Two years ago, the residents of this coal town in Siberia sought help from Canada.It never came

From the top of Alps Street, the highest point in the Siberian city of Kiselevsk, the surrounding communities seem to be swallowed by a series of huge black holes.

Nine open-pit coal mines surround this 90,000-inhabited city in the Kuzbass region of Russia, which is the center of coal production in the country and is located 3,700 kilometers east of the capital Moscow.

Every day, the bone-piercing explosions from the pit echoed in the dark landscape, moving the building away from the foundation, making the building tottering.

This Spontaneous combustion The by-products of coal dumped in the vicinity of the neighbourhood have enveloped houses in toxic fumes.

This photo taken last winter shows a thick layer of coal dust covering a street in Kiselevsk. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News)

And, depending on the wind, Thick black dust Can cover cars and houses.

“I just need to open the window and I will see such a thick layer of soot,” said Natalia Kamarova, a resident, whose fingers are one centimeter apart.

“The kids are breathing this. I don’t think these houses should be near the repair station.”

Staff from the Moscow branch of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation visited the community on the eve. summit An investigation between President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden on the sentiments and priorities of Russians living outside large cities-because Kiselevsk has an unusual connection with Canada.

Video Ask Trudeau for help

Over the years, thousands of families have pleaded with local and regional authorities to remove them from eroded coal mines.

When this kind of advocacy left them with nowhere to go, a small group of people took things further.

Natalia Kamarova holds a hammer and sickle to break coal in the shed. Many residents still burn coal for heating. (Colin Seminov/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News)

In June 2019, they created an unprecedented Ask for outside help –go to Canada.

Dozens of local residents known as Kiselevsk Canadians made a Highly publicized video Ask Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to admit that they entered Canada as environmental refugees.

In their appeal, they said: “The living conditions in Russia are unbearable.” They took turns walking to the camera and begging the Canadian government to give their families a cleaner future in places where the snow is “still white.”

Watch | Drone footage shows the scale of coal mining near Kiselevsk:

Many residents of the Siberian mining town of Kiselevsk say that pollution from a nearby open-pit coal mine has damaged their quality of life. 1:27

The polite but disappointing reply sent by the Canadian Embassy in Moscow via e-mail affirmed that Kiselevsk’s condition is a problem that only the Russian government can solve.

If residents hope that their request may irritate or embarrass local authorities and take action, then the results two years later will be deeply disappointing and disturbing.

Local Governor Sergey Tsivlev (Sergey Tsivlev) condemn The organization that produced the video at a press conference a few days later claimed that they had “smeared Russia.”

He visited some of the worst-affected communities and made promises that residents considered to be relocation. It turned out to be a more illusory hope.

Zivlev later agreed to hold a large mining exhibition in Kiselevsk in August 2021 to prove his government’s commitment to the community.

However, on the key issues that triggered the crisis, residents said they hardly saw the government’s plan to move them out of their homes.

Very low tolerance for opposition

There are also allegations of retaliation.

Environmental activist Natalia Zubkova, who helped residents make videos, was attacked by an unidentified assailant on a street not far from her home.

She said that her family was threatened and she was pursued by the Russian secret police FSB.

First, she fled the city, then the area, then Russia.

She is now in exile in Georgia.

The “Glory of the Kuzbass Miners” proclaimed the sign of welcoming tourists to Kiselyovsk. (Colin Seminov/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

Her situation shows that the repressive turn of the Russian authorities has led to the arrest of thousands of government opponents in 2021.

The Federal State Duma also classified the anti-corruption activities of the imprisoned opposition figure Alexei Navalny as “extremist” and banned his supporters from running for.

Residents of Kiselevsk said that the only substantial development they can point out is that a smoldering site that occasionally burns is now covered with clay.

The area is located at the end of Vitaly Shestyakov street, where bright orange signs continue to warn people of the continuing danger of toxic gases.

“The government…does not want to help the people,” said Siestiakov, 33-year-old husband and father of two children, one of the groups that appealed to Canada.

