“Court-Martial Putin!”

citizen putin van

“Citizen Putin! Don’t reduce Russia to Syria: don’t run for president anymore. We are going to have deal with fixing the consequences of your rule for years as it is.” Dmitry Skurikhin embossed this slogan on his van in early 2015—presciently, before the Kremlin sent its military to defend the Assad regime later the same year. Photo courtesy of Novy Krasnosel

Yevgenia Litvinova
Facebook
April 25, 2019

[The following was dispatched by Open Russia.]

In Petersburg, an Open Russia activist was detained at a courthouse and taken to a police station for wearing a patch on his jacket that read “Court-Martial Putin.”

Businessman and civic activist Dmitry Skurikhin was detained at the St. Petersburg City Court. He was at the courthouse to attend a hearing appealing a three-day jail sentence for his involvement in the Angry Mothers March.

Police detained Skurikhin because of the phrase “Court-martial Putin,” embroidered on his blazer. Bailiffs stopped him at the entrance to the court and hit the alarm button, summoning a squad of armed policemen to the courthouse. Skurikhin was taken to the 29th Police Precinct, where police attempted to make him explain his “unauthorized picket” at the courthouse.

After discussing the matter with the police, Skurikhin was released. He went to the courthouse, where he was allowed inside without hindrance. But the hearing in his case, scheduled for one o’clock, had already adjourned. The case had been heard in his absence. Skurikhin has filed a complaint with the court’s chairman on this point.

A businessman from Leningrad Region and father of five children, Skurikhin has gained notoriety for the political posters he puts up in one of his stores, posters inspired by current events. Local police have tried on several occasions to fine Skurikhin for the alleged misdemeanor of “placing announcements in an inappropriate place.” Skurikhin has, however, been acquitted by courts on each occasion.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Pig Farming in Leningrad Region Today

свиноферма

Kebab Fans Should Come to the Rescue: Idavang Kicks off Construction of Pig Farm in Leningrad Region with ₽3.7 Billion Price Tag
Yekaterina Fomicheva
Delovoi Peterburg
June 18, 2018

This week Idavang Group will begin construction of a pig farm in Leningrad Region with  a ₽3.7 billion price tag. The new facility will help the company increase pork production by thirty percent.

The new facility is designed to accommodate 55,000 pigs at any one time and produce 12,000 tons of pork live weight. The facility will include twenty-six hog houses, a feed production unit, a feed warehouse, and other buildings. Seven of the hog houses will be put into operation next years, and the facility will achieve its full capacity by 2024. The project’s overall price tag is ₽3.7 billion [approx. €50.3 million]. The payback period is fifteen years.

Subsidies Helped
As sources at Idavang Group explained to us, the project became possible after the Russian Agriculture Ministry approved a subsidy for paying interest on the loan the company planned to take to build the facility. The ₽1.6 billion loan was disbursed in April.

Late last year, Idavang floated €85 million of priority secured bonds on European financial markets. Part of the proceeds from sales of the bonds could be used on building the facility, which will be in the Luga District.

Idavang Group is a subsidiary of Idavang A/S, a Danish company that owns pig farms in Russia and Latvia. The company has a pig farm in Leningrad Region’s Tosno District that produces 20,000 tons of pork annually, as well as a farm in Pskov Region that produces 10,000 tons of pork per year.

Excessively Cheap Meat
Market insiders say that circumstances are not favorable for expanding production.

“We’ve been seeing a glut of pork on the market, and only the major companies, which have their own feed supply, have been doing well,” says Andrei Krylov, director general of Dawn Plus LLC.

According to Mr. Krylov, players planning to expand expect they can oust small producers who do not have their feed production facilities from the market. For example, Pulkovo Agroholding, which does not have its own feed supply, has now filed for bankruptcy.

“We have been stepping up the production of feed. We have 3,500 hectares in Oryol Region and 1,000 hectares in Kaluga Region where we grow grain. In addition, last year we launched a feed production facility in Kaluga Region,” Mr. Krylov adds.

Other experts also say the market is glutted. Last year, Russia produced 3.3 million tons of pork. Domestic companies meet only 97% of the total demand for pork, says Lyubov Burdiyenko, an analyst at Emeat Information and Analysis Agency.

According to Ms. Burdiyenko, pork prices began to rise in April after a decline at the beginning of the year. The price rise was due to the onset of the summer cottage and kebab cookout season.

However, wholesale prices in April were ₽168 [approx. €2.30] a kilo on the half carcass. This is three percent lower than in April 2016. Producers have been operating on the verge of profitability, the analysts note.

Translated by the Russian Reader. This post is dedicated to my father, a retired pig farmer, on the occasion of yesterday’s Father’s Day holiday. He taught me everything I know about pigs and farming, and many, many other things as well. Photo courtesy of Fermok.Ru.

Tortured Petersburg Antifascist Viktor Filinkov Transferred to Remand Prison in Leningrad Region

Staff at Remand Prison No. 6 (Gorelovo, Leningrad Region) celebrating Fatherland Defenders Day, 23 February 2018. Photo courtesy of the prison’s website.

Yana Teplitskaya
Facebook
March 16, 2018

We just visted Russian Federal Penitentiary Service Remand Prison No. 3 and learned that Viktor Filinkov was transferred to Remand Prison No. 6 the day before yesterday. Members of the Petersburg Public Monitoring Commission have no access to this prison, because it is located in Leningrad Region.

There are one hundred inmates per cell in Remand Prison No. 6, and there have been many complaints that “pressure cookers” are employed there.*

There are reasons to believe that Viktor may be tortured again.

UPDATE. Alexander Gennenbereg and Anna Osnach, wonderful members of the Leningrad Region PMC, have been to Remand Prison No. 6. Viktor is still in “quarantine,” a cell for sixteen inmates. There were no signs he had been beaten, nor did he say he had been beaten. Prison staff told the PMC members Viktor would be transferred from the quarantine cell on Monday.

We do not know the formal grounds for his transfer to another remand prison.

At Remand Prison No. 3, members of the Petersburg PMC were told that the papers for the transfer (“a decision by the court or the investigator”) were located at Remand Prison No. 6, but when the members of the Leningrad Region PMC visited Remand Prison No. 6 they were told the transfer was due to “optimization” and the directive for the transfer was located at Remand Prison No. 3.

In fact, Viktor was transferred yesterday morning, not the day before yesterday.

