Older than the Pyramids – and Decaying

“Besovy sledki” (Devil’s Trail) is a part of the unique complex of petroglyphs or stone carvings, images on the rocks made by ancient people. It is situated near the town of Belomorsk in Karelia. Despite its high tourist potential, the site, in fact, belongs to nobody, and therefore is left without proper custody.

In 1960s, a pavillon was erected over “Besovy sledki”, intended to safeguard the object from vandalism and damage from the blasts from the nearby hydro power plant. Half a century passed, and now the building become rundown. But nobody is eager to reconstruct it: the complex is not on neither federal nor municipal budget. While officials are reluctant to take responsibility, only “black guides”, who don’t pay taxes, bring some tourists to “Sledki”.

See the original video, reported by Anna Tokareva

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Photo: Sampo TV, Karelia

Desperately Looking for Baltic Cesium

The ecologists are concerned: Areas contaminated with cesium-137 have been found at the bottom of the Gulf of Finland.

A report from the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection-2008 started the concerns. The experts take the contamination for the “legacy” of Chernobyl incident, but it is hard to determine more precisely: data from different state laboratories diverge.

Cesium-137 is a dangerous element with the half-life of 30 years. It tends to accumulate in plants, animals and fish. Concerning the role of the gulf for the fishing industry, the existence of radionuclide deposits at its bottom can be pretty dangerous. The Ministry scientists are convinced, that the cesium comes to the gulf not only from the deposits of 80-ies, but also from contemporary sources – nuclear power plants, for example. At the moment there is no way to confirm or disprove their speculations: ecology supervision agencies are no more responsible for tracking pollution sources, and the best radioecology lab in the country is governed by “Rosatom” state corporation, not a Ministry.

The information on cesium contamination of the Gulf of Finland should be in openly accesible in the public domain, mentions journalist Lina Zernova in her investigation.

The investigation was published on the web-site of ecological NGO Bellona, in the Gorod 812 magazine, on the News BCM portal, the Ecodelo portal, in the NGO social network “Ammado” (http://www.ammado.com/nonprofit/43731/articles/44100) and at a local fishermen forum.

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(Photo: Freedigitalphotos.net)

How to Steal 40 Billion Rubles

In 1995, the Murmansk region was shocked by unprecedented fraud: five swindlers managed to pull a con game on local government and transfer 40 billion rubles ($6,5 million at that moment) assigned for medical purposes to foreign bank accounts. Later four of them were captured and convicted, yet the fifth still walks free.

This story is a real detective novel including multiple financial schemes, escapes and arrests on the borders.

At the instigation of former Murmansk region governor, Evgeny Komarov, the federal government in 1995 transferred 40 billion rubles to the regional budget. The administration intended to spend the money on supplies and equipment for local medical institutions. But the hospitals never saw neither money, nor equipment: the funds went to five cheeky businessmen. They got the supply contract due to self-asserted connections with high-ranked Moscow officials. During the past 17 years, four of the criminals have served their detentions. However, the fifth one eluded prison – because of expiry of the limitation period.

Journalist Sergey Yudkov narrates about the “crime of the century” on Kola Peninsula in his documentary, broadcasted by TV-21 channel.

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The Curtain Falls, the Drama Goes On

Retired actors in St. Petersburg are fighting fiercely for the House of Stage Veterans on Petrovsky Island, and the battle has gone on for years. Retired actors and the general public are sure that funds allocated for institution repairs are misused.

The House of Stage Veterans is a whole complex of historical buildings where actors «who gave all the efforts and health to serve art» are living after their retirement. However, their services for fine arts apparently go unnoticed by the House’ owners and administration – the management of the Theater Workers Union of Russia. The latter, notwithstanding significant commercial activity, refuse to provide necessary medical services for retirees and account for money spent.

Moreover, it remains unclear what happened to the $5 million, which were granted by the Russian holding AFK «Sistema» for the renovation of the house. The economic crime department has inspected the case, but still there is no decision to begin criminal investigation. Meanwhile, the Department for Presidential Affairs of the Russian Federation now allocates new funds for repairs, and veterans are being moved to a holiday center in the suburbs.

Tatiana Vorontsova is unweaving cobwebs of this «performance» in her investigation. The investigation was published in St. Petersburg online newspaper Fontanka.ru

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War Heroes Met a Sad Future

Russia celebrates her war heroes from the Great Patriotic War (Second World War) every year – but a group of them were hidden away, their rights abused, and their future bleak.

A number of the disabled veterans, who turned to begging for their survival, were driven from the streets and placed in nursing homes for the disabled and elderly. These institutions were then converted into secure, specialized facilities ensuring that their disabled residents would not be able to escape.

According to the security forces’ accounts, in the second half of 1951, they detained 107,766 beggars, in 1952 the number reached 156,817, and by 1953 the number had risen to 182,342. Among those arrested, 70 percent were disabled from injuries sustained at work or in the war.

One of the institutions were on Valaam Island in Karelia. Reporter Svetlana Tsygankova went looking for the paper trail and the destinies of people sent to the island.