Vitaly Shestyakov, one of the residents of Kiselyovsk, made a video asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to let them come to Canada as environmental refugees. (Chris Brown/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News)

Shestyakov said that he was motivated by the near-death experience. He said the methane smoke from a nearby underground fire almost killed his wife and children while they were sleeping.

He said he believed that if the howling of the domestic cat hadn’t awakened them, they would all die.

“Mainly for [the government] It’s just taking coal, nothing more,” he said in an interview outside the house. “I think Kuzbass is just a big hole right now. “

Increase in coal mining

In the past 20 years, roughly the same as President Vladimir Putin’s rule of the country, Russia’s coal production has increased by 30% to 440 million tons per year.

Driven by the export markets of South Korea and other Asian countries, Russia is now the third largest coal producer in the world.

The mines in Kiselevsk are generously subsidized by the federal government and are all privately owned by Russian billionaires who have become very wealthy due to the expansion of their mining operations.

Look at the conditions of Alpine Street in Kiselevsk. (Colin Seminov/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News)

At the same time, the miners living on the periphery found their incomes stagnated, and their houses were almost worthless as the open-pit mines encroached on their properties.

Although Russian law requires mines to be at least 1,000 meters away from homes, CBC News counts hundreds of homes that are completely within this range.

In a recent visit, the residents of Alps Street begged CBC staff to enter their homes to see their living conditions.

Many houses in Kiselevsk are in dilapidated state and there is no running water. (Chris Brown/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)

There are no pipes, sewers or indoor toilets in the entire community. Even where there are pipes, there is often no water available for most of the day.

“We have lived here for more than 30 years and they have been telling us that they will demolish this place forever,” Lilia Kazakova and her husband Victor said as they stood on the floor of their slanted living room.

“It used to be upright,” she said of her home, “but now it is horizontal.”

Neighbor Ludmilla Mizulia said that the dirt road passing her house was covered with big rocks, and the bottom of the car was often scratched.

Assign responsibilities

Residents said that from mine owners who put profits first to corrupt government officials, there are many responsibilities to bear.

Many criticisms are directed at Putin and the Russian national government.

66-year-old Alexander Gartman, a former miner and union organizer, took CBC staff to a huge cemetery on the edge of a huge coal pit.

He said that according to 2018 statistics, the death rate in Kuzbass region is almost twice the birth rate, and the cancer incidence here is 10 times that of other regions in Russia.

“This is criminal damage to the Siberian population,” he said.

“If someone is waiting for news from President Putin or the State Duma, they are wasting time. Every year, the situation will only get worse.

“Russia is dying as a country, even though it is the country with the largest territory. We have oil, gold and silver. We have everything! But the people basically have nothing. It has reached the point of shame.”

Alexander Gartman stands in a cemetery next to another open-pit mine in Kiselevsk. (Dmitry Kozlov/Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News)

In a series of press releases, local officials refuted their accusations of slow response to community concerns.

In February, officials announced that more than 33 million Canadian dollars had been allocated to resettle more than 875 families in Kiselevsk over the next three years.

In April, the deputy governor of the region announced that it would adopt new measures before the end of the year to reduce coal dust and other pollution from coal mines.

Moreover, as part of the celebration of the Miner’s Day, governments at all levels stated that they would spend 1 billion rubles (16 million Canadian dollars) to build a new sports and entertainment center in the community.

But Gartman said residents have become very cynical about these promises, because the results are usually far below the fees.

“It’s just public relations…showing that they care about people, but there is nothing there.”

Before the summit between US President Joe Biden and Putin this week, Russian television networks have been accusing the United States of being the culprit in many of the country’s economic difficulties, especially the implementation of economic sanctions.

TV presenters have also been spreading conspiracy theories that the United States wants to steal Siberian territory from Russia or is preparing to take over Russia’s Arctic region.

But people interviewed by CBC News in Kiselevsk said that they think Russia’s problems are domestic problems, not the fault of any external opponents.

“What did you do to unify Russia?” said Victor Kazakov from Alps Street, referring to Putin’s party. “If it is the ruling party, these problems should be resolved, but they will not come here or anywhere.”

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