Unlike Remand Prison No. 3, it is impossible to protect inmates in Remand Prison No. 6. In Remand Prison No. 3, the cells are designed for two inmates and there are CCTV cameras everywhere, while Remand Prison No. 6 contains barracks designed for one hundred inmates. (Incidentally, unlike Petersburg’s remand prisons, there are often more inmates in Remand Prison No. 6 than there are beds, and the inmates take it in turns to sleep.) We get a large number of complaints of beatings,  hazings,** and so forth from Remand Prison No. 6. It is impossible to monitor the place.

We have to get Viktor out of there.

* My translation for the Russian prison slang term press-khata. According to Wiktionary, a press-khata is a “prison cell in which the wardens, with the help of cooperating prisoners, create intolerable conditions for inmates they do not like. ◆ ‘Cell No. 45 was considered a pressure cooker. The most notorious, murderous “bitches” were locked up there. If it was necessary to break someone’s spirit or just kill him, they were the people to turn to, since it was inexpensive. Often, a few packets of tea sufficed.’ Yevgeny Sartinov, The Last Empire, I: The Coup.”

** My translation for the Russian prison slang term propiska, literally, “registration.” Various Russian prison hazing rituals are described in the relevant article in Alexander Kuchinsky, A Prison Encyclopedia (1998).

Translated by the Russian Reader

If you have not heard about the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case and the related crackdown against Russian grassroots and political activists on the eve of the March 18 Russian presidential election, you need to read the following articles and spread the word.

The Poster Maker

“I’ll Go All Out to Ensure Putin Loses”
Yelizaveta Mayetnaya
Radio Svoboda
December 5, 2017

“Citizen Putin! If there is a clampdown on public liberties under the pretext of terrorists attacks, it will be clear to everyone who is behind them!”

“Putin is war. Say no to war!”

“Dimon got what was coming to him. Let’s go after Vovan.”

“We live the way we vote.”

Dmitry Skurikhin, owner of a store in the village of Russko-Vysotskoye, near Petersburg, reacts immediately and visually to every political event in Russia.

Skurikhin immediately hangs each new poster on the front of the store, a small, two-storey building, so it is readily visible from the nearby bus stop. They usually do not stay up for long, however. The record is held by the slogan “Peace to Ukraine,” which stayed up for two weeks.

На митинге Навального

Skurikhin at a pro-Navalvy rally on the Field of Mars in Petersburg

43-year-old Dmitry Skurikhin is a local businessman, whose family owns three village shops. By local standards, he is well off. His family owns several cars, and they have everything they need. However, Skurikhin says the incomes of villagers have taken a nosedive in the past year: “They buy almost nothing, because they barely have enough for food.” Around six thousand people live in Russko-Vysotskoye. Very few of them are holiday cottage dwellers. The majority commute to work in Petersburg. Skirukhin was the first businessman in the village to open self-service stores, but “then the Pyatyorochka and Magnit chains moved in, and we croaked, of course.” He now sells toys, newspapers, clothings, and sundries.

He has been hanging political posters on his store, situated along a road, for almost four years. Before that, he pasted homemade bumper stickers on his car. Skirukhin recalls that the first bumper sticker read, “No new taxes!” The year was 2005.

Skurikhin: They had decided to raise taxes on us local businessmen then. It was one of those taxes you couldn’t avoid paying. Either you worked and paid the tax or you didn’t work and didn’t pay the tax. We businessmen realized they were clamping down on us. We joined forces and beat back the tax. It made such an impression on me that since then I haven’t been able to stop going. There are at least some improvements in our lives, specifically in our village. I’m a local grassroots activist, not even a region-wide activist, but a village-level activist. I was born here, and I live and work here. My kids go to school and kindergarten here. I think I have helped improve life in our village.

Radio Svoboda: How exactly have you improved life in the village?

Skurikhin: As they call it now, I was a municipal district council member from 2009 to 2014. At the time, our district authorities were running this interesting scam. They were “milking” the villages. They would buy heat from the producer and sell it to residents. They marked up the price one hundred percent. When the situation had reached a deadlock, it transpired they were charging residents, but not paying the producer anything. They were getting heat for free. The chair of the district council was mixed up in the scam. Thanks in part to my efforts, the gentleman was conveyed directly from the district chairman’s office to prison. That was in May 2012. Since then we haven’t had any disasters with our supply of heat and water.

We still have problems sometimes, but we are now longer in that disastrous state when a group of people affiliated with district officials were just robbing people by latching onto the flow of payments for housing and utilities. Then we had problems with the road. I organized a decent protest rally. A lot of folks turned out for it: 165 people, which is a huge number for our village. We demanded the road be repaired. The road was repaired. So, by starting with small changes like that, stirring people up, I have been trying to bring them round to the idea that fair elections, free speech, and democracy mean improving the welfare of society. On May 1, we had a rally that wasn’t about the roads (we’ve had the roads fixed), but was about healthcare, fair elections, and responsible authorities. Those were the topics of our rally. 45 people showed up. The rally was authorized. I always try and authorize events with the authorities, but we rallied at the skating rink on the edge of the forest.

Кто будет следующим

“Dimon got run over. Let’s go after Vovan.” This is a reference to Alexei Navalny’s film documentary exposé of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his untold riches, Don’t Call Him Dimon. “Vovan” is a humorous reference to Vladimir Putin.

In 2014, my time as district council member ended for a simple reason: our team doesn’t pay for votes. If you don’t buy yourself votes, meaning if you don’t pay off the right people during early voting, then you’re out of the race, because your opponents do pay for votes. United Russia paid 1,500 rubles per vote! All the other candidates lost.

Radio Svoboda: Did you prove in court they paid for votes?

Skurikhin: It’s impossible to prove in court, because the scam is quite competently organized. They don’t buy votes, but pay for the services of fake campaign workers, meaning they contract out their campaign. United Russia has a team of between ten and fifteen people, depending on the number of seats that are up for grabs in a specific municipal district, and they hire canvassers. But the canvassers don’t have to canvass. They just need to show up and vote ahead of time, for which they are paid 1,500 rubles a pop. That’s it. It’s perfectly legal. All the evidence is circumstantial. When I tried to get hired as a canvasser in a neighboring village, I was told I would not do, because I wasn’t registered in that precinct.

“How’s that?!” I said. “I’m a local resident. I have a store here. I know everyone in the village, and they all know me. I’ll canvass for you like nobody’s business.”

“No, no, you don’t fit us.”

“What’s the deal?”

“You’re registered somewhere else.”

It’s all clear, guys! You don’t need canvassers: you need voters, whom you buy off for 1,500 rubles apiece. I dubbed the technique “bribing a voter under the guise of paying a canvasser.” It works like a charm in all the villages, where the populace is not too savvy. The populace in general is not very savvy, but in the countryside it’s just unbelievable. The salary in these places is commonly 1,000 rubles a day [approx. 14 euros a day]. People who get a 1,000 rubles a day don’t suffer. I ran a counter-campaign against this.

