Potemkin metropolis. Changes in Krasnoyarsk after injection of billions of rubles for preparations to Universiade 

Potemkin metropolis. Changes in Krasnoyarsk after injection of billions of rubles for preparations to Universiade
People joke that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie masks will be provided to ugly city dwellers Photo: The CrimeRussia

Eighty billion rubles ($1.2 billion) have been spent on preparations to the Krasnoyarsk 2019 Winter Universiade. The federal budget provided 50 billion rubles ($762 million), while the regional and municipal budgets allocated 30 billion rubles ($457.2 million). The Krasnoyarsk authorities had six years to completely transform the regional capital. Just a few days remain before the international sports competition – but Krasnoyarsk is still a gloomy industrial city, not a modern metropolis able to charm foreign guests. Now the Municipal Administration is trying to conceal this by all means by hiding dilapidated houses behind fences and banners and ‘planting’ felled spruces into specially delivered white snow. What other ‘bright’ ideas have come into local officials’ minds?

Vladimir Putin promised to attend the international student games in Krasnoyarsk. Neither the Russian President nor foreign guests must see numerous broken-backed buildings, dilapidates huts, and abandoned construction sites with fly dumps nearby. A simple solution – use the six years allocated for the preparations to the Universiade to demolish or renovate neglected structures and clean up garbage heaps – hasn’t come into the minds of the municipal authorities. They have invented an even simpler way to deal with the problems: hide the streets with sleazy buildings behind 3-meter-high fences (allegedly, for noise suppression) and cover dilapidated houses in the city center by banners showing the same homes – but new and nice. Why spend money on restoration if it is possible to print a banner in the hope that the guests won’t notice the difference?


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Fifty million rubles ($763.2 thousand) have been paid from the municipal budget to install kilometers-long metal fences. The printing of the 10 thousand square meters of banners had cost additional 10 million rubles ($152.6 thousand). But now, instead of an abandoned brick structure on Surikova street in the center of Krasnoyarsk, there is a lovely wooden tower with carved window moldings. A partially burnt bank on Lenina street recognized a cultural monument is covered by a cocoon of banners. A never-ending construction project supposed to become a trade center of Eldorado company is hidden behind a huge poster with the Universiade symbolic. In total, more than 60 structures have been decorated – from small huts to huge factory buildings. Too bad, some housefronts are swinging in the wind... It looks scary – but such homes don't require renovations; it is sufficient just to wash the banners.

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The rest of the housefronts of residential high-rises located along Universiade guest routes have been hastily patched up: painted, cleaned, and, most importantly, the balconies covered with profiled sheeting without asking the owners’ permission. The result is far from perfection, large holes and gaps still remain – but, at least, the people hadn’t to pay for these ‘renovations’. The authorities have even promised not to punish the owners for removing the ugly sheeting from their balconies after the Universiade. The Mayor’s Office claims that no budget funds were spent on the ‘temporary covers’ – somehow, the city administration managed to make arrangements with local businessmen.

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The generous Krasnoyarsk businessmen have also voluntarily provided funds for repairs of dilapidated private homes. But, apparently, the amount was insufficient – because some residences have just been covered by wooden structures imitating housefronts. From the street, the homes with fake wooden boards look like new – but if one turns round the corner, he would see broken-backed timber huts.

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Windows and displays of trade pavilions are now miraculously beautiful. Ads have been covered with posters showing clear blue skies. This is such a rare thing for Krasnoyarsk living most of the time with the ‘black sky’.   

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Unbelievably clear skies are also reflected in false windows of the student dormitory of the Krasnoyarsk State Agrarian University – its capital renovations were not completed.

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After the concealment of all sorry places in Krasnoyarsk behind fences and banners, the people started joking that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie masks will be provided to ugly city dwellers. The black snow on the streets of Krasnoyarsk – recognized the most polluted city in the world on a regular basis – will be painted in white. Green leaves will be attached to the trees still withstanding the contaminated air... 

