Sunday October 20, 2019
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Protest against Construction of Massive Garbage Dump in Northern Russia

That question lies at the center of a protest against construction of a massive garbage dump in northern Russia — an environmental issue

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Protest, Construction, Garbage
In this photo taken on Friday, April 20, 2018, garbage trucks drive away from the Volovichi landfill near the town of Kolomna, about 100 kilometers (62,5 miles) south of Moscow, Russia. VOA

Who would want what’s possibly Europe’s largest landfill in their own backyard? Garbage.

That question lies at the center of a protest against construction of a massive garbage dump in northern Russia — an environmental issue that has come to symbolize growing frustration towards Moscow’s sway over Russia’s far-flung regions.

The fight over Shiyes — a remote railway outpost in Russia’s Arkhangelsk province that is to play host to the landfill — first erupted a little over a year ago after local hunters came across a secret construction site in the region’s swamp-filled forests.

It didn’t take long for locals to learned of the dig’s true purpose: to house a 52-square-kilometer storage area for refuse shipped in from Moscow, some 1126 kilometers away.

Government officials say Shiyes was chosen based on its remote location — with the new ‘Ecotechnopark’ a cutting edge example of innovative waste storage.

They also point to cash and incentives — such as a computer lab, annual New Year’s gifts, and healthcare access to top Moscow hospitals for nearby locals —  as a smart investment for regional development.

Protest, Construction, Garbage
In this photo taken on Friday, April 20, 2018, garbage trucks unload the trash at the Volovichi landfill near Kolomna, Russia. Thousands of people are protesting the noxious fumes coming from overcrowded landfills surrounding Moscow. VOA

But anger over the landfill has united a diverse swath of citizens across northern Russia — with many saying they see it as a threat to natural resources that define a way of life in extreme climate.

“Of course we’re against it,” says Antokha, a construction worker who travelled some 800 kilometers away to join the camp from the city of Arkhangelisk.

“The area’s swamps feed rivers that extend throughout the region and feed into the White Sea. Poison Shiyes with garbage and you poison the entire north,” he added, while declining to provide his last name.

Welcome to the Resistance 

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Antokha is just one of many Russian northerners who have joined a hundreds-strong protest movement that spent the past year locked in a standoff with authorities over construction of the landfill.

In that time, ‘The Republic of Shiyes’ has emerged — a tent commune just outside the dig site with its own anthem, flag, infirmary, as well as a makeshift kitchen and bathhouse.

While ‘The Republic’ even has a stage for concerts and announcements, this is no Woodstock. Among the camp’s strictest rules? No drugs or alcohol.

Yet Shiyes has attracted the eclectic mix of an ‘anything goes’ event: liberals share soup casually with nationalists, peaceniks with military vets, small business owners alongside eco-activists.

All have committed to rotating shifts into the camp — through a frigid winter and mosquito-infested summer — in an effort to keep the protest going.

“This really is a war,” says Anna Shakalova, a shopkeeper from nearby who’s emerged as one of the leaders of the movement.

Protest, Construction, Garbage
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, Sept. 5, 2019. VOA

“And if we stay together, it’s a war we win.”

Growing Resentments 

Beyond the immediate environmental concerns, the battle over Shiyes has also exposed simmering resentments about a top-down system of governance that centralizes power and critical regional revenues in Moscow’s hands.

There’s widespread feeling that Russia’s regions give their resources to the capital while getting little — or, even worse, garbage — in return.

“It’s an example of Moscow chauvinism against the rest of the country,” says Ksenia Dmitrieva, 33, who grew up swimming in the area’s rivers as a child.

“Moscow thinks just because they have the money they can put their trash where they want. They’re not better than us.”

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The Shiyes strike continues amid a year of growing discontent with Russia’s government — with complaints about a sagging economy affecting the regions disproportionately.

Recent elections saw whole swaths of territory — such as the Khabarovsk Province in the Far East — send stinging defeats to the United Party in local races.  The public has also condemned the government response to the spread of massive wildfires across wide swaths of Siberia.  Meanwhile, smaller cities surrounding Moscow have long complained about the overflowing dumpsites poisoning air and water quality.

But more alarming for the Kremlin? President Vladimir Putin is no longer immune.

After years of sky-high ratings, Putin’s support numbers have fallen in the wake of unpopular pension reforms and falling living standards.  Recent polls show trust in Putin has fallen to just over 30%. Meanwhile, a majority now think the country is on the wrong track.

“They ask: ‘why wasn’t that done?’ And when they don’t find an answer of course they become opponents of Putin” says Ilya Kirianov, an engineer who traveled to Shiyes from Severodvinsk — where the public was still reeling from a mysterious explosion that released radiation into the air this past July.

“You see people who just a year ago voted for Putin are now some of his harshest critics,” he added.

Count Liliya Zobova, a business owner, is among those who’ve lost patience with the Russian leader.

“I loved Putin and voted for him,” she says.

That changed after seeing Putin weigh in — briefly in an answer in May 2019 — to say authorities should take public opinion into account.

