Shiyes, July 2019

Shiyes is a disused railway station in the north of European Russia, more than 1000 km from Moscow.

In 2018 construction started for a landfill site of 5000 hectares that would take mixed waste from Moscow. People living nearby became concerned that the landfill would contaminate the groundwater and cause harm to the whole region.

A protest camp was established next to the site in early 2019. After clashes between protesters and construction site security, the work was stopped. Since then, the camp has continued to exist to monitor that construction does not restart. At least as of June 2019, the construction project still did not have documents confirming its safety for the environment. As of the end of November 2019, the camp was still there.

Only in 2020 a court declared the construction illegal and ordered the territory to be restored to its’ original state.

Shiyes is the first long-term environmental protest in 21st-century Russia, but it is also a response to corruption, and the government’s often clearly visible indifference to the opinions of people.

I spent several days in the camp in the beginning of July 2019. I was interested in the daily life of people who are participating in a long-term protest away from civilization:

“Trains don’t stop at Shiyes. To get there, you get off at the next station, 23 km away, then walk or get a lift along a forest road. Electricity is provided by a small generator, cell phone service is weak. It’s hard to get there, but people come from all over the country. Some of the more active protesters have faced prosecution.

Life at the camp rotates around duty periods: at the kitchen or at one of the lookout posts. Cooking is done on fires, for the whole camp at once. There is music, a guitar and makeshift exercise equipment, and a strict no-alcohol rule. There are men and women, and age varies from 20 to 60. People sleep in tents, water for washing has a dark brown color from the nearest spring. There is a “sauna” (“banya”) in a tent with a stove.”
- summer 2019