People in the Russian Arctic take a stand to protect their environment

About two years ago, mass protests in the Russian region of Arkhangelsk forced the Moscow authorities to abandon their plans to build a giant landfill near the village of Shiyes. The success of this “Stop Shiyes” struggle launched an ecological movement in the arctic region and ushered in a more environmentally friendly local leadership.

It has also sown surprisingly divergent ideas on how to turn this new awareness into permanent ways for people to relate to the environment around them, use its resources, and deal with the consequences.

Why we wrote this

Promoting environmentally friendly practices is not easy in Russia. But in the arctic north of the country, locals are finding inventive ways to change the public’s interaction with their environment.

For Oleg Mandrykin, a local real estate developer in the city of Severodvinsk, this served as an inspiration to try to get into national politics in order to raise environmental awareness in Moscow. Anastasia Trofimova, a doctor in Arkhangelsk, took a different direction, eschewing politics for what she sees as the most influential area of ​​business. And Alexandra Usacheva runs Clean North, a group that acts as an interface between the public and local authorities to promote environmental education.

“The ‘Stop Shiyes’ campaign has changed the popular mentality in this region,” Ms. Usacheva says. “All of this attention got people thinking about the future. And some got really inspired to do something more.

ARKHANGELSK from Russia

Arkhangelsk, a Russian region almost as large as France that borders the White Sea, is a land of permafrost and swampy tundra, with stunted arctic forest, hills, and labyrinthine lakes and rivers. It has been inhabited by Russians for almost a thousand years; The indigenous peoples, some related to the Finnish Lapps, have been there for much longer.

The people here are very aware of the history. Much of this revolves around their fragile arctic habitat and the need to preserve it.

About two years ago mass popular protest forced the Moscow authorities to abandon their project to build a giant landfill near the village of Shiyes in this arctic region which was to receive 2 million tons per year of waste overflowing from Moscow, a major consumer. The success of this “Stop Shiyes” struggle launched a sustainable ecological movement and inaugurated the election of a local leadership more respectful of the environment. It has also planted surprisingly divergent ideas in some people’s minds on how to take this new awareness and turn it into a lifelong transformation of how people relate to the environment around them, use its resources. and manage the consequences.

Why we wrote this

Promoting environmentally friendly practices is not easy in Russia. But in the country’s northern Arctic, locals are finding inventive ways to change the public’s interaction with their environment.

For Oleg Mandrykin, a local real estate developer in the closed city of the Severodvinsk shipyard, this served as an inspiration to try to get into national politics to raise environmental awareness in Moscow. Anastasia Trofimova, a doctor in Arkhangelsk, took a different direction, eschewing politics for what she considers the most influential area of ​​business. And Alexandra Usacheva runs Clean North, a group that acts as an interface between the public and local authorities to promote environmental education.

“The ‘Stop Shiyes’ campaign has changed the popular mentality in this region,” Ms. Usacheva says. “All of this attention got people thinking about the future. And some got really inspired to do something more.

“This victory will not last until we get it”

Mr Mandrykin, who has played an important role in the protests against landfills, believes that until environmental awareness reaches giant garbage centers like Moscow, the threat of plundering other regions will not be possible. ‘will probably not mitigate. With the support of local environmental groups, he is running as a candidate for the State Duma in national elections scheduled for September 19.

State Duma candidate Oleg Mandrykin, pictured holding one of his campaign flyers on August 30, 2021 in Arkhangelsk, said only political representation in Moscow can achieve consistently pro-environmental policies for the whole of Russia, including its region.

In Russia, it is almost impossible for an independent candidate – even one from a popular movement – to be elected. Thus, Mr. Mandrykin accepted the nomination of the liberal Yabloko party, one of the few “systemic” political parties: those which have elected representatives in Russian legislatures, which have the right to present candidates without going through a punitive list. of necessary requirements. To register. (Other such parties include the Communists, Nationalist Liberal Democrats, the Fair Russia Social Democratic Party, and, of course, the ruling United Russia Party.)

Mr Mandrykin says this limited political system has not served the people of Arkhangelsk very well because “systemic” parties tend to be co-opted by big business and the political interests of the Kremlin, who wield almost power. all levels. Opinion polls suggest he has a chance of winning thanks to his environmental activism and general fatigue of economic conditions in the region. He insists that if he makes it to the Duma, he will find the means to make things happen.

“There are six existing MPs from this region, none of whom have ever said a word in favor of our movement,” he said. “There must be people in the Duma who come from the grassroots and really speak on behalf of the majority of voters. After the success of “Stop Shiyes”, we realized that this victory will not last until we secure it with political representation in Moscow. “

The Moscow government withdrew from plans to dump the city’s oceans of waste at landfills in remote locations after popular protests in several regions, the largest of which was in Arkhangelsk. But despite implementing a plan last year that requires garbage to be sorted into two categories – organic and recyclable – experts say it doesn’t take and, in any case, isn’t enough to solve the problem. huge problem. Much of Moscow’s waste still goes to overcrowded landfills near the city, such as Mikhali’s in the Kaluga region which receives 3,000 tonnes of waste per day.

“We are convinced that garbage reform should be based not on creating more mega-landfills, but on comprehensive principles of recycling,” Mandrykin said. “We hear about plans. And something is happening. But I think the push has to come from below. People need to be involved. This is why I am getting into politics. It’s not just about waste, it’s about making this system work for people. We have seen that the authorities listen when thousands of people demonstrate, but we have to translate this into real and permanent political power. “

The Green Point

Dr Trofimova, who was also part of the “Stop Shiyes” movement, was excited about the victory and decided that more needed to be done. She and a few friends gathered their resources, called on local producers and artisans for ideas, and opened a shop to sell only natural or recycled products.

Now, a few years later, they have over 700 items for sale, ranging from all-natural cosmetics from dispensers – to avoid plastic packaging – to recycled paper products, pens made from toothbrushes. throws, real soap, bags and washcloths made from old clothes and many local arts and crafts.

“Our main method of advertising is through social media. But when we launched, we were almost overwhelmed with the response, ”she says. “For Arkhangelsk it was a huge sensation.”

The store, called The Green Point, is supported by environmental groups and non-governmental organizations, and many of the workers who make its products are disabled or underemployed.

“We wanted to create something that is socially educational, that plays a role in changing consumption patterns and bringing ecological awareness into everyday life,” says Dr Trofimova. “Of course we wanted it to be a commercial success, and it was to a degree. But it must be sustainable, exploit and develop local sources, and involve local populations as more than just customers.

“We have learned a lot, especially in marketing. You have to reach people with the right message or it just won’t work. As a small entrepreneur, I hope that if it works here we can expand to other parts of Russia. “

A mixed reception

Different avenues to environmental activism seem to be greeted by local authorities in contrasting ways.

Mr. Mandrykin, the Duma candidate, reports that he faces constant hostility from the authorities. He claims his attempts to buy billboards or advertise in local newspapers are still mysteriously thwarted. Aside from the very limited television time allotted to each registered candidate, he says, “all we have is the Internet; we get a lot of buzz on social media.

Dr Trofimova, the entrepreneur, says that “the local authorities don’t help us at all, but they don’t hinder us either.”

But Ms Usacheva, head of the ecological group Clean North, says her requests to school access authorities to teach environmental lessons, or her pleas for help in organizing clean-up campaigns, are like pushing an open door. .

“Our authorities want to be useful. They want to be seen as being associated with good ecological values, ”she says. “It’s not political. I don’t even want to be in politics. In our time and in our place, there are more effective ways to promote the environmental principles in which I believe. Educate young people today and we will win tomorrow.

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