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Meduza investigative reporter Ivan Golunov

Support Ivan Golunov by republishing his work We've released Ivan Golunov's writing for ‘Meduza’ under a Creative Commons license

Source: Meduza
Meduza investigative reporter Ivan Golunov
Meduza investigative reporter Ivan Golunov / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

Meduza correspondent Ivan Golunov was arrested on June 6, 2019, in central Moscow. He was charged with attempting to sell narcotic substances. Meduza’s editorial board as well as representatives of the Russian and international journalism communities believe that Ivan is being persecuted due to his investigative work. The pieces Ivan researched and wrote for Meduza contain information that is highly significant for contemporary Russian society, and the individuals he wrote about may have been involved in his persecution. Therefore, we are opening access to Ivan’s work (published before June 13, 2019) under the Creative Commons CC BY 4.0 license. This means you may reprint the stories below in your own publication, on your own website, on your own blog, or on any other platform without requesting our permission. Just indicate that they were written by Ivan Golunov, a correspondent for Meduza’s Department of Investigative Reporting, and include the names of their translators and co-authors, which are listed at the end of each piece.

Before joining Meduza, Ivan Golunov was a correspondent for (now Republic), Forbes, Vedomosti, RBC, and the television channel Dozhd. Ivan specializes in corruption investigations. He has worked at Meduza since 2016 and written more than 100 investigations, articles, and news briefs. Beginning today, they are all available for redistribution under a CC BY 4.0 license.

Please note that this license does not apply to photographs credited to anyone but Ivan Golunov. It does apply to infographics.

Ivan Golunov’s most important investigations for Meduza

Available in English translation:

  • “Coffins, graveyards, and billions of dollars: How gangsters and officials in the police, military, and state carve up Russia’s funeral business” About two million people die in Russia, every year. In that time, the country’s funeral industry officially does about 60 billion rubles ($924.6 million) in business. According to estimates by the authorities, however, the black market for these services could be worth as much as 250 billion rubles ($3.8 billion). Over the past 30 years, the mortuary business has been divided up several times, and a medley of organized criminals, siloviki (members of the police and national security establishment), and the state have competed for a share of the pie. As a result, finding eternal peace in Russia is often tumultuous, whether it’s gunfire at the Khovanskoye Cemetery in Moscow, throwing bodies over a fence in Yekaterinburg, unauthorized mass graves in Tolyatti, or a cemetery owner's suicide in Omsk.
  • “The evictors: For the past five years, loan sharks have forced more than 500 Muscovites from their homes. Here's how the industry works.” The last major investigation Ivan published before his arrest. He found that a number of microfinance organizations are working in Moscow and its suburbs to deceive debtors and seize their property. Meduza identified more than 500 apartments whose owners had been evicted in the last five years without a court order due to the actions of these so-called “black creditors.” Ivan’s report also revealed that the loan sharks’ activities likely extend beyond real estate seizures and may even be part of an international money laundering system.
  • “The penthouse family: How relatives of Moscow’s deputy mayor earned billions on city contracts, amassing a fortune in real estate” Ivan investigated how longtime Moscow City Hall politician, lead housing official, and Deputy Mayor Pyotr Biryukov bought up nine penthouses in elite Moscow housing complexes for his own family. Biryukov’s dealings have made regular appearances in Ivan’s work.
  • “‘A roughly painted, cheap fake’: The restoration of Moscow’s Stone Flower Fountain cost more than a billion rubles. Why?” In early April of 2019, photographs of one of the best-known landmarks in Moscow’s VDNKh exhibition park began appearing on social media. The Stone Flower Fountain had recently been restored as part of a project that cost almost three billion rubles (then $46.3 million) in total. Activists expressed frustration at the fountain’s “coarse” new look while experts suggested waiting a couple of years for the elements to lend the fountain a more natural color palette. Ivan Golunov revealed that the company that restored the Stone Flower Fountain had won all of Russia’s recent large-scale reconstruction contracts and had also been caught up in a number of well-known corruption scandals. The company had also approached the French government and offered to take part in the reconstruction of Notre Dame.
  • “‘Musicians remain silent and afraid’: How Russia’s legendary Sound Recording State House changed hands and became linked to a presidential agency and Dmitry Medvedev’s sneakers” Since the summer of 2018, two state-owned companies have been exchanging property: the media holding VGTRK and the Izvestia publishing house (which is no longer tied to the website and newspaper of the same name). The largest asset transferred from VGTRK to Izvestia was the Sound Recording State House on Malaya Nikitskaya Street. It was traded for another media building whose studios record, among other things, a popular Russian talk show called 60 Minutes. In August 2018, Russia’s musical community began writing petitions to the federal government. They said the recording building’s new owners were planning to destroy unique studios where generations of classical musicians had recorded their works and two national orchestras had, until recently, held rehearsals. Ivan Golunov determined that Izvestia is led by 38-year-old Yekaterina Smirenskaya, whose father counts Vladimir Dyachenko among his business partners. Thanks to opposition activist Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, Dyachenko is known in Russia as the man whose name Prime Minster Dmitry Medvedev uses to place orders when he shops online on non-Russian websites.
  • “A hybrid hunt for criminal journalists: Meduza reviews how federal censors monitor and punish Russia’s mass media” Russia’s censorship agency, Roskomnadzor, is known and ridiculed throughout the land, but it isn’t Roskomnadzor itself that tracks down websites that dare to describe a suicide in detail or quote a rapper’s obscenities. That task belongs to an enterprise called GRChTs. Along with two of his colleagues, Ivan Golunov found out how that agency uses artificial intelligence and underpaid employees to flag supposedly illegal content online. The resulting article shed light on the details of Russian censorship and the psychological burden it places on both targets of censorship and content moderators.
  • “Moscow city officials took 789 days to ‘fix’ a broken street light. (In the end, they just removed it.)” Ivan doesn’t just write investigative reports about Moscow City Hall. As a true active citizen, he can’t bear to walk past a loose piece of tiling or a bad pothole without writing a complaint and getting a response from local officials. Sometimes, those responses are rather odd: once upon a time, Ivan spent 789 days writing back and forth with Moscow bureaucrats about a street light that had gone out near Vnukovo Airport. In the end, the street light was simply removed.

Available in English-language summaries:

  • “Moscow City Hall has been planning its supposedly ‘grassroots’ resettlement and demolition project since 2014” Golunov discovered that Moscow’s massive 2017 demolition project for Khrushchev-era apartment buildings had been in planning stages for three years and that its specifics were presented to Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin as early as August or September 2016. It was then-Vice Mayor Anastasia Rakova who had the idea to turn the renovation into a political project featuring building-wide polls to allow residents to vote for demolition as well as a large-scale media campaign. That publicity grab led Sobyanin and his deputies to pretend in 2017 that the initiative for the demolition project had come from below. (Full text in Russian available here.)

Available in Russian:

