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Moscow remodeling controversy leads to temporary encampment and clashes with protesters

Meduza

The PIK Group, one of the largest real estate and home-builder companies in Russia, is in hot water in Moscow’s Kuntsevo District, where it’s preparing to remodel two apartment buildings. The company has distanced itself from the city’s controversial renovation plan (approved a year ago), stating that it’s actually completing work contracted a full 20 years ago, when Yuri Luzhkov was still Moscow’s mayor.

Despite promises by the PIK Group that displaced locals will be first in line to resettle in the new, more spacious apartments, roughly two dozen protesters started camping at the construction site in Kuntsevo on November 13, blocking access to the area and preventing the start of demolition work. Protesters told Meduza that they’re afraid the new apartment complex will completely gobble up a beloved local courtyard. On November 17, a group of “old ladies and children” were apparently bused to the construction site, where state television cameras filmed them demonstrating in favor of the remodeling work. TV crews ignored the protesters, however. The next day, several police officers came to the encampment and detained three activists, including the politician Sergey Mitrokhin. Others were forced to pack up their tents.

On November 19, construction workers returned in force, accompanied by upwards of 80 private security guards, who shoved their way through the protesters, and escorted heavy machinery to the building site, before it was surrounded by a fence. Protesters then reassembled at the gates to the construction site and tried to block incoming vehicles, leading police to detain another handful of demonstrators, including at least one elderly woman. Protesters said they worry they will be resettled in a more remote part of the city, beyond the Moscow Beltway.

Spokespeople for the PIK Group say they reached out to locals earlier in the year to inform them about the remodeling plans, insisting that residents will be getting upgraded housing. The company also told Meduza that it offered to soundproof locals’ windows, to cut down on disruptions during the construction, but protesters refused. PIK Group has also suggested that the protesters in Kuntsevo are likely outsiders come to stir up trouble or generate publicity for themselves, like Mitrokhin, who will run in the Moscow City Duma elections next year.

Update: The PIK Group announced on November 20 that it is suspending construction at the Kuntsevo site, presumably until November 22, when Russia's Supreme Court will consider a lawsuit against the demolition and building work.