When the villagers were going to vote, I would say to them, “Guys, are you really unaware that when they get seats on the council, they’ll shake a hundred times more out of your pockets?”

“I toss manure on a farm with a pitchfork for a 1,000 rubles a day. But here I’m getting 1,500 rubles for five minutes of my time. Maybe you’d like to go and pitch manure for me?” one guy told me.

That’s their whole rationale! There’s nothing more to say.

Radio Svoboda: When did you hang the first political banner on your store? How long did it stay up?

Skurikhin: It was the spring of 2014. My fifth daugther was born then. I decided to give my wife a present by building a politicized bus stop opposite the store. I fashioned the frame and the foundation. We didn’t have a stop there. People would always stand outside there, and the buses would stop to pick them up. I built a bus stop and draped it with posters. This was when the annexation of Crimea was happening. We had a couple of posters about Crimea: I demanded an end to the disgrace. Then there were posters demaning pay rises for ordinary doctors and school teachers. I was still a council member. I gathered information on how much doctors were paid in Russia. President Putin had literally just claimed that there were no doctors in Russia who were paid less than the average monthly salary in their regions. That was an outright lie. I wrote it on my poster, because I knew how much our doctors were paid. I had gathered the information in my capacity as a municipal district council member.

Radio Svoboda: How much did doctors really make then?

Skurikhin: The ophthalmologist in our village was paid 14,000 rubles, while the average monthly wage in Leningrad Region was 35,000 rubles. I think this as an absolutely proven lie. I hung it up on the bus stop. The local authorities were completely shocked by it. The stop had been turned into a shelter and was hung with banners and pasted with posters. They didn’t know what to do, so the posters stayed up for three weeks or so, I think. Then a major from Center “E” [the so-called anti-extremism police] in Petersburg came and had a long chat with me. That was April 1, 2014. I remembered the date, because it was the day the Russian State Duma issued a resolution condemning restrictions on freedom of speech in Ukraine. And I was sitting there chatting with this little vampire who was directly threatening me and my business.

“We will shut you down if you don’t stop it!” he told me.

The bus stop stood for a month, and then it had to be demolished. All that’s left is the concrete slab, where locals still wait to catch the bus.

Radio Svoboda: Who demolished it?

Skurikhin: I did, on orders from the local authorities. They told me either I had to demolish it and haul it away or they would do it themselves. Since then I have been hanging posters on the store.

I hung up the poster “I congratulate you on the 61st anniversary of the Dragon’s death. The Dragon is dead, but his cause lives on. // Russian citizens, stop being slaves. Become citizens. Kill the dragon inside you.” The poster, which showed Stalin in his casket, used to be coupled with the second part, about citizens, which was swiped by the polizei. The poster “Peace to Ukraine” broke all the records: it hung for two weeks.

Вторую часть плаката

The second part of this poster, featuring a dead Stalin and a call to “kill the dragon inside you” and “become citizens” was “swiped by the polizei.”

The local authorities, by the way, didn’t know how to react. The poster was hanging on my building. It’s my property and my land, and the poster belongs to me. It hung there for quite a long time. Other events took place, for example, the 2014 elections. I hung my campaign posters there. As a municipal district council member, I was competing for votes. I would hang up a poster. It would become stale, and I would hang up a new one. And then, when I clearly campaigned against Putin. . . For example, I had posted a banner reading, “Putin should resign.” It was 9.4 meters by 2 meters. The banner caught everyone’s eye: my store stands next to the road. Well, they just came and swiped the banner. I decided to hang up another banner. Since it was forbidden to demand Putin’s resignation, I demanded Putin be freed. Since he considered himself a galley slave, I wrote, “Free Vladimir Putin! Let’s free this galley slave. Otherwise, he and his pals will row [rake in] too much.” This banner was also 9.4 meters by 2 meters.

Radio Svoboda: It was probably removed immediately, no? 

Skurikhin: I don’t know why, but it stayed up for nearly two weeks. I saw policemen come and look at it. Maybe they didn’t get it? I can’t say how the authorities make decisions. But then they removed it anyway. I have been doing this on purpose. My goal is to ensure President Putin loses this election. During the last election, in 2012, I printed flyers and ensured that Putin got the least number of votes in our district in our precincts, although he won anyway, of course. Our precinct was among the ten worst precincts in Leningrad Region. Numbers decide everything in a democracy. I worked on the electorate the best I could.

Radio Svoboda: Do the security services often summon your for talks and try to reason with you?

Skurikhin: Earlier they did, but recently they have left me alone for some reason. I think they just realized, probably, that they should be talking to me in handcuffs, whereas talking to me just for the heck of it, what’s the point? Besides my chat with the major from Center “E,” a major from the FSB, a colonel from the FSO (Federal Protective Service), and the Investigative Committee summoned me. Each of my posters has been sent off for a forensic examination. Policemen photograph them, and the photos are sent to Center “E” and Saint Petersburg State University for analysis: they have this forensics examination center there. Their forensics experts study my posters and render their findings. If the findings are neutral, the posters are returned to me, accompanied by an official ruling refusing to file criminal charges against me. I’ve had around a hundred such posters. Each one is also accompanied by a description. The police also try to do everything by the book. In Nazi Germany, they incinerated Jews by the book. Here in Russia, they have been trying to shut me up by the book, to put it crudely.

Radio Svoboda: What grounds do the police have for removing posters from private property? How does it usually happen?

Skurikhin: First, they get a complaint either from the local council or from a resident: someone is unhappy with the poster hanging on my store. The police arrive and write me up for violating the regional law that all posters must be vetted with the local council. This little law was invented in Leningrad Region. I disagree with it, so I simply say it wasn’t so. They write me up, then they bring a slave from the local housing authority, whom they force to climb up and remove my poster. Then they leave. After which the situation proceeds as I’ve described it. Unfortunately, the forensics experts have concluded that two of my posters insulted the honor and dignity of the president and incited social discord. I try not to insult anyone. I think through all my posters and make sure that they are worded as properly as possible, because you don’t help things by insulting people. I want to persuade people to vote against Putin, persuade them we need democratic values, freedom, and liberalism. Yet two of my posters have been deemed insulting to Putin. They were the reason I was summoned to the Investigative Committee to talk with an investigator.

Radio Svoboda: Have criminal charges been filed in connection with the two posters?