Read the original story in Politika Karelia and Rossiskaya Gazeta.

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The barking money

Government and inhabitants of St. Petersburg are ready to invest significant sums in keeping and caring stray dogs and cats. Unfortunately, these noble longings can be used by swindlers and corrupted officials as well.

The story of a dog named Bonus, who was severely crippled, is only a particular example showing how complicated the financial relations in the stray animals’ treatment sphere are. People were sending money for his all of his treatment, but when the dog died, the animal clinic had spent the entire raised sum. The state sector is also non-transparent: since 2004 the budget of the city’s veterinary department has grown more than 300 times up to €24 million (1 billion rubles). City intends to allocate huge funds for construction of kennels and activity of animal control service ‘Spetstrans”. However, the inefficiency of expenditures raises loud questions in the community, concludes the well-known St. Petersburg journalist Denis Terentyev in his investigation.

The investigation was published in St. Petersburg Internet-newspaper “Fontanka.ru”.

You can read the story here and the English version of it here.


A Nenets in Prison

Leonid Latyshev killed a man, while he was drunk, and ended up in prison in Arkhangelsk. Latyshev is a Nenets – a nomadic people in northwest Russia, traditionally living of reindeer herding. In today’s Russia, the Nenets live in villages and face increasing problems with alcohol and crime.

Reporter Svetlana Sinitsyna’s investigation of the Nenets problem was broadcast on TV Pomorie in Arkhangelsk and received her colleagues’ recognition in the award of The  Arkhangelsk Journalists Union “Zolotoe pero Severa”.

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(Photo: The Norwegian Barents Secretariat)

Six Feet Under – but a Grave is not for Everybody

Unidentified corpses of drunkards, homeless people and aborted children are being buried on Vyborg’s cemetery in the paupers’ graves in violation of government rules. A decent burial is not available for everybody in the town, located in the Leningrad region.  The cemetery urges for expansion, but local authorities don’t have money for it.

From 2005, the management of Vesta funeral home, which is in charge of town’s cemetery, violates the law systematically. It uses lands in the nearby forest for graves. Nobody renounces this: the organization should bury people anyway. Both the chief forest officer and the head of local branch of Russian Agency for Health and Consumer Rights are perfectly aware on the issue.

Lack of funding is the question: it costs 4 million rubles (around €100 thousand) to get one hectare of land out of forestry while Russian Pension Foundation assigns 1000 times less money for one funeral of “the rootless one”. Construction of a crematorium could simplify the situation. However, such a facility is unfavorable for the funeral home management and for the corrupt grave-diggers who are being bribed to “hold” grave places for living people.

On the prospects of “collective graves” muses in his investigation Vyborg journalist Alexey Sokolov. The investigation was published at Independent Vyborg Portal.

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The Never-Ending Story of Letters and Parcels

The Russian post service has been scrutinized in journalism experiments and examinations since Soviet times – proving the delivery of letters and parcels to be too slow and of low quality. Up to 2013 Russian government plans to finance the modernization of the “Russian Post” service by significant amount of money – more than €2 billion. But journalist Anna Rudaya cannot not see any effect so far.

Every citizen of Russia, who has ever been in contact with the state post organization, can tell of at least one odd situation connected with its unsatisfactory operational process. Parcels from abroad going toPetrozavodsk instead of St. Petersburg; express post coming simultaneously with the regular one, sent on the same day; and even pension money (post offices are in charge for them as well) given in fake bank notes for practical jokes!

It looks as if the federal government understands the problems in the system and invests a lot in its renewal. But most of the changes are about style, not about the quality of service. Instead, high-ranked post officers prefer to hold beauty contests among their employees and travel abroad on taxpayers’ money which fact invokes natural interest of Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office.

The investigation was published in St. Petersburg online newspaper Fontanka.ru 07.11.2011. (Photo: Freedigitalphotos)

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When Volkhov roars

Every year in the spring time, the river of Volkhov in Russia’s Novgorod region overflows. This causes significant property losses for the state and inhabitants of surrounding towns and villages.

The nature could and should be tamed, but it requires constant renewal of the hydraulic structure on the territory of region and its neighbors. Existing allocation of funds is insufficient for this purpose. The flood in 1999 – one of the worst on the Volkhov river – caused damage of more than €1 million (42 million rubles). Every year losses reach millions of rubles – residential houses, kitchen gardens, roads, whole villages end up in disaster area.

One of the causes is unwillingness of the Volkhov hydropower plant’s (situated in the nearby Leningrad region) management to lower to minimum water lever upstream of the dam in spring, because in that case there will be no water resource for HPP’s work in summer. The renewal of hydraulic components at HPP and Volkhov’s river channel could solve the problem, however, their modernization progresses extremely slow.

Journalist Yury Krasavin gets the impression that it is easier for local government to dispense food and blankets to the victims of disaster than to invest in regional hydro system properly. The investigation was published at the Newsland portal. (Photo: Freedigitalphotos)

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