The joke turned out to be prophetic. No masks were provided – but Vladislav Loginov, Vice Mayor of Krasnoyarsk, announced the decision to evict from the city “prostitutes of both genders, homeless people, and other untrustworthy citizens”. Of course, the snow was not painted. Instead, new snow has been delivered from more environmentally friendly places. Clear snow is already dispersed from plastic bags on the city streets.

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Users of social networks suggested a version explaining the origin of the clean snow. Somebody remembered that, in late January, Saratov teachers were mobilized to remove snow from the streets and put it to bags. At that time, it was unclear: why had the teachers to remove snow in cold weather? But now, everything is clear: the Saratov authorities decided to help their colleagues from Krasnoyarsk.

No artificial leaves were attached to the trees. Instead, the Krasnoyarsk Administration found a faster and cheaper way to make the city green. Pieces of metal pipes have been installed along one of its main arteries – Kopylova street. Then freshly felled spruces were inserted into the pipes, thus, creating nice parks of dead trees in the center of Krasnoyarsk.

Cynical Siberians have immediately dubbed the fake plantings "spruce sticks" and asked the municipal administration why was it decided to install felled trees instead of living ones? Especially taking that Sibiryak (Siberian) company belonging to notorious Vadim Egorov, Deputy of the Municipal Council, was supposed to make that area green at the budget expense. Most importantly, how could the spruces be cut without any punishment if, before the New Year, the authorities had threatened to lock up Krasnoyarsk residents for 7 years for each felled coniferous tree? 

Initially, the Mayor’s Office had difficulties with the answer. But then, a creative response was invented. “The trees were cut by Krasnoyarsk energy companies in the framework of the maintenance of territories accommodating their facilities,” – Maksim Kuvaev, Head of the Media Liaison Department of the Krasnoyarsk Administration, said. Over time, the spruces will wither, and respective services will remove them. Overall, there is nothing to discuss there. However, Kuvaev was unable to say when real greening works should commence on Kopylova street.

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The residents are still wondering who had interpreted the slogan “Million trees for the city with million residents” in such an original way. Especially taking that, according to the Krasnoyarsk energy companies, they have nothing to do with the “spruce sticks”. The local branch of the Interregional Distribution Grid Company of Siberia claims that it had never provided trees for “temporary greening”. The origin of the felled spruces still remains a mystery – as well as the reasons behind the cutting of poplars along some streets of the city. Perhaps, somebody has remembered the words of Vladimir Tolokonsky, the previous Governor of the Krasnoyarsk Krai: “Poplars are not trees”?

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The residents are still wondering who had interpreted the slogan “Million trees for the city with million residents” in such an original way. Especially taking that, according to the Krasnoyarsk energy companies, they have nothing to do with the “spruce sticks”. The local branch of the Interregional Distribution Grid Company of Siberia claims that it had never provided trees for “temporary greening”. The origin of the felled spruces still remains a mystery – as well as the reasons behind the cutting of poplars along some streets of the city. Perhaps, somebody has remembered the words of Vladimir Tolokonsky, the previous Governor of the Krasnoyarsk Krai: “Poplars are not trees”?  

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Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. For instance, maples planted on Molokova street in anticipation of the Universiade have been felled as well. According to Galina Polyakova, Senior Researcher at Sukachev Institute of Forest, Siberian Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences, as far back as two years ago, the amount of trees cut in the framework of the preparations to the Universiade had exceeded the planned amount by 2.5 times.

Initially, the authorities had promised to plant two trees instead of each felled one – but no available places were found for compensatory plantings. Officially, 66 thousand trees have been cut; according to public activists, the number of felled trees exceeds 215 thousand. 88 thousand trees had to be planted. But the Municipal Administration has already admitted that more than one-third of the trees won’t be planted – neither before the Universiade nor later – due to the “lack of suitable areas”.