  • “‘The Christian State’ doesn’t exist, but the FSB might be behind it” Meduza describes Russia’s Christian State group and explains the history of Russian Orthodox fundamentalism and radicalism outside the official bounds of the Church. The team of authors behind this report, which included Ivan Golunov, received the prestigious Redkollegia prize.
  • “Linden trees for 200,000: Are the trees being planted on Tverskaya Street worth what we’re paying for them? Why are they even there?” Ivan’s favorite topic to investigate is Moscow City Hall’s spending on landscaping and public works. In November 2016, linden trees were planted on Moscow’s Tverskaya Street even though snow was already falling in the Russian capital. Ivan figured out why the trees were being planted in November, how their price in the city budget dropped by half in the course of a few weeks, who was managing the landscaping project, and why the lindens were purchased in Germany.
  • “Moscow spent two million rubles on lit garlands for Tverskaya Street. They actually cost five times less” The purchase price for one of Moscow’s most noticeable holiday decorations in 2017, a long series of lighted, wine glass-shaped garlands on Tverskaya Street, was overestimated by a multiple of five. They appeared several days before the contract for their installation was signed.
  • “Wine glasses from the Rotenburg brothers: Who made money on Moscow’s New Year’s decorations” Moscow’s spending on holiday décor increased by more than 10 times in 2017. The city splurged on updated holiday lighting, new light installations, and various other decorations, spending almost seven billion rubles ($120 million) in total. Ivan Golunov meticulously followed the money to investigate how it was transferred and where it went. He discovered how much Grandfather Frost’s sleigh cost, how the New Year’s trees on Moscow’s squares were connected to the landscaping and construction companies that redid its downtown streets, and what business tycoons Boris and Arkady Rotenberg had to do with all of it.
  • “The porno manager: Meduza found the person who pushed Russia to block Pornolab, Brazzers, MDK, and dozens of other sites” Tolyatti resident and Tolyatti State University employee Ruslan Okhlopkov is one of the Russian Internet’s most active opponents of pornography and “immorality.” The activist, who is also an accredited expert for the federal censorship agency Roskomnadzor, submitted requests that led the Russian government to block Pornolab, Brazzers, MDK, and almost a hundred more websites and VKontakte groups. Ivan Golunov established Okhlopkov’s identity and uncovered the methods his organization, Political Practice, uses to fight the magazine Maxim, Barbie dolls, and the film Gorko. He also discovered how law enforcement agencies have reacted to the group’s complaints.
  • A very happy village: How Vyacheslav Volodin’s friends and family landscape villages, make money off mayo, and become literal saints” Vyacheslav Volodin was born in a small village in Saratov Region, but he went on to build a major political career in Moscow. He was among the leaders of the ruling United Russia party’s parliamentary faction, and then he worked in the executive branch, eventually curating the presidential administration’s domestic policy division (it is widely accepted that Volodin was largely responsible for the harsh backlash against opposition activists following Russia’s mass protests of 2011-2012). Now, he has returned to the State Duma, where he was elected speaker. Volodin’s political rise was accompanied by financial success: in 2016, his electoral wealth declaration indicated that he had almost 540 million rubles (about $8.3 million) in his Russian bank accounts. Golunov discovered that while Volodin was climbing the career ladder, his friends from Saratov Region were building successful businesses and receiving government contracts. A woman journalists described as Volodin’s mother invested hundreds of millions of rubles in renovation and landscaping projects in two Smolensk Region villages, and the politician’s other relatives were declared saints by the local Orthodox eparchy.
  • “An organization called Common Cause asked for IC3PEAK and Husky to be investigated for extremism. The group has ties with the All-Russia People’s Front, the state penitentiary system, and Moscow housing officials.” Ivan Golunov and Irina Kravtsova discovered that one of Russia’s most widely resonant cultural and political scandals of 2018, the mass cancellations of pop and rap concerts throughout the country, was initiated by an odd organization with ties, once again, to Moscow City Hall.
  • “Moscow has to get rid of six million tons of trash. We discovered where it will be transported and who will transport it.” After the so-called trash rebellions that shook Moscow’s suburbs in 2018, a number of landfills in the area were closed, and Moscow had nowhere to take out its trash. Construction for a new trash polygon in Arkhangelsk Region was already underway, but that wasn’t all the problem entailed. Meduza uncovered plans to transport garbage from Moscow to Kaluga Region, other areas of Arkhangelsk Region, and several other locations in European Russia. Construction had also begun on three transport complexes in Moscow that would be used to pack the garbage. One of them is located within the Third Transport Ring, not far from the Volgograd Prospect metro station. Golunov explained the plans Moscow’s mayor’s office had devised to transport trash from Moscow into other regions of Russia.
