An engineering mom leads effort to save an old-growth Russian forest
Yevgenia Chirikova found out a national forest was quietly being sold off. What she did to try to save it may change Russia forever.
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"We've raised consciousness about this issue. The whole conversation about projects like this around the country has changed," Chirikova says. "We're going to keep struggling and trying to save as much of the forest as possible. We're far from beaten."Skip to next paragraph
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Chirikova, backed by other Russian civil society activists, including experts at the anti-corruption group Transparency International, argues that the Khimki Forest route has always been about corruption. The publicly owned forest lands were sold off to commercial interests for logging and road-building by officials who earned huge profits but whose names remain shrouded in secrecy.
"This road project makes no sense in any practical way," Tsiplenkov says. "It can only be explained by corruption."
Last December, after widespread complaints about vote-rigging in elections for the Duma (parliament), tens of thousands of people took to the streets – repeatedly, over a period of three months – to protest Russia's heavily manipulated political system and to demand that Mr. Putin reconsider his determination to run for a third term in presidential elections that took place in March. (Putin won.)
Chirikova was at the center of that mass protest movement and hailed as one of its leaders, a role she readily accepted.
"You can thank Putin for my transition from local environmentalism to national politics," Chirikova says. "Our country has a resource-based economy, where people with power basically cash in those resources and bank their profits offshore.
"You can fight this in your own backyard, or on a central square in Moscow. Khimki Forest is just one small part of a very big picture."
Learn more / Get involved
• Yevgenia Chirikova shares the 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize, awarded April 16, with five other activists around the world. Her Facebook page (in Russian) is facebook.com/4irikova. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
• The official website (in Russian) of Yevgenia Chirikova’s group, Defenders of the Khimki Forest, is www.ecmo.ru.
• A summary (in English) of the independent report on the Khimki Forest toll road (cited in this article) can be found here.
• The Norwegian environmental group Bellona covers environmental issues in Russia, including the Khimki Forest, and maintains offices in St. Petersburg and Murmansk.
• Greenpeace Russia maintains an extensive website in English that follows environmental issues in Russia, including oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean and the North Sea, as well as the controversy at Khimki Forest.
• Sign up to receive a weekly selection of practical and inspiring Change Agent articles by clicking here.