Huge funds have been spent on the greening of Krasnoyarsk – and no real results can be seen. Furthermore, trees are still felled nor far from Universiade facilities – Gremyachaya Griva, Biathlon Academy, Sopka Sports Complex, Raduga (Rainbow) Cluster, and entrance to Stolby Nature Reserve. 

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The Krasnoyarsk authorities are painstakingly preparing to the Universiade; as a result, the city resembles not even a Potemkin village – but a concentration camp. The spacious square in front of the Big Concert Hall in the historical center has been fenced. To go to a concert, Krasnoyarsk residents now have to crowd near a few gateways. But at least, it is possible to pass yet – although with time losses. However, since February 20, it will be as difficult to enter the closed perimeter as get into an airport. The check procedures will be equally strict. Furthermore, outside business hours, access to the perimeter will be completely blocked.

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Suburban forests used by Krasnoyarsk dwellers for recreation have also been enclosed with a high metal fence. To prevent any unauthorized access, razor-sharp barbed wire was installed on the top. The good thing is that it is still permitted to look at the forest through the fence.

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Central streets of Krasnoyarsk resemble a concentration camp as well. In the past, the homes were fancy and varied in color. But in anticipation of the Universiade, it was decided for some reason to make them uniform and paint in mousy colors. Grim beige, gray, and brown tones outraged the residents. The new appearance of the city is depressive and dull. But the municipal authorities assured the people that the uniform color pattern “was approved by a special commission involving artists, architects, Deputies of the Municipal Council, and the City Administration”. 

In fact, not all architects are happy with the new appearance of Krasnoyarsk. According to Evgeny Zykov, Chairman of the Krasnoyarsk Branch of the Union of Architects of Russia, “it looks like they took one or two cans of paint and decided to paint the entire city. There are such examples in the world; for instance, Luxembourg and Paris are literally painted in one color. But Krasnoyarsk is neither Paris nor Luxembourg; our traditions are different". Too bad, the opinion of professional was ignored. The idea to create a “unified ensemble” has been implemented. Krasnoyarsk Mayor Sergei Eremin suggested the people unhappy with the dull and depressive appearance of the city to paint graffiti “supplementing the reality” – e.g. “continuing steps at the exit from an underground passage” or “human figures in arches”.

Sounds logical: painted people in a Potemkin city.

In anticipation of the Universiade, the life or real Krasnoyarsk residents became much more difficult and troublesome. After the beginning of the games, numerous restrictions and prohibitions will be imposed. People living close to Universiade facilities won’t be able to drive to their homes: all driveways will be blocked by barrier gates. It is necessary to get special passes and drive home following specially approved routes. A special pass will be required to use the airport parking – during the games, it will serve only athletes and guests of the Universiade. In addition, Krasnoyarsk will be closed for garbage trucks – even though the current waste disposal situation in the regional capital is catastrophic: the city turns into a huge trash heap. The list of prohibitions is pretty long, and some of those are really difficult to understand – for instance, why was it decided to prohibit selling flowers on the streets for the Women’s Day on March 8?

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Students of the Siberian Federal University have been affected by the forthcoming Universiade even harder than ordinary city dwellers. Back in summer, six months before the international games, they had to vacate new and renovated dormitories to clear the space for athletes. Over 1500 people have been relocated on the voluntary-compulsory basis. The old dormitories don’t have enough space for all the students who had to move closer together: additional beds were placed in small rooms; people have to stand in long lines to common toilets and showers. Outraged students had nearly rioted and started collecting signatures under the petition. To calm them down, the university administration had to make concessions, including paying compensations of 5 thousand rubles ($76) to those renting housing. 