Skurikhin: You know, I haven’t asked the police about it. But they did get me summoned to the Investigative Committee, where I was asked for an explanation. I was shown the findings of the forensics experts. The poster in question was “Putin is war. Say no to war.” As you remember, it was Anna Politkovskaya who said, “Putin is war.” The slogan was written with bloody smudges, so there was nothing in particular to interpret. It was clear as clear could be. The poster was deemed to have insulted Putin’s honor and dignity. I don’t think I insulted him, but the Investigative Committee does.

Radio Svoboda: What war did you have in mind when when you wrote the slogan?

Skurikhin: Any war. Because Putin is, in fact, war. We were flattening Ukraine at the time.

Radio Svoboda: Have they threatened to close your business?

Skurikhin: The major from Center “E” threatened me, but no one else has. It’s just I’ve been in business for twenty-one years, and all the agencies they could sick on me, I’ve been working with them for a long time. I have a good relationship with them. Most important, all of them are on my side. As they’re tearing down the posters, the policemen say to me, “Damn, what you write is true.” But they’ve taken an oath, they have their orders, they would immediately get hell from their commander, so they can’t say it that way. I can because I don’t have a commander. Firefighters, the guys at Health Inspection Services, they all understand what is happening in Russia. Most of them are smart people.

Против кого на самом деле надо сакции вводить

“Americans, don’t sanction all of Russia. Our head vampires got their jobs dishonestly and run things dishonestly. Sanction them!”

Radio Svoboda: Does your family support you?

Skurikhin: Yes, of course. Sure, they worry about me. The situation in Russia is such that the most active dissenters are shot down. My kids are aged nineteen, fourteen, seven, and four. All of them are girls: I live in a flower garden. If I’m arrested, my wife will feed the family: she’ll be like Vassa Zheleznova. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but we’ve talked it all throgh, of course. So that’s why I try and write slogans that are legal. I have studied a ton of material on the subject. What is an insult? It’s when you compare someone with an animal. The rest can be offensive and unpleasant, but it is not insulting in the criminal sense. You can say, “Skurikhin, you’re an idiot.” Yes, it’s possible for you to have this opinion. But I think differently. But if you say, “Skurikhin, you’re a jackass,” that is an insult.

Radio Svoboda: Have other businessmen put up similar posters?

Skurikhin: There were elections to the State Duma in 2016. As a member of Parnas (People’s Freedom Party), I ran in them in my own electoral district, the southwest  district of Leningrad Region. Sergey Naryshkin, now our top spy, ran in the same district. I made the rounds of all my businessmen friends and asked them to support me. I made banners that read, “Skurikhin and Parnas are your only worthy choice.” In our part of the world, most of the shops are village shops, and they are on private property, so I was able to hang them up for free. No other candidate got that kind of support. The rest had to pay for billboards. I spent 150,000 rubles on my election campaign. My wife later gave me a piece of her mind about that. I took second place in the elections in my own village. Only Naryshkin got more votes. I got support for my posters and ideas, for saying “Putin should resign.” My fellow villagers gave me the number two spot. In my native Lomonosov District, I took sixth place, and I took eighth place in the entire electoral district, which has a population of 500,000. What does that tell you? I would argue the outcome shows that liberal and democratic ideas are popular in society, but they simply never get conveyed to the voters, since the media are totally blocked. I have no other way of telling people Putin should have been dismissed from the Kremlin long ago. I only have my posters. But, generally speaking, it’s very hard for a Parnas member to get around United Russia on the first try.

Radio Svoboda: Do you attend all protest rallies?

Skurikhin: Yes, I try to go to all of them. At the last pro-Navalny rally, in June, I was wearing a “Sick of Him” t-shirt and carrying a flag. I was taken to a police station, but I escaped. This year there were also primary elections—Naryshkin gave up his seat in the Duma when he was appointed head of the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service) in October 2016—and this year there were reelections. We also held events that, in my opinion, were meaningful to our district. I couldn’t let my people down, so I had to hightail it from the police station.

Radio Svoboda: Are you following the presidential campaign?

Skurikhin: Yes, of course. I’ll go all out to ensure Mr. Putin loses the election, at least in my precinct. I support Navalny’s registration as a candidate and Ksenia Sobchak’s candidacy, because we need as many candidates as possible in the first round just to take votes away from Putin and get a second round. If there is a second round, that will be a significant victory in itself.

Thanks to Comrade Uvarova for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Wayward Pines

khvoyny-map-1

Khvoyny is located south of Krasnoye Selo, an outlying suburb of St. Petersburg
Khvoyny is located south of Krasnoye Selo, an outlying suburb of St. Petersburg

A Town’s Story
Irina Tumakova
Fontanka.ru
September 14, 2016

This is Saint Petersburg too, but there is no medical clinic, no pharmacy, no legally operating shops, and no eateries here. The roofs are hastily under repair in time for the elections, but the trash is not hauled away. Fontanka.ru took a look at how this Petersburg gets along.

История одного городка

The letter was an invitation to journey, as the old rubric in the newspapers used to be called. Fontanka.ru got a call from a woman who introduced herself, requested we tell no one she had called, and complained about her unbearable life. She said her life and the lives of her two and a half thousand neighbors were unbearable.

“Just don’t tell anyone I called you,” she repeated, switching to a whisper.

We will honor Nina Petrovna’s request, although I never did figure out whom she was hiding from. (Nina Petrovna is not her real name.) When I came to visit her, when she gave me a tour of her town’s horrors, we were gradually joined by neighbors and even a former municipal councilman who had a roll of glossy paper tucked under his arm. I would nod, rustle my notepad, and feel like a high commission, registering people’s complaints. The procession would expand, and every passerby who did not join it would happily greet us. That is right, they would say, spell them all out in the newspaper. “They” were the authorities who had reduced the whole town to misery. Towards the end, everyone asked me in unison not to identify them.  They had secrecy down pat here. This was not surprising: Khvoyny is the former military garrison town L-237. So Nina Petrovna is a composite character.

Nowadays, the place is an exclave of Petersburg known as Khvoyny (“Coniferous”). Formally part of Petersburg’s outlying Krasnoye Selo district, all the local residents are registered as residents of Petersburg. In practical terms, this village of two and a half thousand residents is stuck between two districts of the surrounding Leningrad Region, Gatchina and Lomonosov. Khvoyny has ceased being a military town, but has still not become a civilian one.

“No one needs us!” Nina Petrovna bitterly informs me. She has spelled out what the trouble is in four words.

Nearly all of Khvoyny’s residents are retired army officers, officers’ wives, and officers’ children. In the early 1960s, they were allocated flats in this spot, which was considered a paradise. There are coniferous trees here, but even more hardwoods. The three-story brick residential buildings are almost in the midst the woods. I arrived here from downtown Petersburg and almost suffered oxygen shock. Here and there, you need to take a forest path to get from one building to another. Since construction of the town was completed in the 1960s, many of the buildings are Stalin-era houses with three-meter-high ceilings. On the upper floors, the ceilings have cracked in places and are covered in mold, because the roofs have not been repaired since the sixties, apparently. But now metallic structures tower next to the buildings: the roofs are rapidly undergoing major repairs.

