Defying Putin: 7 Russians to watch

Tens of thousands of Russians marched in the streets in December to protest vote-rigging. From this movement, fresh leaders are emerging in Russia, without the Kremlin's backing.

5. Yevgenia Chirikova, environmental activist

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    Environmental activist and leader of the Khimki forest defenders Yevgenia Chirikova speaks to the media in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 9.
    Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP
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A former businesswoman and mother of two, Ms. Chirikova rose to national prominence by heading a tenacious environmental protest movement against plans to build a toll-road through an old-growth forest, and protected national park, in her native Khimki, a grim industrial suburb of Moscow. She and members of her group suffered repeated arrests as well as several still-unsolved vicious attacks by unidentified thugs. Journalists who attempted to cover the group fared worse: One was murdered and two suffered crippling injuries after being savagely beaten in unsolved street assaults. Chirikova's persistence paid off when, in the summer of 2010, President Dmitry Medvedev ordered a full review of the plan to build the road through Khimki Forest, although the work subsequently resumed after a Kremlin-appointed panel granted approval. Propelled to center stage by the surging protest movement, Chirikova remains a largely untested political quantity. But she gave strong and rousing speeches at both December Moscow rallies, and appears highly regarded among youthful protesters for her determination and ability to face down allegedly corrupt and brutal authorities in the long battle over Khimki Forest.

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