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Following a deadly fire in March, Russian fire safety officials have shut down a third of the country's shopping malls

Source: Meduza
Evgeniya Novozhenina / Sputnik / Scanpix / LETA

On May 15, a demolition crew went to work on the charred wreckage of the “Winter Cherry” shopping center in Kemerovo, where 60 people (including 40 children) died in a fire on March 25. Following this tragedy, Russian fire safety officials launched unplanned inspections of shopping malls across the country. By early May, the authorities had shut down nearly a third of all the shopping centers in Russia, finding widespread noncompliance with federal fire safety standards. Meduza reviews this crackdown and looks at how badly many of the country’s malls failed to operate within fire codes.

After officials shut down 18 shopping centers in Khabarovsk, local business owners staged a protest

On May 8, about 100 business owners in Khabarovsk gathered in the city’s center for a public demonstration against court rulings that have left them indefinitely without work.

A man who leases a store in the city’s “Big Dipper” shopping center told the local news website that his mall complied with all construction standards. “The inspector would literally spend the night on site during the construction. Monitoring was very rigorous. The mall was commissioned, it opened its doors, and everybody was happy.” The business owner says bailiffs cordoned off the building on April 28, throwing out all the workers and customers inside, and sealed the doors. “Nobody warned us. For us business owners, closing down this space was a bolt from the blue,” the man explained.

Also on April 28, a district court summoned the owner of Khabarovsk’s “EVR” shopping center, ruling that the complex must shut down until he relocates a fire hydrant (currently outside the mall) to inside the building. The owner tried to explain that the hydrant belongs to the municipal enterprise “Vodokanal,” and he’s not allowed to move it, but the court said the mall must remain closed until he can rectify the situation.

In Omsk, officials shut down a movie theater that was just remodeled in February, and inspectors found 99 safety violations at the “Triumph” shopping center

For four years, the “May Day” movie theater in Omsk was under renovations. On February 1, 2018, it finally reopened. And then, about two months later, it was shut down again, this time after local prosecutors and Emergency Management Agency officials inspected the premises and found fire safety violations.

Vyacheslav Vasilyev, who heads the company that remodeled the cinema, told local newspaper Omsk Zdes that the building met every fire safety standard, and says officials from every local supervisory agency signed off on reopening the business. “We spent four years on the project, everybody praised us, and we obtained all the necessary permits, but now they’re retroactively revoking our construction permit,” Vasilyev says.

The authorities in Omsk have shut down 14 shopping centers. Inspectors even reported 99 fire safety violations at a single mall, the “Triumph.”

In Irkutsk, journalists brought inspectors to a shopping center

On March 25 (the same day as the fire in Kemerovo), journalists from the Irkutsk edition of Komsomolskaya Pravda started investigating local shopping malls for compliance with public safety standards. Three days later, the reporters brought officials from the district attorney’s office, the Interior Ministry, and the Emergency Management Agency to inspect the “Caramel” shopping center. A local court later suspended the facility’s operations for a month.

In Krasnoyarsk, the authorities shut down a shopping center — two years after a court order

The “Babylon” shopping center in Krasnoyarsk operates out of a building constructed in 1958 to serve as a silk plant. As far back as 2015, the district attorney’s office and local officials from the Emergency Management Agency determined that the mall completely failed to meet Russian fire safety standards. In 2016, a court ordered the shopping center to shut down, but the “Babylon” persevered, expanding to include a section for children’s sports. After the fire in Kemerovo, a Krasnoyarsk court issued a second ruling shutting down the “Babylon.” This time, it was enforced.

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Story by Irina Kravtsova, translation by Peter Marshall