“Oh, yes,” Nina Petrovna nods. “It was a miracle we were put on the capital renovations program. We have been promised our roofs will be fixed by September 18 [Russian election day this year—TRR].”

Previously, the only way to get into L-237 was through a checkpoint at the invitation of a local resident, but all that remains of the checkpoint are iron gates always left open. Before Nina Petrovna can tell me about the town’s hardships, I notice evenly laid asphalt in the passages between the houses, and cheerful flowerbeds and neat playgrounds in the courtyards. There are even public exercise machines next to the school. So my first impression of Khvoyny is that only profoundly ungrateful and picky people could complain about it.

“You’ve got to be kidding!” says Nina Petrovna, waving her hand. “We planted the flowers ourselves. And our municipal councilman pushed through the playgrounds and the asphalt. What he managed to do when he was on the council is left. But then someone from Krasnoye Selo was elected instead of him. No one deals with our problems anymore.”

We won’t be coming back to how the former municipal councilman “pushed” those things  through. The story looks shady, and the so-called ex-councilman absolutely refused to share the paperwork with us. The problem is that, formally speaking, everything in Khvoyny, including the land, still belongs to the Defense Ministry, and it is not quite clear on what grounds the municipal powers that be were trying to build a garden town, complete with asphalt and exercise machines. But the residents of the former L-237 are terribly worried that the asphalt and the playgrounds and the exercise machines and even the half-repaired roofs will all be taken away. Just as the swimming pool, the bathhouse, the cafeteria, the clinic, the pharmacy, and the shops have already been taken away. Khvoyny once had all these amenities.

“The swimming pool is still there,” Nina Petrovna corrects me. “I don’t know what is in there now, but the military garrison has put it under guard, and someone stops by there from time to time.”

The medical clinic is also still standing. I am led there as if it were a local landmark.

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The sign reads, “Working Hours of the Khvoyny Village Medical Clinic.”

“It used to be a hospital branch,” Nina Petrovna says. “It had everything: an X-ray machine, a lab, and complete staff of doctors. You could undergo physiotherapy here.”

The door has been wide open for many years, and you can walk in. Chair legs covered with a layer of dust lie in the hallways. Books are strewn about, and computer debris crunches underfoot. When the military moved out, it looks as if they did all they could to make sure the enemy would not get their hands on these precious things. The stench testifies to the fact the building is now used as a public toilet.

Their Krasnoye Selo residence permits mean the residents of Khvoinyi are assigned to the Krasnoye Selo Medical Clinic. But, says Nina Petrovna, it takes something like an hour to get there on the minibus. But to say that the residents of Khvoyny have been left without medical care would be shamelessly slandering the authorities.

“The outpatient clinic and the district doctor come three times a week,” Nina Petrovna admits.

The “outpatient clinic” is a minivan. The doctors sees patients right in the van. The patients queue up outside the van.

“If it’s raining, we stand under umbrellas,” sighs Nina Petrovna. “Can you imagine what it’s like in winter?”

Once, she tells me, a neighbor summoned an ambulance from Krasnoye Selo. It arrived the next day.

Another building the residents of Khvoyny like to show off is the former cafeteria. The military, apparently, retreated from this building in keeping with all the regulations, trashing everything they could not take with them. The cafeteria’s doors are securely locked, so visitors get in by climbing through a shattered window.

A wise man once conversed with the people via a TV screen. A old man complained to him about awful roads, roads on which it was impossible to drive a car. The wise man’s reply was reasonable. Why, he said, do you need a car if there are no roads? It is the same thing with the residents of Khvoyny. They don’t have a pharmacy, but why do they need a pharmacy if they don’t have a medical clinic, either?

“People who have cars are alright,” sighs Nina Petrovna. “But it’s so much trouble going by bus every time to buy medications.”

But residents have to take the bus in any case because neither are there any shops in Khvoyny. There is a building in town. The sign on it says, “Store.” The windows are boarded up.

“People from one of the big retailers came here, either Pyatyorochka or Magnit,” Nina Petrovna repeats a rumor. “The military demanded such high rent they left as soon as they arrived!”

“Store”

This story of how the military “demanded” high rent conceals, apparently, the reason why there no shops and no pharmacy in Khvoyny. All the buildings are still the property of the Defense Ministry. Local residents assure me the process of transferring them to the city has been going on for fifteen years or so. The ex-councilman, mentioned earlier, knows something about this, but once again he does not want to show me the paperwork. He says the problem will be resolved quite soon.

For now, though, anyone who wants to open a shop or pharmacy in Khvoyny has to contact the military about the rent. Apparently, such people do reach out to them. And certain people seemingly manage to luck out and agree on the rent. Products are sold in a cubbyhole in the boarded-up store. In a kiosk on the next street over, an enterprising fellow sells milk, bread, vodka, sausages, and other edibles that he ships in from Petersburg. An old woman bakes him pasties to sell. So the kiosk doubles, as it were, as a “branch” of the former cafeteria. All these businesses seem to have settled with the military on terms that are not suitable for large retail chains and even less so for pharmacies. But quality control of the products is as reliable as can be. It is implemented not by some consumer watchdog agency, but by the consumers themselves. If push comes to shove, they can beat up the retailers.

Another sight to see in Khvoyny is the rubbish dump on the outskirts of town. There used to be a path here that people took when going shopping in the neighboring village of Taitsy. When the dump appeared, they had to alter their route, because the dumpsters are hauled away, at best, on the eve of big holidays, and the perpetual puddle near the dump is so large that, at all other times, residents have to toss their rubbish into dumpster from a distance of three meters. You can see, however, that accuracy is not the principal virtue of Khvoyny’s residents.

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If you think the military are so ruthless only to the civilian population, think again. This accusation completely falls away when you see their own dormitory. It is inhabited by those in Khvoyny who do not have their own flats. The garrison continues to operate, and despite the peacetime conversion I have described, the garrison’s current headquarters is still located in the town. Soldiers and officers assigned to the garrison are housed in the dormitory as well. If you are lucky, the ceiling in your room will leak only in one spot. At most, you will need to put two buckets on the floor to catch the water. And it is not so terrible there is one toilet per floor. As we recall, the former medical clinic functions as a public toilet.

