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Chelyabinsk locals declare boycott after state TV network covers up environmentalist protest at City Hall

Meduza
A scenic view of Chelyabinsk’s smog
A scenic view of Chelyabinsk’s smog
Nail Fattakhov / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

People living in Chelyabinsk have declared a boycott against the state television network Rossiya 1, following a recent broadcast of the debate show “60 Minutes,” where the hosts denied evidence of a protest against the city’s smog. According to a local environmentalist community on Vkontakte, Chelyabinsk residents are complaining on social media that the channel reports lies, vowing not to tuned in any longer.

On December 12, environmentalists assembled at Chelyabinsk City Hall to discuss the city’s ecological crisis with acting Mayor Vladimir Elistratov. According to various estimates, between 50 and 200 people entered the building, waiting roughly an hour to speak to Elistratov. Local news outlets reported that the activists “stormed” and “attacked” City Hall, but video footage from the protest suggests that the demonstrators mostly just stood around and argued with the mayor’s staff.

When the activists were finally granted an audience with Elistratov, they demanded that he declare a state of emergency. The mayor tried to comfort the crowd by explaining that Chelyabinsk isn’t the world’s worst polluted city. “Have you been to Paris lately? Do you have any idea what the ecology is like there? I’m asking because our situation isn’t the worst in the world,” Elistratov said.

Olga Skabeeva and Evgeny Popov, the hosts of Rossiya 1’s “60 Minutes” show, claimed that no one had protested at Chelyabinsk City Hall, showing the studio audience a live video feed from the courtyard in front of the mayor’s building — two hours after the confrontation between Elistratov and the environmentalists had ended. Skabeeva and Popov ripped into Nikita Isaev, the head of the “New Russia” movement, who was a guest on the show. When Isaev said protesters had “stormed” City Hall, the hosts pointed to the live video feed. Skabeeva didn’t mince words, accusing Isaev of “spreading nonsense” and calling him a “noisy liar.”

After the show aired in Chelyabinsk, local Internet users edited together footage of Skabeeva and Popov claiming that no one protested with footage from inside City Hall, showing the crowd confronting Mayor Elistratov.

In early December, officials in Chelyabinsk warned residents against unfavorable meteorological conditions caused by harmful emissions from local factories. That day, the city was engulfed in thick smog. On December 12, Russia’s Federal Supervisory Natural Resources Management Service ordered four factories to cease all emissions.

The Chelyabinsk region is one of the worst polluted areas in Russia, second only to the Sverdlovsk region, according to rankings by the “Green Patrol” environmentalist coalition.