The municipal authorities are trying to cool down Krasnoyarsk residents by reminding them of the reason behind all these inconveniences. After all, after the international student games, the city will be left with plenty of new infrastructural, sports, and cultural objects. Too bad, many of those are still under construction. For instance, one of the Universiade facilities – Surgical Department of the Krasnoyarsk Krai Clinical Hospital – won’t be commissioned before the Universiade. Sibiryak (Siberian) company belonging to Deputy Vadim Egorov promises to complete it a month after the end of the games at the earliest. The quality of works at other Universiade facilities raises serious concerns even before the arrival of the athletes and guests. For instance, the roof of new Sopka Sports Complex built by Sibiryak is already leaking. Large pieces of paint peel off the walls of buildings in the city center. Six months after the repairs, meter-deep holes appear on the communal bridge across the Yenisei River.

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There are so many defects that Aleksander Shlyakhin, owner of Sibdom real estate portal, suggested not to turn on the expensive illumination of the buildings in the historical center of Krasnoyarsk during the Universiade – because, instead of adorning the homes, it reveals the poor quality of the renovations, including holes in walls and bubbling plaster. “Why should we disgrace ourselves? Instead of the silhouette, contour, and flooding lighting emphasizing the unique design and elements of houses built during the Stalin epoch and occupying the historical center of Krasnoyarsk, the city looks like a crowd of chaotically illuminated broken-backed monsters,” – Shlyakhin says.

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So, what can the Krasnoyarsk residents do in that situation? Perhaps, drink vodka from bottles shaped as the Chapel of Martyr Parasceve surnamed "Friday" – the main architectural landmark of the city. Its cost is over 2 thousand rubles ($30.5) – but Siberians are accustomed to high prices on everything. Take, for instance, Universiade tickets – initially, they were sold at one price; but later, the buyers have been asked to additionally pay the same amount under the threat of ticket annulment. 

The only real benefit derived by the people from the forthcoming games are smokeless fuel briquettes. Siberian Coal Energy Company (SUEK) suddenly decided to donate the expensive briquettes to Krasnoyarsk residents, while the Municipal Administration delivered the fuel to their homes using non-budget funding sources. The cost of this briquettes is 3.5 times higher in comparison with the ‘regular' fuel; they produce twice as much heat and emit 200 times fewer pollutants.

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SUEK has warned that the free distribution of briquettes is a one-time action. The fuel is provided to owners of private homes right before the Universiade; it should be used during the games. In that period, "mobile ecolaboratories will move all over the city and collect atmospheric air samples". But why? The official explanation is as follows: to assess "the feasibility of smokeless fuel for the heating of private homes within the city". However, the real reasons are pretty obvious: the smoke from stoves in private homes constitutes only 10% of the total emission in the city. But it is easier to get rid of it for the duration of the Universiade rather than force billionaire Andrei Mel'nichenko to install filters on chimney stalks of municipal thermal power plants belonging to him. As The CrimeRussia wrote earlier, these plants use hazardous but cheap brown coal mined in pits belonging to above-mentioned Mel’nichenko. The municipal authorities failed to persuade the oligarch to switch to expensive environmentally friendly fuel – so, their only option was to provide smokeless briquettes to homeowners. 

“They asked us to start using the fuel since March 2. Will they suspend the factories as well? And then they will say that it is the fault of the private sector. Their sole purpose is to create smoke and mirrors. To show the guests that everything is nice and fine here. And then things will return to normal,” – Oleg Melkozerov, a happy recipient of free briquettes, says. 

All city dwellers understand that the giveaway of smokeless fuel is just an attempt to distract the public attention from the true originator of the environmental disaster in Krasnoyarsk. The people don’t even want to take the free briquettes. But the authorities don’t ask them – bags with fuel are just left near private homes.

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“I think, this is not an experiment – but an attempt not to scare away foreigners with smoky chimneys and polluted air, – lawyer Artem Kardanets says. – The term “experiment” means the intention to conceal the environmental disaster from foreigners. Furthermore, during the Universiade, the city will be heated mostly by electric boilers. But after the departure of the guests, the hell is coming back”.


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