My tour of Khvoyny lasted three hours. During those three hours, the hard lives of Khvoyny’s residents and the total neglect they suffer at the hands of the powers that be filled me with compassion for them. We said our goodbyes next to an imported car with a plush toy dog in the back window. A St. George’s Ribbon was tied round the doggy’s neck. Before leaving, I decided to have a look at the glossy scroll the ex-councilman had been carrying throughout my tour. It turned out to be a campaign poster for country’s main political party. He had to hang it on wall to do his part for the campaign. I asked the residents of Khvoyny whether they were going to vote for this party.
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“Of course!” said Nina Petrovna firmly, her lips pursed. “I don’t see an alternative. Otherwise, there will be war. The country will divided up, and the Americans will grab all our riches.”

I left town with a feeling of joy. It was a good thing, after all, the residents of Khvoyny would be hanging on to their riches.

All photos by Irina Tumakova. Map images courtesy of OpenStreetMap and Google Maps. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade VZ for the heads-up

“We Have Been Enslaved by Criminals”: Vyborg Rises in Protest

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Vyborg Rally Looms over Authorities
Yulia Gilmshina
47News.ru
March 7, 2016

Vyborg residents sacked Gennady Orlov, head of the Vyborg District, right at Peter’s Square. He was given a vote of no confidence for a rise in the cost of heating bills. Local boss Alexander Petrov was chided over his son. But the authorities did not come out to talk to the people.

On Sunday, March 6, eighty-thousand-strong Vyborg got ready to vent its feelings. On Peter’s Square, on the outskirts of the historic center, a rally protesting twofold and threefold increases in heating bills was scheduled.

When 47News asked a taxi driver leaving the train station whether he knew about the upcoming event, we got an unexpectedly long response.

“The heating bill has increased by 7,000 rubles [approx. 88 euros]. It isn’t clear who is running the city. People should go to the rally. I can’t, but I’m taking the wife,” he said.

Another taxi driver, whose bill had increased by 6,000 rubles in a single go, also promised to send his wife.

When city hall was in the process of authorizing the rally on Peter’s Square, its main consideration was the distance from downtown. The protesters were excommunicated from the more convenient Red Square because of an event more interesting to the people in charge: an event congratulating women on March 8, International Women’s Day.

But officials accidentally provided the TV channels and photographers with a luxurious picture. While Red Square is dominated by a three-meter-high, wretched green, bird dropping-bespattered statue of Lenin, the people who gathered on Peter’s Square got visual backing from the Vyborg Castle. The 700-year-old hulk gloomily complemented any shot.

At 2:30 p.m., half an hour before the event, there were almost no protesters on Peter’s Square. Fifty people or so, including policemen, journalists, and a German shepherd, allegedly there to sniff out explosives, dilly-dallied on the pavement. At a quarter to three, one individual in uniform shouted to another, “Close it up!” and people could no longer enter the square from just anywhere. New arrivals were admitted onto the square at a couple of points, and each was searched for prohibited items.

“That’s what our people are like: keen to complain, but when it’s time to act, no one’s in sight. I got a bill for 11,600 rubles, and my monthly pension is 8,000. Two of my children are registered in my flat, so I can’t count on a subsidy. Soon they’ll be bringing us bills for 20,000 rubles. They’ll weep a bit and the chew the fat a bit over it, but that will be the end of it,” muttered an old women in a bright green jacket. She told us all her neighbors agreed with her, but had not supported her with their feet.

In the following eight minutes, the situation changed dramatically. As soon as we turned our backs, the center of the square filled up with people. The bulk were residents of various ages, and journalists learned that among them there were activists even from Svetogorsk. There were no officials in sight, except for Alexander Lysov, head of the district’s internal policies committee (not to be confused with the head of the district council of deputies), who was spotted by locals. Dmitry Solovyov, a LDPR deputy in the regional legislative assembly, stood in the corner.

Activist Nadezhda Budarina, who had applied to hold the rally along with her spouse Alexei Kuzmin, moderated the event. At the very beginning of her speech, your correspondent hesitated as to which side she was on, because Budarina quoted our publication for some reason.

“In one of its articles, 47News wrote, ‘An unorganized mob, cut to the quick by an attempt to pinch kopecks from their purses, plans to take to the square.’ Let’s show 47News that Vyborgians are not just a mob, but citizens voicing their own stance,” said Budarina from a makeshift podium set up on the porch of a building facing the square.

Your correspondent had to stay in the middle: not standing with the mob, but not with the organizers, either.

Around this point it was possible to count at least five hundred protesters, a third of the fifteen hundred attendees officially slated to attend. But people kept arriving from the castle, walking over Castle Bridge. Standing at a certain angle, one might have thought the castle was spewing them out.

The number was a subjective calculation on your correspondent’s part. Anyone who is interested can make their own conclusion about the number of attendees by looking at the photos and videos featured in this article.

Budarina’s speech was not chockablock with catchy quotations.

First of all, she reminded Gennady Orlov, head of the Vyborg District, of the words he had said (again, as quoted on our website) about the possible political bias of the protesters.

“Yes, we’re politically biased. We’re biased by our unwillingness to pay the bills of a dubious business and the Property and Utilities Management Company, which sends us the bills, said Budarina.

People stood silently. Or rather, they expressed neither agreement nor displeasure with what they heard. In the crowd, you could see signs emblazoned with slogans such as “Stop robbing your own people,” “It’s time to take power into our own hands,” “We’re for low prices,” “A deferral is a spit in the face,” and “I’m poor and hungry.”

But there were no party symbols.

According to Budarina, the district prosecutor had thrown up his hands and could not do anything with the Property and Utilities Management Company. Sergei Kuzmin, chair of the housing oversight committee, “brazenly talks about the absence of violations,” while Leningrad Region Governor Alexander Drozdenko has “set his mind at rest by explaining that it was not the rates for heating that were so expensive, but the payments system that was not transparent.”

“[Drozdenko] only gave a recommendation to explain to citizens why the prices are what they are. It transpires that an informed citizen is calmer than one with a full belly,” said Budarina, eliciting a first rumble of applause on the square.

“They are forcing us to live on loans,” Budarina claimed at another point, garnering another portion of support from the crowd.

“The governor argues what is happening in the Vyborg District is a systems error, but in none of his statements has he ordered anyone to get to the bottom of the legal aspects of the situation,” said Budarina, again setting off an energetic round of clapping.

The main hero of the day was neither the governor nor even the housing and utilities bloc in the government as such, of course. Over the past three weeks, so much has been written and said about high payments that demands to lower them already sound mundane, and it is difficult to find anything new to say about the conflict between society and officialdom over this issue.

