Russian Arctic locals take a stand to protect their environment

About two years ago, mass protests in the Russian region of Arkhangelsk forced Moscow authorities to abandon plans to build a giant waste dump near the village of Shiyes. The success of that “Stop Shiyes” struggle launched an ecological movement in the Arctic region and ushered in more environment-friendly local leadership.

It also planted surprisingly divergent ideas about how to turn that newfound consciousness into permanent ways people relate to the environment around them, utilize its resources, and manage the consequences.

Why We Wrote This

Promoting ecologically friendly practices is not easy in Russia. But in the country’s Arctic north, locals are finding inventive ways to change the public’s interaction with their environment.

For Oleg Mandrykin, a local real estate developer from the city of Severodvinsk, it served as inspiration to try and get into national politics in order to raise ecological awareness in Moscow. Anastasia Trofimova, an Arkhangelsk doctor, went a different direction, eschewing politics for what she regards as the more influential realm of business. And Alexandra Usacheva heads Clean North, a group that interfaces between the public and local authorities to promote ecological education.

“The ‘Stop Shiyes’ campaign changed the popular mentality in this region,” says Ms. Usacheva. “All that attention made people think about the future. And some became really inspired to do something more.”

ARKHANGELSK, Russia

Arkhangelsk, a Russian region almost as big as France that borders the White Sea, is a land of permafrost and marshy tundra, with stunted Arctic forest, rolling hills, and labyrinthine lakes and rivers. It’s been inhabited by Russians for almost a thousand years; Indigenous peoples, some related to Finnish Laplanders, have been there much longer.

People here are very conscious of history. Much of it revolves around their fragile Arctic habitat and the need to preserve it.

About two years ago, mass popular protest forced Moscow authorities to abandon plans to build a giant waste dump near the village of Shiyes in this Arctic region that had been intended to receive 2 million tons annually of the garbage overflowing from heavy-consuming Moscow. The success of that “Stop Shiyes” struggle launched a lasting ecological movement and ushered in the election of a more environment-friendly local leadership. It also planted surprisingly divergent ideas in some peoples’ minds about how to take that newfound consciousness and turn it toward a permanent transformation in the ways people relate to the environment around them, utilize its resources, and manage the consequences.

Why We Wrote This

Promoting ecologically friendly practices is not easy in Russia. But in the country’s Arctic north, locals are finding inventive ways to change the public’s interaction with their environment.

For Oleg Mandrykin, a local real estate developer from the closed naval shipyard city of Severodvinsk, it served as inspiration to try and get into national politics in order to raise ecological awareness in Moscow. Anastasia Trofimova, an Arkhangelsk doctor, went a different direction, eschewing politics for what she regards as the more influential realm of business. And Alexandra Usacheva heads Clean North, a group that interfaces between the public and local authorities to promote ecological education.

“The ‘Stop Shiyes’ campaign changed the popular mentality in this region,” says Ms. Usacheva. “All that attention made people think about the future. And some became really inspired to do something more.”

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