RUSSIA! Magazine: Russian Ecological Activist Yevgenia Chirikova Seeks Support in the US, Unable to Find it at Home

Nov 14, 2011, 10:04 ET from RUSSIA! Magazine

NEW YORK, Nov. 14, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Unable to find support at home, well-known Russian human rights and ecological activist Yevgenia Chirikova, who led the revolt in Moscow against the clear-cutting of the Khimki forest, is trying to get help in the U.S. In a tell-all story highlighting RUSSIA! Magazine December issue, the activist admits her remaining hope lies in the international community, specifically in Washington D.C.

Chirikova became famous in Russia after she almost single-handedly stopped the authorities from cutting down the forest to make way for a new highway. RUSSIA! talked to Chirikova to find out what brought her into politics. (The answer: she just liked the forest!)

"I think I am just like everyone else," says Chirikova. "When everything is okay in my life, when all issues are somewhat resolved, there comes a time for self-actualization. I am successful, happily married, have kids, have a job, own an apartment and a car -- I have pretty much everything one could wish for, even a forest nearby. Or we can say that I had the forest nearby. And we actually moved here, to Khimki, from Moscow, just because of this forest."

Yevgenia Chirikova and her husband, Mikhail, both graduated from MAI /Moscow Aviation Institute/ and own a company that provides legal support for developers. They own an apartment in Moscow, but a few years ago Chirikova's mother moved in there while her daughter's family moved to Khimki (15 kilometers from Moscow) to be closer to the forest and the beach.

Taking a walk in the forest, Chirikova noticed red markings on the trees that looked like the ski trail. She looked online to see what the markings mean and found out that they mark the way where the new highway will be built. The order to clear-cut the forest to make way for the Moscow-Saint Petersburg federal highway was signed by the Moscow region governor Boris Gromov.

Chirikova recollects: "This order was like a bucket of cold water in our face. It contained a map which no longer had the forest on it. It kind of jolted our minds to the extent that we still can not quite get it all back together again, as you can see. At first, I could not even believe that this was happening. I wrote a few letters to local authorities, only to hear back that the highway is authorised by Moscow and it is legitimate. So I decided that we had to raise awareness of this. That if we did not make a huge deal out of it, they will just bring the forest down quietly. Living in Russia, I am used to taking care of things myself and not waiting around for the government to help me.

But it so happened that we went from the struggle to save a forest to a fight against power system that exists in Russia. For example, we had to put together and send to the U.S. a list of bureaucrats who, we think, betrayed public interests. The list includes people ranging from Russia's prime minister to the deputy head of Khimki's police department.

RUSSIA!: Do you really think that you can make a dent in the system?

"You know, we may have no choice," says Chirikova. "The Russian people in many ways are like cattle. They would tolerate anything. We don't expect fair play from the government, but we surely did not expect the hoax that the 'tandem' pulled off on September 9, 2011 (on that date President Medvedev announced that he will not run for president and that he recommends the ruling party to nominate Vladimir Putin). We just couldn't ignore such an obvious disregard for democracy and civil society. This is our answer to Dima and Vova, who seem to completely forget about the people they are supposed to represent.

I simply don't see any future for me and my daughters in Russia, unless we manage to change things around. I will leave if I have to, but many of my friends will have to stay and to see how this great country is falling apart.

We are grateful for the support from the international community and from the U.S. We discussed our efforts to fight the corrupt system and develop civil society with the Vice President Joseph Biden and with the deputy secretary on human rights Michael Posner. I hope that we'll be able to take a stroll in the Khimki forest in the years to come."

* During his official visit to Russia, Vice President Joe Biden awarded Yevgenia Chirikova with the Woman of Courage award.