The revolutionary nature of the moment was felt when Vyborg city councilman Alexander Petrov was mentioned. Petrov is considered the city’s unofficial boss, and any mention of his surname on Peter’s Square had a fascinatingly symbolic tinge to it.

Activist Budarina quoted our publication for a third time, reminding the crowd that 78% of the Property and Utilities Management Company belongs to Svetogorsk city councilman Sergei Isayev, considered a close associate of Petrov’s.

Here we should note the speaker’s inaccuracy, for, as 47News has written, according to the Unified State Register of Legal Entities, the Property and Utilities Management Company is wholly own by the government of the Vyborg District.

The crowd roared “Oooooh!” at this point.

Petrov was read the riot act on Sunday.

A woman in a purple jacket, also an activist, whose surname was Alexandrova, recalled that Petrov had been in power for more than ten years.

“Where does the money go? It has been going to Petrov for ten years, but the people have been starving. We are hostages of an executioner, our administration. We have been enslaved by criminals,” Alexandrova pontificated.

A minute later, she encroached, it would have seemed, on the holy of holies. No, not Vyborg Castle, but Formula One driver Vitaly Petrov, Alexander Petrov’s son.

“No other town in Leningrad Region could afford Formula One, but we could. Who paid for little Vitaly Petrov to race in the championships? We paid,” said Alexandrova.

People applauded constrainedly, but with a timidity that could instantly turn into desperation.

Speakers called for the clock to be wound back eleven years and for the emergence of the Property and Utilities Management Company as such to be investigated. In particular, had the tire to real estate worth sixty million rubles been legally transferred to the company? According to the speakers, in 2005, the district administration had illegally handed over property to the company’s management and had also turned the monopolist into an energy supplier without conducting a proper bid.

The only person who could compete with Petrov in terms of the number of times he was mentioned on Peter’s Square on Sunday was, of course, Konstantin Patrayev, head of the Vyborg District until 2012, and first deputy governor of Leningrad Region until November 2015.

“Sometimes you can see him on TV next our Governor Alexander Drozdenko. It was Patrayev who transferred the property. He signed the decree to put our property in this company,” pontificated activist Alexandrova, drawing a little support from the crowd.

Apparently, Patrayev has become a symbol of the regime in Vyborg, since activists could not get through this rally without mentioning him. And yet in 2005 he was not yet in charge of the district (then headed by Georgy Poryadin): he took office only in 2006. And if it is possible to see him on TV, then probably on specialized programs.

Perhaps it is not so much a matter of factual errors as it is the unconscious desire of any people to have a strong, charismatic leader. Patrayev certainly was such a leader for Vyborg, but Georgy Orlov has obviously not become one. Maybe it has something to do with the fact Patrayev’s image has already acquired immortality, just has happened with Count Dracula in back in his day.

The next forty minutes of the event were boring for laymen.

Nikolai Rachinsky, ex-chair of the Vyborg City Executive Committee and now an old-age pensioner, repeated much of what he had said at a meeting of residents and officials at the local Palace of Culture about illegal tariffs and the fact residents pay for investments: so the authorities were wrong to credit themselves with this. A women from Primorsk discussed the problems of registering the town’s property. A man in a green jacket recalled how clean the streets had been in the Soviet Union.

Around half past five, Budarina read out the rally’s draft resolution.

Those assembled noted “the dangerous and catastrophic system in housing and utilities in the Vyborg District.” They believe that “the local authorities, instead of supporting the people, have made no efforts to improve social conditions and equity in the city and district,” that “the rates for resources, as set by the Leningrad Region Rates Committee for the Property and Utilities Management Company are illegal and baseless,” that “provision of housing and utilities services is not in compliance with the Housing Code,” and that the “residential housing stock has been brought to a critical condition.”

In this regard, they demanded that checks be carried out on the legality of the creation of Property and Utilities Management Company, the legality and grounds for the rates set for it, and on its licensing.

The most important point came at the end of the resolution.

“We voice our total and profound lack of confidence and demand the resignation of the heads of the Vyborg District and its council members in connection with their loss of our trust. If our demands are not met, we will hold another, more heavily attended rally whose resolution will be, ‘We demand a personal meeting with President Vladimir Putin.'”

When the part of the resolution calling for the resignations of Gennady Orlov and Alexander Lysov was read out, the protesters repeatedly applauded and shouted “Hurrah!”

Seven minutes or so later, the square was nearly deserted.

The resolution will be dispatched to many officials, including Governor Drozdenko.

By the way, such things never happened under Patrayev.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo and videos courtesy of 47News. Thanks to Comrade SY for the heads-up.

Arseny’s Childhood

You Have the Oyat at Your Back, Young Arseny
Viktor Smirnov
47news
November 23, 2015

Arseny, a third-grader from the Podporozhye District, crosses a river in a boat on his way to school. On the weekends, he serves as an altar boy at a church. His father abandoned Arseny and his mother, a real estate agent conned them, but the authorities know the score. At school, he got two zeroes for conduct when he had no pencils or shoes on September 1, the first day of school. 47news journeyed to the backwoods of the Leningrad Region and spent a day with Arseny’s family.

Every weekday at 7:40 a.m., 9-year-old Arseny Prokhorov and his mom Irina Prokhorova ford the Oyat River in a rubber boat. They are hurrying to school.

The Oyat River, which has its source in the Vologda Region, is 266 kilometers long and flows into the Svir River. It has a strong current and contains rapids. Its course has not changed for at least a thousand years.

“It is especially frightening in the mid season, when the ice sets and the current pulls along whole sheets of it. We make a point of carrying the boat higher upstream. And in the spring, the current carries the slush produced by the ice, and the water rises a lot,” Irina Prokhorova told me.

Last spring, she was crossing the river alone when the boat capsized and she fell into the water. But she swam ashore pulling the boat out with her. Arseny stood on his side of the river and cried.

Believe me, he is quite grown up. Incidentally, the only two zero marks for conduct he has had this year were on September 1 and September 2. He had no notebooks, pencils or shoes. Children’s protective services came after that and inspected the house, but nothing has been heard on this shore from social services since then.

The boy and his mother have lived in the village of Gribanovskaya in the Vinnitsy Rural Settlement of Podporozhye District for four years. The village is situated on the right bank, but seven houses have stood on the left bank for a long time. No one lives in six of them during the winter: they belong to summertime cottagers.

The school bus picks Arseny up at 7:50 a.m. The school itself is four kilometers away, in the village of Vinnitsy. On the weekends, the only way to get there from Gribanovskaya is on foot. Irina uses an old bike to get there or she and Arseny walk there together. The commuter bus runs three times a week: Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

The village of Gribanovskaya is 350 kilometers from Petersburg and 76 kilometers from the district center, the town of Podporozhye. The village contains around ten households and three dozen inhabitants. The first census of Gribanovskaya was taken in 1873.

