Standing against church construction in public space, Yekaterinburg protesters face beatings from opponents and pressure from police
On the evening of May 13, Yekaterinburg residents organized a protest against plans to build a cathedral to replace a city square. That morning, fencing was installed around the square in preparation for construction work to begin. After photographs of the fencing spread on social media, opponents of the construction project began gathering around the square to protest. They were able to knock down the fencing, and once inside the square, the protesters erected a tent to remain there overnight. Several activists attempted to block a nearby road but stopped after facing resistance from police.
Groups of aggressive young men arrived on the scene to push back against protesters. They surrounded a construction tent that, according to unconfirmed reports, may have contained the first, symbolic cornerstone of the cathedral. The young men began initiating physical clashes with the cathedral’s opponents. Witnesses reported seeing several hundred muscular, angry young men. They managed to restore the fencing around the square and push some protesters out.
Police did not interfere in the clashes until late in the evening. Protesters said the young men who were defending the fencing beat several opponents of the cathedral’s construction, and some of them released canisters of gas. For hours, the police officers present did not interfere in the conflict, and it was late evening by the time they began arresting both protesters and their opponents and putting them in police vans. Around midnight, police used a megaphone to call on those present to disperse, but they did not take any active measures to remove people from the square. For now, many protesters are still present there.
Plans are underway to replace the square, which is located next to a local theater, with a new church building, St. Catherine’s Cathedral. The cathedral’s construction was scheduled to be completed in 2023 in time for the city’s 300th anniversary. It was intended to become an important tourist attraction for the region. Surveys indicated that 21 percent of Yekaterinburg’s residents felt negatively about the construction project; a key argument against it has been that there are not enough parks in the city as it is. Opponents of the cathedral have collected signatures for the project to be cancelled, and they hold regular street protests as well.
Translated by Hilah Kohen