The result? Construction paused — but only briefly.

“It means Putin supports it,” says Zobova. “I don’t know who to believe anymore.”

Helicopters and Blockades

For now, protesters have blockaded old logging roads that provide the only access for equipment to the build site. Even getting to the camp involves a hike through dense sticky swamplands.

In turn, authorities have started using helicopters to ferry in diesel and supplies for a force of masked private security contractors and regional police who guard the site.

In a show of force against the Shiyes camp, several protesters have been arrested and face the prospect of criminal prosecution. Police regularly post signs warning a raid is imminent.

It’s natural to be afraid,” says Irina Leontova, a 28-year-old filmmaker from Syktyvkar, a 3 hour drive away.   “Anything can happen — arrests, fines — but still people keep coming.”

Surveying the camp, Vera Goncherinka, a retired accountant from the nearby town of Urdoma, marveled at how life had changed since she got involved in the Shiyes uprising a year ago.

“I should be on my couch at home but look at me now,” she said —-  adding that her experiences in Shiyes had convinced her that something was stirring in Russia’s regions.

“How do we know something like Shiyes isn’t happening somewhere else in Russia? Have you ever heard them talk about us on television?”

With that, a passing train blew its whistle in support — and the protesters waved back.

A sign that news — like the region’s water — always finds a way out of the swamp. (VOA)

Next Story

5 Ways Technology is Changing the Construction Industry

It’s hard to go anywhere these days without seeing some kind of construction happening

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construction, Industry, technology, advancements
Technology is helping out in a number of ways, by combatting the shortage while improving worker safety. Pixabay

It’s hard to go anywhere these days without seeing some kind of construction happening. It
might be in your neighbourhood as your neighbors add on to their house or it could be the reason you’re stuck in traffic every day as they continuously work on the interstate.

Construction is an industry that will always likely be there. Even though it is currently facing a worker’s shortage, you’re likely to still see plenty of places with an “under construction” sign pop up.

In addition to seeming like it’s ubiquitous, the construction industry is also undergoing rapid changes thanks to technology. Technology is helping out in a number of ways, by combatting the shortage while improving worker safety. Hammer and nails are still in style but there are plenty of other ways this age-old industry is getting a facelift.

Drones

The first time you ever saw someone operating a drone was probably pretty interesting. Now, they may have become a nuisance in your neighborhood, flying over fences and causing a constant buzzing noise that just won’t go away.

If you live close to a construction area, then you’re probably used to all the constant noise so you won’t notice any drones hovering over the top.

In the past, helicopters were needed in order to obtain a bird’s eye view of a construction site. Construction managers or architects would need to hover over a property to ensure everything was going to plan.

In addition, drones are used to scope out property that is unaccessible. If someone is buying a huge plot of land, it’s easier to fly a drone over than spend hours wandering through.

construction, Industry, technology, advancements
Construction managers or architects would need to hover over a property to ensure everything
was going to plan. Pixabay

Robotics

The rise of robotics in construction is a combination between the worker shortage and and
advancing technology. Every year, robots become more intelligent, more precise, and safer
options for some construction jobs.

Robotics aren’t in high demand or use quite yet, but they’re the biggest trend to watch out for. You might be surprised to learn that the biggest robotic contributors at the moment are 3D- printing robots. These robots can print out certain materials or prefabricated parts.

This helps eliminate the need to transport some materials, turning the site into a more efficient workplace. You’ll still need to transport large materials and of course, the robot itself.

Wearable Technology

Consumers nowadays have access to watches that can track their sleep patterns and heart
rate, in addition to other instruments that can easily monitor plenty of vital signs. Those
technologies are also making strides in construction.

It’s no secret that construction is a physically demanding job and it’s important to monitor signs in order to promote the utmost safety at a site. This technology can tell construction managers and workers alike when it’s time to take a break or stop working for awhile.

Geotracking is also huge, as it can track exactly what a worker is doing. If a worker were to fall, the device would send alerts out and help could be better administered.

New and Better Materials

It might be surprising to learn that even though everything around us seems to be built with brick, mortar, wood, and concrete, construction experts are looking at improving those materials for the future.

This push for new and better materials comes from the green initiative, looking to reduce waste by repurposing materials into new ones. Waste plastic can be made into roadways or even used as material for our 3D printing robot friends.

construction, Industry, technology, advancements
Waste plastic can be made into roadways or even used
as material for our 3D printing robot friends. Pixabay

Self-heating concrete is another material making strides. While it’s not going to replace your seat warmer, it will help prevent concrete from cracking and breaking earlier.

Virtual and Augmented Reality

Virtual reality is becoming more and more popular across a number of different sectors and
construction is right up there. Augmented reality allows plans to be laid out in real time,
providing a digital overlay of what’s in the real-world. It will make you feel just like The
Terminator in some cases.

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Virtual reality is being used for training and safety measures. Instead of doing training onsite, virtual reality can be used ahead of time to better prepare workers for the dangers of a certain area. This helps save time and money, letting people take care of this before arriving to work.