The environmental situation in Usinsk region is “quite satisfactory” and even tends to be improved. This is the conclusion of Evgeniya Boyko, a chairman of the recently established NGO “Zelenaya Respublika” (Green Republic as translated from Russian). She told the members of Komi Public Chamber how she held an educational camp for ecological volunteers in Usinsk in July where she noticed that “the creeks estuaries were clean, the crops were sprouting on the lands recovered by oilmen and LUKoil Komi was working on its professionalism and image”. The experts, including employees of the regional Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, did not agree with such assessments. Moreover, as Aleksandr Ermakov, the Director of the Republican Operational center of specially protected areas and wildlife said, a “picture” drawn by Evgeniya Boyko would be truthful only in the Land of Fools* as the last year official Ministry report data showed environmental degradation on many points ― more oil pipelines have been dug, more land has been polluted, whereas recultivated land area, on the contrary, has decreased.
At the same time Evgeniya Boyko repeated several times that she actually did not see any of 16 environmental organizations working in Komi. As she said, social activists, including ones from Save Pechora Committee, are just breeding demagoguery and setting ultimatums.
«7x7» reporter studied Evgeniya Boyko’s blog notes, listened to her report for Komi Public Chamber and tried to understand the goals of her organization.
Almost nothing was known about the organization “Zelenaya Respublika” until this July. A graduate of National University of Mineral Resources, Evgeniya Boyko started her own blog on a local source BNKomi. Blogs in the first days of the month: she outlined the main goal of her blog in the first note which said “to inform as accurately as possible about the ideas, plans and accomplished projects”.
During several days the “field activities” notes about an environmental seminar for volunteers in Usinsk organized by that leader of “Zelenaya respublika” appeared on the Internet resource and then on the BNKomi news agency web-site. Young people visited the facilities of LUKoil Komi company, removed the sludge dump, and attended several lectures. As a result, Evgeniya Boyko concluded that the environmental situation was improving. All this was accompanied by a strong information in support of the pro-government media, which overtly promoted a new media figure.
It is important to note that during the same days in Usinsk there was a seminar on environmental violations which was organized by Save Pechora Committee and Greenpeace Russia. The project has been prepared for several months ― social activists negotiated for the place, the experts to come, and work on an educational program. It was a major and important event where locals were taught how to supervise the oilmen’s work, to record violations and to use GIS-technology for the analysis. During two days of workshops Greenpeace activists and volunteers recorded more than a dozen spills and violations which were not noticed by the members of “Zelenaya Respublika” camp.
Another interesting point is that officials from the Ministry of Natural Resources promised to send their specialists to the Greenpeace Russia and Save Pechora Committee seminar. They should have done several lectures there. However, when the seminar had already started the officials informed the organizers that no one could come. The official reason why was not announced.
A while later it was revealed that experts from the Ministry and republic geoportal came to Usinsk though but they performed for the participants of “Zelenaya Respublika” camp.
The members of Save Pechora Committee watched Evgeniya Boyko with interest but soon came to the conclusion that her organization was established to win over the environmental agenda which is problematic for local officials.
“The speech like ‘finally, there is an environmental organization in the republic made me laugh’”, the member of Save Pechora Committee Valentina Semyashkina told to «7x7». “It was so transparent that it was obvious even for the profanes who initiative belong to, what goal it pursues and whose expense it is implemented for. The appearance of “Zelenaya Respublika” and its active implementation, as I see it, just saying for the recognition of really working environmental NGO. Therefore, they interfere with those who break the law and who turns a blind eye to these violations. That is why they needed to establish a customized organization. By the way, this isn’t their first try. After last year’s demonstrations and citizens meetings who were resented by the oilmen activities, there was information in Media that there would be an office of Pan-Russian Nature Conservation Society in Usinsk (with five staff people!)... And where are these “social activists”?! I won’t comment on Ms. Boyko revelations ― young people say and make a lot of nonsense, and here she has such support of republican officials, so you will be willy-nilly dizzy!
During her speech in the Komi Public Chamber Evgeniya Boyko, as if using NLP technology, repeated several ideas many times ― no environmental organizations in Komi work appropriately (no real job, only words), the ecological situation in Usinsk region is at C grade, but tends to become better (they went in raids and did not see the oil), the industry is needed, so do not put a spoke in the wheels of oilmen (otherwise the foreign companies will come to Lomi land and heaven knows what is going to happen), the dialogue between oilmen, officials, social activists and ecologists was needed, and she “finally suggests to organize it”.
Here are several quotations from Evgeniya Boyko’s speech.
“The negative image of oilmen is being preserved year by year in spite of the oilmen, I think, trying to establish work with the officials, trying to eliminate the negative effects, it is in their interests”.
“We need to understand that the industry is necessary. Oil, gas, coal are required. And if we put a spoke in the wheels, our domestic companies will be replaced by foreign ones which are much more pragmatic at our territories. We have to build a dialogue, find a compromise”.