That House There

After our phone call, the mistress dashes out of the house, climbs down a steep bluff, unties the boat, and drags it to the water. Plying the oars in a masculine fashion, she sails towards us.

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A petite woman jumps nimbly from the craft. She is dressed neatly, but is nervous. We clamber aboard the boat. The first to go aboard is Father Vladimir, rector of the local church. He helps the family any way he can. I, the correspondent from afar, get on the boat second. We have to step from the sloping ice into the boat’s soft bottom. The black water, the tiny oars, and the air temperature do not inspire me with optimism. I begin to doubt whether the boat will bear our weight. The priest is not having such a smooth time of it on the oars. We begin to drift.

The backyard is depressing. Irina gets right down to business. They will soon run out of firewood. Father Vladimir frowns.

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I am given a brief, simple tour of the local way of life. Irina and Arseny once had rabbits and a couple of pigs. They slaughtered them out of necessity. The garden and the potatoes they grow there are their salvation.

Arseny’s diet is as basic as that of a postwar child: oatmeal in the morning, soup for lunch, and buckwheat kasha or macaroni for supper. The family lives on 2,500 rubles a month [approx. 35 euros], which Arseny’s grandmother sends them. Irina’s oldest daughter from her first marriage helps them out by sending produce.

“Once every two weeks we sail to the mobile shop,” says Irina.

She would be glad to work, but jobs are nowhere to be found, neither in Vinnitsy nor, especially, in Gribanovskaya.

Irina is from Petersburg. She has two daughters from her first marriage, aged 17 and 27. She and her new husband moved to Vinnitsy. They had decided to get away from the noise of the city. Arseny was born there. In 2012, their house burned down. Since Irina was officially registered as a resident of Petersburg, she was refused assistance by the local authorities. With this incident in the back of her mind, she does not ask the authorities for anything nowadays. She had to sell her share in an apartment in Petersburg and buy the house in Gribanovskaya. Moreover, the real estate agent, who showed them the house in winter, did not mention there was no bridge or ferry. Nor did Irina ask. Then her husband hit the bottle and left the family. In parting, he gave Arseny a lifejacket.

We go into the house. Only of one of the three floors is inhabited. It contains a kitchen with a brick oven and a double room. It is warm and cozy inside, not at all like it is outside. Arseny comes out. He shows us his desk, books, and drawings. He gets Bs and As at school, although he recently got a D in shop. He did not bring glue and cardboard to class. His mother did not have the money to buy them. On the other hand, he is a champion at reading contests.

Arseny takes weekly lessons with a painting teacher in Vinnitsy. Once again, Father Vladimir has helped him out with this. Arseny says his dream is to be an artist and see the Coliseum and the Louvre one day.

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Arseny Prokhorov

The family has a plan to this end: to finish the first four grades and enroll in the Russian Academy of Art’s Ioganson State Academic Art Lyceum in Saint Petersburg.

Arseny’s hobbies included books and chess, which he has played since the age of six. He also likes the SpongeBob SquarePants cartoons.

When asked whether he knows who Bobby Fischer was, he confidently replies, “I saw a book about him, but I haven’t read it yet.”

Right at this moment, a film about the life of the brilliant American chess player is showing in Petersburg theaters. I doubt that most young people would have responded to my question as Arseny has.

There is a computer in the house with Internet access. Although his mom does not encourage it, Arseny has his own page on the VKontakte social network and is interested in the news. Among the latest news, he remembers the crash of the Malaysian Boeing the most. Arseny has the sense the world is ruled by God, and that Vladimir Putin reigns on earth. True, at first the lad misspoke himself, calling the president “Alexander.” He also knows about important people “somewhere out there.” But the ticks and vipers in the backyard are more real to him. He makes no bones about the fact he is afraid of them.

A tick bit him this past spring. It turned out to be carrying encephalitis. The doctors kept Arseny in hospital five days and then sent him back home with his mother. Since then, Arseny has periodically had a temperature.

This is bad, because earlier the boy had suffered from barely noticeable disabilities that had almost disappeared through the efforts of his mom. The boy has been exempted from attending physical education classes. Which is just as well, since every day he does chores at home like an athlete. Now Irina worries whether the encephalitis will affect his nervous system.

“The school requires a written waiver exempting Arseny from transfer to boarding school. But how can I give him up?” wonders Irina.

Father Vladimir supports her. He booms that it would be wrong to send the boy from his child’s bed, with his mom nearby, to a state-sponsored cot.

And There is a Church Nearby

We get ready to go to the local church. Arseny serves there as an altar boy, helping with the mass. As we get ready to go, it transpires that the most burning question will soon be the question of winter boots. Arseny simply does not have any. The boots donated to him two years ago have fallen apart. Despite their problems, mother and son look neat and self-possessed. We have to cross the river again.

We take Father Vladimir’s Zhiguli to Our Lady of Smolensk Church in Vinnitsy. We go into the church, which smells of oven, wood, and incense. There is a stand-up piano in the corner. After the icy snow, drizzle, and darkness, I immediately feel sleepy. Arseny assists the priest for two hours.

It is getting on towards nine in the evening. There is neither a single soul nor a single car on the streets of Vinnitsy and, especially, Gribanovskaya. We have returned to the ford. The road was utterly muddy, and snow mixed with rain is coming down. In the darkness, descending the steep bank to the boat is completely unpleasant. We bid farewell to the squeaking oars. We cannot see the boat all. Just in case, we say goodbye again. We hear a reply. It is like a film about the war, as if they are going off on a recon mission.

I finished my work in Gribanovskaya around nine in the evening. Father Vladimir gave me a lift to Vinnitsy and set off to administer extreme unction to a local woman. In her youth she is said to have practiced witchcraft.

There was no sign of cars on the street, so my logistics hit a dead end. The local police saved the day. A call to Podporozhye District Deputy Police Chief Dmitry Vladimirov asking to facilitate my not kicking the bucket was understood loud and clear. His guys saved the day. Police officer Andrei (who, incidentally, was supposed to be finishing his shift) drove me 75 kilometers through a blizzard and over potholes to Podporozhye. Along the way, his wife called, worried.

Suddenly, in a place where the thicket had almost overgrown the road, a healthy white wolf with gray markings crossed the road in front of us. The beast stopped, flashed its eyes, and vanished. Perhaps it was surprised to see people at such a time in such a place.

P.S.  Of course we talked with Arseny and his mother. You can soon read about Arseny’s dream on 47news. In the meantime, think about this article.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Videos and photos courtesy of 47news