  • “Let’s play hospital! How two businessmen made billions on false diagnoses and makeup with ‘smart sugar crystals’” On Russian social networks, users began to see a flood of advertisements for medical centers that offered free exams for anyone, supposedly through a “federal” or “municipal” program. Users who clicked on the ads were universally diagnosed with rare diseases using the program’s “unique instrumentation” and immediately asked to join the program for treatment. Many found themselves taking out credit for the program right in the supposed medical center’s office, sending them into debts of hundreds of thousands of rubles. Golunov intentionally underwent a false “examination” and discovered that the centers were created by two businessmen who formerly developed the vacuum cleaner retail network Kirby, where vacuums were forcibly sold to customers at inflated prices. The two men used a similar scheme to sell makeup under the brand Desheli. Clients have regularly expressed frustration at all the companies mentioned and even brought lawsuits against them, but that has not stopped the businessmen and their agents from making billions of rubles.
  • “Moscow has used more granite in road repairs than Russia as a whole produces, leading to shortages of gravestone materials in Siberia. Who makes money on Moscow’s pavement and curb construction?” Meduza’s calculations showed that Moscow City Hall spent more than 189 billion rubles (currently about $2.9 billion) on renovating the city’s streets and parks. Almost half that sum was spent in 2017. One of the largest line items in the city’s budget was the My Street program, especially the construction of new tiles and curbs made of concrete and granite. Golunov discovered that Moscow’s government acquired so much granite that it had to import the rock from China and Ukraine. He also found that the Russian capital’s massive orders left Russians in the Urals and Siberia with a shortage of raw materials for headstones. Meanwhile, the company that consistently won contracts to lay out granite in Moscow had ties to the very same Moscow bureaucrats who curated the My Street program, and it quickly became clear that granite is a sub-optimal material for use in Moscow’s urban environment.
  • “Moscow was planning to pay 2.2 billion rubles on designs for a street renovation project. Thanks to a Meduza correspondent, the contract was canceled.” Many of Ivan Golunov’s investigations have led to tangible results. For example, in 2017, he discovered that Moscow’s municipal government was planning to spend almost 2.2 billion rubles (now almost $34 million) to develop a plan for a street renovation project for the next two years. In previous years, that kind of work had been contracted to the Strelka Bureau, which received half as much money for twice as much work. After Meduza questioned bureaucrats during the public hearing process for the contract, it was canceled.
  • “He makes sure we live well: How oligarch Oleg Deripaska became a cult figure in Krasnodar Krai” On February 9, 2018, the Ust-Labinsky Court in Krasnodar Krai ordered news of a new investigation by opposition activist Alexey Navalny to be blocked. In the report, Navalny discussed ties between the business tycoon Oleg Deripaska, Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Prikhodko, and sex worker Nastya Rybka. The order forced a number of Russian media sources to delete sections of their work, and a series of photographs Rybka took disappeared from Instagram. Oleg Deripaska moved to the city of Ust-Labisnk, which has a population of approximately 40,000, as a young child. He is still registered as a resident of the area, pays taxes there, and monitors government spending near his hometown. Meduza correspondents Irina Kravtsova and Ivan Golunov described how a cult of personality surrounding Deripaska formed in this small Russian city.
  • “Ramzan Kadyrov left Instagram for a new Chechen social media network. Who’s behind the site, and how is it tied to Kadyrov himself?”  In late 2017, Internet users discovered that Facebook and Instagram accounts belonging to Chechen government head Ramzan Kadyrov had been blocked. That same day, Kadyrov announced that he had created an account on a new social network called Mylistory. It was first listed in app stores in August of 2017, and most of its content is related to Chechnya. Ivan Golunov and Alexander Gorbachov investigated ties between Mylistory’s developers and Kadyrov himself and found a link to a private military training center where Chechen soldiers prepared for deployment to Syria.

The rest of Ivan Golunov’s bylines and contributions on Meduza. You can (and should) republish them too:

Available in English translation:

Available in Russian:

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