The Moscow region's great trash upheaval A movement against poor trash management and public health risks erupts outside Russia's capital
Several protests against landfills and trash incineration plants took place outside Moscow in mid-March. The local authorities are largely ignoring the demonstrations and refusing to comment on the matter, even when some of these rallies attract upwards of 5,000 people. Meduza takes a closer look at this movement.
Update: Twenty-three children were hospitalized at a school in Volokolamsk, outside Moscow, with signs of poisoning on March 21. After initial rumors that someone had released a gas canister in a classroom, city officials confirmed that the children were actually feeling the effects of hydrogen sulfide being released into the air by the nearby “Yadrovo” landfill. All Volokolamsk schools are still operating normally, despite the apparent health risk.
The government called a state of emergency on March 7 in the area around the Yadrovo landfill in the Moscow region’s Volokolamsky district, citing dangerously high levels of hydrogen sulfide and chlorine in the atmosphere. Saying this doesn’t go far enough, locals in Volokolamsk want the emergency measures extended to their town. Beginning on March 8, residents started assembling in the road outside the landfill, sometimes trying to block the path of garbage trucks. Police officers have intervened, dispersing protesters and clearing the way for vehicles. On March 8, officers detained 10 demonstrators.
On March 10, around 5,000 Volokolamsk residents assembled for a rally against the Yadrovo landfill, complaining that it is emitting a noxious stink engulfing their city. “My neighbors' kid was poisoned by the bad air last week. They had to call an ambulance for him. The doctor confirmed the poisoning was caused by air from the dump,” Natalya, a resident of Volokolamsk (she asked us not to give her surname), told Meduza. “Once again we can't let the kids play on the street, and as soon as my husband and I rush home, we try to block any gaps around the windows. Every day, when we go out in the street, we get a splitting headache almost immediately.” When she was still running for president, Ksenia Sobchak attended a protest in Volokolamsk on March 10, when the dump was shut down for a single day.
On March 10, Moscow Governor Andrey Vorobyev issued instructions to "get rid of the stench" within three months. Thirteen people were detained on March 11, when residents again tried to stop garbage trucks from entering the landfill.
Town resident Tatyana Bakhmetyeva told Meduza that on March 10 an announcement was posted on the website of the Moscow regional Emergencies Ministry saying that the Aleksinsky Quarry and Kuchino landfill sites near the town had been closed, and now garbage would be taken to the Yadrovo landfill in Volokolamsk (the announcement was subsequently edited, but the original version can be accessed here). Bakhmetyeva says residents nonetheless saw garbage trucks heading for the Aleksinsky Quarry that very day. Around 100 people staged an unplanned protest.
The demonstrators assembled near the landfill and called the police, urging officers to block access to the dump and investigate why garbage trucks were continuing to take trash there, even though the landfill had been closed. “Roman Chistyakov, the deputy chief of police, arrived,” Tatyana Bakhmetyeva said. “We showed him the printout from the Emergencies Ministry website saying that Aleksinsky Quarry was officially closed. Then I called the Moscow regional Emergencies Ministry, and they confirmed this to me.”
Chistyakov left, and then came back two hours later and said “there was a misprint” on the website and the landfill was still in operation. Police officers then immediately started detaining people. Eight protesters were charged with taking part in an unsanctioned demonstration, and a court fined these individuals as much as 20,000 rubles ($350).
This protest followed an earlier demonstration in Klin on March 4. “The administration claimed it was a paid protest and said we’d all been bussed in. How can you claim that when our kids can hardly breathe?” Bakhmetyeva asked Meduza, saying the protesters hoped to catch Vladimir Putin’s attention ahead of the March 18 presidential election. The Klinsky District administration told Meduza that the press service duty officer was away at a meeting and would respond by the evening, but he still could not be reached at that time.
On March 11, around 300 Balashikha residents assembled to protest the pollution control system at the Kuchino landfill. “Last year we called Putin during his call-in and complained about the terrible smell from the Kuchino landfill,” local resident Boris Karpov told Meduza. "Soon after this, the dump was closed. But its decommissioning is not yet finished, and the chimneys burning off gas at the site are an obvious health hazard. Ever since, reclamation work has been under way at the site, the air in the town has been really oppressive, and it's hard to breathe.”
The press secretary of the head of Balashikha's administration did not answer Meduza's calls.
On March 11, around 450 residents took part in an environmental rally in Troitsk, outside Moscow. They demanded that the closure of the Malinki landfill near the town and the abandonment of plans for a new landfill in the same area. Anton Zyuzin, one of the organizers of the action, told Vedomosti that Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin has signed an edict to mothball the site, but residents fear “the site will be de-mothballed after the March 18 election.”
A staffer of the Troitsk administration's architecture department (she refused to give her name) told Meduza that the Malinki landfill is territorially closer to the Krasnopakhorskoye rural settlement, so that settlement is responsible for it. The Krasnopakhorskoye administration front office told Meduza that administration deputy head Aleksey Zotov could comment on the situation regarding the landfill and put us through to him. The official who answered the phone there told Meduza that he had no intention of giving his name. “The Malinki landfill is indeed near us, but nobody went to the rally against it. I've heard nothing about this,” he said.
On March 9, around 500 people in Sergiev Posad attended a rally opposing the construction of a new local garbage incineration plant. Residents here, unlike those in other towns, demanded the opening of a new landfill and also the resignation of Moscow Governor Andrey Vorobyev. “We think Vorobyev has no business holding the post,” activist Petr Borzov, a participant in the protest, told Meduza. “If he’s allowed the whole regional to breathe polluted air, then he should step down.” Borzov added that here, too, protesters were seeking to attract attention before the elections.
The Sergiev Posad administration press service refused to speak to Meduza about the protest.