“We can’t stop protesting until the landfill is shut down,” Volokolamsk resident Alexander Lvov told the Moscow Times. People in this town of 23,000, about 80 miles from Moscow, have been demanding a halt to the use of the landfill site, which has been emitting noxious gases making people ill over the past year. Recently there have been a series of demonstrations, like the one above March 10, blaming everyone from local officials to recently re-elected President Vladimir Putin for the crisis.
Some 57 children from Volokolamsk were admitted to the hospital March 21, complaining of nausea and headaches. Hundreds gathered outside, chanting “Killer!” at district leader Yevgeny Gavrilov, who was later dismissed by the regional governor.
This landfill, and others like it around Moscow, are brimming over with waste hauled from the capital city and dumped there. Protests against landfills in six other towns in the region took place last month.
Local authorities initially said there was no connection between people getting sick and the toxic gases. Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry March 28 urged residents to stay indoors to avoid weather conditions it claimed were “unfavorable for the dissipation of harmful pollutants.” Two days later they began distributing gas masks.
Some Volokolamsk residents say the closure of a waste dump in Balashikha led to the Volokolamsk landfill being filled beyond capacity. Putin had ordered the Balashikha dump closed after residents called him on “Direct Line,” an annual television question and answer show, to complain.
Putin also faces widespread anger over the deaths of 64 people in a fire at the Kemerovo shopping mall in Siberia March 25. It turned out that mall managers and local officials there had locked the fire exits and left a broken fire alarm unrepaired. In an attempt to defuse the protests, Putin called a national day of mourning for March 28. The day before thousands turned out in 20 cities across Russia to join vigils for those killed. At the one in Moscow some blamed Putin, chanting “Down with the czar!”