Desperate Residents Seize Town Hall in Russian Town

Pikalevo residents storm town hall.  Source: tv100.ruEconomic tensions reached a zenith on Wednesday in Pikalevo, a small Russian town not far from St. Petersburg.  Local residents, suffering after the town’s major employers shut their doors this past winter, stormed the town hall building with demands that the mayor’s office resolve the crisis problems plaguing the city.  As the online newspaper and the TV100 channel report, nearly 200 demonstrators had gathered outside the town hall, protesting a city-wide shut-off of heat and hot water, as well as overdue back-pay.  City officials, meanwhile, were holding a meeting inside in an effort to resolve some of the problems.

The protestors, who were anxiously awaiting the result of the meeting, eventually rushed the building, pushing past militsiya officers and barging through the session’s closed doors.  After speaking out concerns about unemployment and withheld wages, the group peacefully left the building and continued to wait outside.

Pikalevo has seen sweeping unemployment as result of Russia’s economic crisis.  Three mainstay employers in town – Basel Cement, Pikalevsky Glinozem and Metakhim – have shut down, and smaller companies have also reduced their workforces.  The local heat and power station cut hot water and heat to the town a week ago, citing unpaid debts accrued by Basel Cement.

Officially, 1500 people have been laid off, although another 2500 people are either on unpaid leave, or have had their work-week shortened.  In a town of 22,000, around 50 percent of the working-age population is now without work.

Svetlana Antropova, a trade union leader from the Basel Cement-Pikalevo factory, earlier described how locals had started foraging for food – cooking soup from green nettles, making salads from dandelions and chickweed, and even eating stray dogs.

Locals also described a skyrocketing crime rate that made is dangerous to be outside at night.

Valery Serdyukov, the governor of the Leningrad Oblast, has meanwhile downplayed the situation in Pikalevo as hysteria created by trade unions and the media.  Serdyukov is expected to meet with city officials in the near future.

“There is no hot water there in Pikalevo,” Serdyukov said.  “Well, it happens.  And not just there.  It happens even in Moscow and St. Petersburg, that the water is turned of for a couple months.  There is no tragedy here.  As for heat, well, I don’t think it’s needed so much during the summer.”