Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Sobyanin's works frenzy- Maddening and endangering Muscovites before the mayoral election

Take a look at the video and picture above. It's of Bolshaya Dmitrovka street right in the heart of Moscow. The Kremlin and the Bolshoi Theatre are a few minutes walk away. It's full of tourists and Muscovites alike, either rushing to and from work or meandering while seeing the sights. Or at least they are trying to, because this street is now absolute chaos, and a potential death trap.

As one walks down it there is no special pavement for pedestrians. They have to pick their way through rubble, shunting lorries, swinging digger buckets and pneumatic drills. It's a wonder someone hasn't been maimed or killed. The workers seem to be in a terrible hurry. There has been no thought given to even the most basic public health and safety. It seems they are desperately trying to finish the pedestrianisation of the street as quickly as possible. Want to know why?

Ask Sergei Sobyanin, incumbent Moscow mayoral candidate. Opposing him is main contender Alexey Navalny then Sergey Mitrokhin, Ivan Melnikov, Nikolai Levichev and Mikhail Degtyaryov. But none of his opponents have the resources at their command that he does. He's chosen to start what Muscovites are derisively calling a 'Pharaoh's building programme'. I'm sure he hopes it will win him votes. But as you can see from the picture above it is frustrating and endangering the lives of people in the city. The timing of the projects are atrocious. Who would want to start works like this at the height of the tourist season, in the middle of summer? Sobyanin would, and presumably because he wants them finished before the election on the 8th of September. I've seen diggers blasting their horns or slamming on their brakes next to pedestrians trying desperately to navigate the last disappearing slivers of asphalt. Such is the abandonment of any pretence of health and safety in the rush to finish the new street that pedestrians on and around it are at very real risk of injury or death. That would be a perfect PR gift for the mayor's opponents. 

All over Moscow roads are being torn up and re-laid at a newly furious pace. As screaming drivers are driven out of the their minds by traffic jams in places they would never normally be they shout that the roads were fine before. Why are they being done now and with such illogical haste? Why indeed. 

Floods in southern Russia- Some justice for Krymsk victims at last?

Many of Krymsk's houses collapsed under the weight of the water and many of the dead were asleep inside, unwarned and unable to get out in time.

It was the night of the 6th July 2012 in the small town of Krymsk near the black sea. As locals slept there and in nearby areas in Russia's southern Krasnodar region they were unaware of flash flood waters surging toward the town. Six months worth of rain had fallen in one night. They would have had a better chance if the local authorities, who knew what was happening hours before the surge hit, had warned them properly. 

As it was a virtual tidal wave smashed into the unsuspecting town. More than 170 people drowned as the waters rose in minutes. Terrified survivors fought for their lives as their houses collapsed around them, clinging to fences or any debris that managed to stay standing as the deluge flipped cars over in the streets and filled properties with trees and debris. I was one of the first outside journalists to arrive in the wreckage of Krymsk. Bodies lay in the streets and aid was slow to arrive, enraging the distraught locals. There was no electricity and very little edible food or water left. At the town's mortuary, unusable in the blackout, bodies had to be stacked in refrigerated supermarket lorries.

What had formerly been someone's bedroom.

What most angered the people of Krymsk and the surrounding area was that this gut wrenching tragedy was an avoidable one. 

Over a year later some justice has finally been seen to be done for the bereaved and angry residents of Krymsk. Four local officials have been found guilty of criminal negligence for their failure to warn people on that terrible night. Vasily Krutko, former head of the district administration, Vladimir Ulanovsky, former Krymsk mayor, Victor Zhdanov, head of the district emergencies and civil defence department and Irina Ryabchenko, former head of the Nizhnebakamsk local administration were all convicted of negligence. 

But their crimes are greater even than that. Krutko, Ulanovsky and Ryabchenko have also been found guilty of hurriedly forging documents after the flood, lying that they had adhered to proper practice and warned people in time. Zhdanov was also found guilty of stealing compensation money meant for victim's families. 

Three of the defendants deny their guilt, only Krutko accepted it. Prosecutors have asked the court for sentences of six, four and a half, and three and half years imprisonment for Krutko, Zhdanov and Ulanovsky respectively and a suspended sentence of three and half years imprisonment for Ryabchenko. 

Another defendant, Nadezhda Kurochkina has made a guilty plea bargain in a separate trial. She was head of the Prigorodny settlement in the area and is on trial for negligence and forgery.

The bloated faces of unidentified victims are posted up as bodies are carried out refrigerated supermarket lorries to be placed in coffins.
However one figure is conspicuous by his absence in the doling out of punishment. Alexei Tkachyov, the regional governor and a man heavily involved in the allegedly corrupt Sochi winter Olympics plans, visited the shocked and betrayed residents shortly after they had just learned that his administration could have saved them from this catastrophe. 

All this time later, as the verdicts were announced, a spokesman for Russia's Investigative Committee said, "The people were defenceless not only from the elements but, as the investigation has discovered, also from bureaucratic indifference." 

Back then, as Alexei Tkachyov stood in front of a furious crowd in a Krymsk town square they yelled questions about why they weren't warned. He yelled back at them, "what did you expect us to do! Go door to door!" Yes was the answer. Yes that is precisely what you should have done, as Mr Tkachyov and the deadly complacency and corruption of Krasnodar's authorities was drowned out by the shouting of a people who felt utterly betrayed.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Thumbnail- A car crash in Moscow there and gone

A car and a motorcycle have crashed. There is oil and wiper fluid across one of Moscow's badly surfaced roads. On the grass lies the motorbike driver. I don't know if he is dead or just hurt. An ambulance turned up shortly after I took this picture.

And half an hour later, nothing. A snapshot of life and catastrophe, unfolding then swept away like a crisp packet on a dusty city wind.  No one passing this spot now would ever know what had happened here such a short time before. The drama, the tension; a little tragedy among millions casting a fleeting shadow over some forgotten road bend. But I was there. I saw.

More flooding expected in northern China and far eastern Russia

The first reports came in around Wednesday the 7th of August. Massive flooding had hit northern China and far eastern Russia in areas surrounding the Heilongjiang River (known as the Amur river in Russia). Thirty settlements were evacuated as the Zeiskaya hydropower plant discharged huge amounts of water to prevent it from being overwhelmed. A state of emergency was declared in several Russian regions as rivers burst their banks and sixteen settlements were flooded. Thousands were evacuated as roads were washed away, necessitating boats and local army units to bring supplies in and people out.

In northern China it's been called the worst flooding in decades. Four people have already died there with thousands evacuated. More water is expected in the coming days, sweeping down the Heilongjiang river along the border with China and Russia and then flowing north into Russia's Khabarovsk region.

One of the biggest problems in Russia will be paying for the cleanup. A Deputy Finance Minister has already admitted that Russia's reserve fund equivalent to $300 million for 2013 has already been used up. They may, he admitted, have to raid the 2014 fund to pay for the cleanup. The damage in Russia is so far estimated at around $30 million.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Thumbnail- A quick haul from the shopping mall

A women carries her child, in pram, across train tracks. It's one of the only routes to one of Moscow's largest shopping centres approaching from the north. There are three tracks to cross with no footbridge, underpass or walkway.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Thumbnail- There's driving and there's style....

Clearly Vika, or whoever bought this for her, are particularly concerned about declaring ownership! But whether she drives in style....
Sights like this are not rare around Moscow. This was taken by me, but for many more visit the chortle-full page-