> While the fires spread over large areas of the Siberian forests, the inhabitants of a city face another environmental threat: open pit mines.
Kiselyovsk is a city of 90,000 inhabitants located in the Kuzbass, a large coal mining basin in the Kemerovo region, southwest of Siberia. The city has made headlines for its terrible air quality and the recurring “black snows”, both phenomena resulting from the open-pit coal mines that surround it.
But now, the inhabitants of Kiselyovsk are fed up: they have recorded videos on YouTube asking for help from Canada, the UN secretary general and the International Criminal Court. The first appeal was recorded in June 2019 when, tired of the inaction of their local government and mining companies, Kiselyovsk residents gathered in a field to read the following message in a 12-minute recording:
Дело в том, что наш край богат углем и сейчас основные разработки угля ведутся варварским способом. Открытым способом, не обращая внимание на то, что рядом с огромными разрезами находятся жилые дом. В нашем городе Киселевске в черте города ведут свои работы 9 разрезов. В городе проживает 90 тысяч человек. Большая часть населения живет именно вокруг этих разрезов. ’Этой зимой весь мир увидел наш черный. Мы задыхались в городе от угольной пыли, выхлопов карьерного транспорта. Наши дети почти всю зиму (а она у нас такая же длинная, как и в Канаде) не могли выйти на улицу, чтобыт. Детям становилось плохо от смога, от висящей в воздухе угольной пыли.
Our region is rich in coal and nowadays barbaric methods are used for mining: open pit mining, ignoring that there are homes next to the huge open pit mines. There are nine open pit mines in the city of Kiselyovsk. There are 90,000 people who live in the city and most live near these mines. This winter, the whole world saw our black snow. We breathed with difficulty in the city due to coal dust and mining truck emissions. Our children could not go out to play for most of the winter, which is as long as Canada's. The children were sick from the toxic fog and coal dust that floated in the air.
Then they went directly to the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, to ask him to consider his asylum application on grounds of social and class discrimination. They describe their Trap-22: they would like to leave Kiselyvosk, they say, but their homes are not worth much due to the poor environmental conditions in the area.
Even if they could sell their houses, they say, no one would voluntarily move to Kiselyovsk. Even if they could move to another part of Russia, they say, there is no guarantee that the exploitation of natural resources will not force them to relocate again. Therefore, the inhabitants of Kiselyovsk apply for asylum in Canada because, according to them, the country has a climate and landscape similar to those of its native Kemerovo region (although it should be added that Trudeau has a mixed history in environmental matters, such as This is demonstrated by its support for carbon taxes, while encouraging the development of pipelines.)
Trudeau is not the only world leader that the people of Kiselyovsk have appealed to. They also contacted the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, to ask him to raise the matter to the representatives of Russia before the international organization. In addition, they told Guterres that their many appeals to Vladimir Putin have not been answered, while wondering if the Russian president his subordinates were telling the whole truth about the situation in Kiselyovsk. Therefore, the appeal should not necessarily be understood as a strong criticism of the Russian president; In fact, the citizens added that they expected Putin to force the guilty parties to ruin their local environment to repair the damage.
However, the inhabitants of Kiselyovsk have noted a profound disconnect between the internal agenda of the Russian Government and the objectives of its foreign policy:
“Наша страна помогает многим другим странам, таким как Сирия, Донецкая область, Луганская область. Наше правительство прощает другим странам огромные долги, а про своих жителей Кузбасса – как будто. А ведь мы тоже люди. И дети наши тоже живые. Мы не сделали никому ничего плохого, так почему же мы живем в таких невыносимых условиях … безрассудная добыча полезных ископаемых – это беда всей России, а добыча угля открытым способом привела к ситуации, мы которую, те, кто чувствует на себе последствия этой добычи, считаем настоящим геноцидом…
Our country helps many others such as Syria and the Donetsk and Lugansk regions (a reference to war-torn regions in eastern Ukraine that declared their independence as “people's republics” in 2014 and still receive Russian military aid to this day. from today). Our Government forgives the massive debts of other countries, but it seems that it has forgotten its own citizens in the Kuzbass. After all, we are also people. Our children are also alive. We have not done any harm to anyone, so why should we live in these intolerable conditions? The foolish development of resources is a disaster for all of Russia: open pit coal mining has led to a situation that we, its victims, consider a true genocide …
Canada's response came within a few days. On June 11, the country's immigration agency said that asylum is normally granted only when the applicant has already left their country and has no desire to return.
The Russian authorities also responded; On June 10, the governor of the Kemerovo region instructed his deputies and the mayor of Kiselyovsk to meet with residents and discuss their problems. The governor's office stressed that due to the history of Kiselyovsk as a coal mining city and its current dependence on the industry, it would be difficult to change the situation overnight. Local officials also noted that all local mining companies have environmental plans in place, although they admitted that these are long-term strategies that are likely to not produce immediate changes.
But in the following months, the mayor's office has also obstructed efforts for city people to submit their complaints. In early September, a local journalist was warned that only individual interviews with residents could be conducted without prior permission from local authorities. Interviews with large groups of residents, said the mayor's office, would be considered illegal and prohibited under Russia's particularly restrictive laws on public meetings.
However, some residents of Kiselyovsk have not been intimidated. At the end of August 2019, another video message was recorded, this time addressed to the president of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Chile Eboe-Osuji, and his chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda. Citing the increasing levels of harmful substances in the city air, the establishment of illegal landfills and dangerous fires, the inhabitants asked the ICC to open a case based on articles 6 and 7 of the Rome Statute, the treaty constitutive of the ICC. These articles contain provisions for cases of genocide and crimes against humanity. The Russian Government withdrew as a signatory to the Rome Statute in 2016 and, as The Guardian reports, it had never fully submitted to the jurisdiction of the ICC. The fact that these concerned citizens have tried equally demonstrates the strength of their desire for justice.
Video calls from Kiselyovck are not the only example of the increasingly imaginative methods used by the inhabitants of the regions of Russia to draw attention to local issues that, in their opinion, are being ignored. On September 1, in another innovative show to attract attention, the inhabitants of Olkhon, on the shores of Lake Baikal, one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world, erected a bust to Putin as “Guarantor of the Constitution” to draw media attention to local issues of the rule of law and land use. In recent years, environmental issues have increasingly become mobilizing factors throughout Russia; ordinary people across the country are gathering to compare notes and express their outrage over local issues such as illegal dumps and illegal exploitation of natural resources.
These movements transcend political divisions for or against the Kremlin, indicating that Russian citizens have the ability to significantly influence politics when they focus on local problems. The magnitude of issues such as climate change or corruption can make these issues seem insurmountable, but the local focus is what gives activists and committed citizens the hope of a change. And after the recent scandals around the municipal elections in Moscow, the example of Kiselyovck is even more important: it shows that many understand that politics does not begin or end at the polls.