helylä Forestry Areas, will be almost wholly removed from the nature reserve. Despite the fact that the total area of the planned reserve is over 120,000 hectares, of which approximately 40,000 hectares are water, while the rest is on forest reserves lands, such a loss would be extremely painful. According to Olga Ilyina, head of the Karelian environmental organization SPOK, during the planning stage, several large chunks of the park were cut out to avoid conflicts with local residents. A further reduction of the park’s area would make it impossible to effectively protect valuable natural sites.
“If you look at a map of the park you see it stretches along the northwest shore of Lake Ladoga, and the excluded lots essentially split it into two unequal parts. Most importantly, the greater part of Rautalahti Peninsula is within the conservation area. It is one of most well preserved expanses of Ladoga forests and has high environmental value,” notes Ilyina. “Formally, the park will lose around 5% of its territory, but the already small size of its protected area would be reduced by nearly a third.”
Sabotage behind the scenes
Alexei Travin, coordinator of the NGO New Ecological Project, who joined the battle to save the Ladoga Skerries back in 2006, says that from the outset Karelian authorities opposed the idea of a national park and did whatever they could to sabotage the process of establishing it.
“Both under Sergei Katanandov and his successor as head of Karelia Andrei Nelidov, the process of preparing and approving paperwork was constantly delayed,” notes the environmentalist. “Positive developments have occurred only under pressure from the Federal Ministry of Natural Resources.”
One of Alexander Hudilainen’s first steps as head of the republic in 2012 was submitting a request to the Russian federal government to establish a national park. (Without a submission from the local authorities it would have been impossible to launch the procedure for establishing a federal specially protected natural area.) According to Travin, however, there is good reason to suspect that the new head of the republic simply did not understand what he had signed back then, which was why one of the republic’s deputy natural resources ministers, who had drawn up the document for Hudilainen’s signature, was dismissed from his post. In 2012, President Putin asked the government to speed up work on Ladoga Skerries National Park and there was no longer any way for the Karelian authorities to back out. But this does not mean they had resigned themselves to the fact that the “golden lands” on the shore of Lake Ladoga had literally slipped through their fingers.
In the light of recent events it seems the Karelian authorities might have been using the process of establishing a national park to their own ends. Nearly all the lands along the shore of Lake Ladoga, including the islands, were leased in 2006 (on the eve of the transfer of powers over forests to the regions) at the behest of the then-current leadership of the Russian Federal Forestry Agency. In 2015, however, the Karelian Ministry of Natural Resources in coordination with the Russian Federal Ministry of Natural Resources had the courts terminate the leases on forest reserve lands in the Ladoga Skerries with the goal of establishing a federal specially protected natural area. In particular, the leases on lots rented by Sortavala Wood and Paper Holding, Ltd., were revoked in January 2015. Meaning that the old tenant’s lots were seized under the pretext of establishing a national park, but Karelian officials are now seizing the same lots on behalf of another investor.
The question of what areas should be excluded from the park has been decided behind closed doors, and at present there is no reliable information about what investors and what projects will be implemented in the area. However, according to sources close to the Karelian Ministry of Natural Resources, it is primarily subsidiaries of Rosneft that have been discussed, which would explain both Hudilainen’s involvement in the problem and the unexpectedly loyal stance adopted by the Federal Ministry of Natural Resources.
No simple interest
Information about Rosneft’s interest in the area emerged in 2014, when the oil company and the government of Karelia signed a strategic partnership agreement. After meeting with Rosneft chair Igor Sechin, Hudilainen said the company had decided to build a large health center on the Ladoga shore. According to a source, the possible allocation of lots within the planned specially protected natural area had begun to be worked out as early as a year ago, but initially did not find support within the Federal Ministry of Natural Resources.
That the ministry agreed to amend the project, despite the fact the environmental impact review had already been completed, confirms that an investor with big lobbying capabilities has gone after the land, potentially allowing it not only to redraw the national park’s boundaries but also to transfer forest lands to another category, a decision that can be made only by the federal government. This turn of events is highly likely. It is worth remembering that, in the past, the current head of Karelia successfully sold off forest lands when he was head of the Gatchina District in Leningrad Region. His role came to light in the well-publicized investigation of the illegal seizure of lands in the Siversky Forest in 2005. However, the scale of the seizures there was considerably less.
According to Olga Ilyina from SPOK, free lots that were no worse in terms of recreation and unencumbered by restrictions on development could have been found on the Ladoga shore. There was no acute need to intrude on the protected area of the park, but the decision to intrude was made all the same, despite the inevitable complications. The option of taking out a long-term lease on the lands removed from the park simply would not justify the effort.
On the other hand, removing forest reserve status from these lots would turn them into extremely profitable assets, whose worth, according to rough estimates, could run into the tens of billions of rubles, if we take into account the going rate for land in the district. This sum, by the way, is comparable to the size of the Republic of Karelia’s annual budget, which was 29.3 billion rubles in 2015 [approx. 388 million euros].
It is unlikely that the deal would be a salvation for the Karelian budget, which has been shrinking because of the economic crisis. It is easier to imagine that the lots allocated for “socially significant projects” would be purchased with earmarked funds and for a tenth of their actual market value, if that much. But for Alexander Hudilainen, whose position deteriorated after he was reprimanded by the president in February, it could be more important to obtain the political dividends.
The Karelian authorities have to account for the investments they have attracted as part of a federal program for the targeted development of Karelia until 2020. Timed to coincide with the republic’s centennial in that same year, the program is now in jeopardy. So a single project with a nominal value of even several billion rubles might prove to be a salvation to Karelian officials.
Sabotaging the park
Whatever objectives the Karelian authorities have been pursuing via the intrigue into which they have drawn the Federal Ministry for Natural Resources, they have planted a bomb under all the plans for the Ladoga Skerries National Park.
Amending the project for the specially protected natural area after it has gone through an official environmental impact review makes it vulnerable in legal terms.
Practically speaking, there are now grounds for challenging the conclusions of that review as well as any regulations adopted on its basis, a challenge that could be mounted by an interested party. In current conditions, according to environmentalists, this could delay the establishment of the park by another two or three years. A second environmental impact review would require money that is not in the budget.
Over this time, the area of the future part could shrink even further, including at the expense of state reserve lands, which were supposed to be included in the specially protected natural area during the second phase of the project. (In the first phase, only lands from the forest and water reserves will be included in the park.) The Karelian government has virtually put these lots up for sale already, although it should have set them aside in order to establish the specially protected natural area. Thus, on a website entitled The Investor’s Republic of Karelia, there is a description of an investment project involving the sale of thirteen land plots, totaling 137.1 hectares, on the eastern half of Sammatsaari Island, for recreational purposes. This particular page is hidden in such a way that it is impossible to find on the site’s main menu.
This may mean that the sabotage of the national park has been planned deliberately, and then the damage would be not be limited to removing the above-mentioned 3,750 hectares from the park. Within two years, the Ladoga Skerries could be ripped to shreds. Or, on the contrary, has Alexander Hudilainen on his own initiative unwittingly provoked a classic conflict of priorities by essentially putting the interests of Rosneft above those of the head of state? This conflict might be resolved in the most unpredictable ways, including for the man who started it.
Translated by the Russian Reader. Photos courtesy ofGreenpeace Russia. Thanks to Comrades AK and SY, as always, for the heads-up. Thanks to Comrade EN for the geography lesson.