“We evaluate the environmental situation in Usinsk region as satisfying but with potential to improve. We saw modern manufacturing on LUKoli Komi territories which preserve the environment. Visually I haven’t seen any oil traces on the facilities. The creek estuaries and rivers closures are clean. After the recultivation a fruitful land layer can be seen [probably Evgeniya Boyko ment fertile, these two words are easy to mix in Russian language], climbing crops can be observed. There is rough vegetation in many areas. The examination results showed that the concentration of petroleum products and heavy metals is in the normal range. All this suggests that the company complies with all the official requirements, and is moving towards the creation of non-waste production, and working on its professional level and image”.
The members of Komi Public Chamber ― the director of Syktyvkar Forest Institute Valentina Zhideleva and the chairman of the regional branch of fund The Armenian Union of Russia Mnatskan Nikogosyan ― praised Evgeniya Boyko and paternally admonished her. In contrast, the director of the Center for Protected Areas Alexander Ermakov made a professional assessment of Evgeniya Boylo’s conclusions and actually called them amateurish.
“It seems we are in the Land of Fools, and you invite us to the Field of Wonders [again the location on Buratino story, also used as the name of the Russian adaptation of the American game show Wheel of Fortune]”, Aleksandr Ermakov started. “According to the governmental report on the environmental situation in Usinsk it is assessed as very negative. There is an increase of pipeline ruptures, pollution, and a decrease of recovered land areas. This question is going to be considered in the government, and at the same time you are saying everything is good.
“I am just a social activist, I am engaged in social work”, Evgeniya Boyko interrupted.
“In my view, it’s not homely, if you came to an unknown location, first you would have to evaluate what was going on, what the problems were there”, the director of the Center for Protected Areas continued his speech. “You didn’t come to the bare place. Save Pechora Committee worked there, and it is a serious organisation, we know it even from the Soviet times. And it did a lot of helpful things. It is important you bring the experience of other areas. It is important you have attracted highly qualified experts for this work. But you missed the fact that the oilmen do not provide the information on oil spill to the information system which is intended for the early detection and elimination of them. Of course, they showed you beautiful places and created all the conditions for you not to notice anything bad. But you should be able to see deeper… You should not ignore what has been done here before.
After the presentation the «7x7» reporter asked Evgeniya Boyko several questions.
― How did “Zelenaya Respublika” appear?
― It appeared spontaneously. I graduated from National University of Mineral Resources majoring in Environmental Engineering. I am an environmental engineer. And I just decided to try myself as a social activist. I have many good friends who are graduates and professors of the university, and they are involved in commercial environmental activities. And we decided to establish a small ― for now ― organization, which includes young specialists who have modern views, that seek to modernization, to change the format of the attitude to environment, who use social media for that purpose, who talk positively. I realize that we should not reject significant scientists’ experience, but we would like to refresh people’s attitudes. There are a lot of funds, but, to be honest, I haven’t noticed any of their achievements. They have never even participated in any grant competition, they haven’t won any grant.
― Do you evaluate the achievements in the number of grants?
― A grant gives an opportunity to do something. It is money given on a real project and work. It turns out we see only words, but there should be a real action...
― Maybe I look somewhere else, but I see real results of funds work.
― Nina Ananina from “Komi Ecologists” implement lots of projects. Save Pechora Committee implements projects on supervision, monitoring, education.
― Perhaps education. But what about small projects… I don’t know, maybe I’m really looking somewhere else. But grants are the main source for the organization’s works. If you need to go somewhere, you need to buy tickets, to provide nutrition. Elimination of spills requires expenses. Where can you get money except grants?
― Many organizations operate on membership fees. I read your blog, and it was written there that “Zelenaya Respublika” intends to take a leading position in the region. What did you mean?
― [a pause] Well, I didn’t put it straight like that. That’s how Media is reported… [sighs]. I just wanted to bring people towards thinking in a new way. I realize we can talk about the problems of ecology, oilmen and gasmen forever. But we don’t see any results. We can do the same way as Save Pechora Committee did ― deliver the ultimatum that the enterprise should be closed [she was talking about Izhemsk citizens demands to district officials and oilmen. They did not demand to close LUKoil Komi. They demanded to stop the company’s work until their conditions are fulfilled], or fix what they did not delving into the problem essence, not trying to compromise.
― I think, you misinterpret the events. Save Pechora Committee did not set an ultimatum to close the enterprise. There were demands on rectifying the situation. And these demands are the result of long years negotiations. Social activists made their proposals, but no one heard them, that’s why the proposals became the demands.
― [a pause] Can I have a break and then I correctly formulate what I think.
Evgeniya Boyko refused to continue the interview, she suggested to send her written question by e-mail.
* The Land of Fools refers to Russian writer Aleksey Tolstoy novel The Golden Key, or The Adventures of Buratino, which was based on the novel The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. The Land of Fools is a place where "The Field of Wonders" was situated, and where Buratino was scammed. It has become an idiom in the Russian language, meaning "a country where people get scammed" and "a place to make easy (shady) business money" - both referring to Russia itself.
Maxim Polyakov, «7х7»