Grigory Pasko: It’s Getting Warmer in Chita

The Land Where You Sit: It’s getting warmer in Chita… By Grigory Pasko, journalist On this visit, Chita met me with bright springtime sunshine, a cold wind, and a mass of policemen standing in the same places as on previous visits: next to the Oblast procuracy, on the squares, in the vicinity the Ingodinsky Districy Court, and at the start of the small side street leading to the investigative isolator. Naturally: the Ingodinsky District Court had adopted a decision that Chita’s most high-profile prisoner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, would remain in these historical places of banishment at least until the beginning of July of this year.


Photo of Chita isolator prison from the other side by Grigory Pasko

I was finally able to see with my very own eyes this time how the prisoners Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were delivered to the Oblast procuracy. At first, a police car drove out of the gates of the investigative isolator. Right behind it, a «gazelle» (a kind of microbus assembled in Russia—G.P.) with flashing lights on the roof, after it a «zhiguli» [a small Russian car known as a Lada abroad—Trans.] with a blue police stripe and flashing lights. Then, yet another «gazelle» and yet another «zhiguli» with flashing lights. As the local taxi drivers say, there’s only one other person in Russia who is driven around with such pomp and such precautionary measures – president Putin. Unfortunately, the procession moved so quickly that I was unable to photograph this “tactical military operation”. But instead I got to “admire” the view of the Chita SIZO isolator to my heart’s content (see above photo). Everywhere I looked, it was clear that Chita was weary of winter already and couldn’t wait for the warmth and the sun. Despite the bone-chilling wind, the girls on the streets were already wearing short jackets instead of ankle-length winter coats. And nearly all of them were not wearing anything on their heads. The small groups of policemen scattered here and there all over the city were no longer stamping their booted feet against each other to keep warm, but were calmly warming themselves in the as yet ungenerous sun. They were having a lively discussion about something. Maybe about how bored they are of protecting Khodorkovsky from who knows what. Or maybe they were discussing the results of the work of a Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia commission, which had recently completed work in Chita Oblast. The commission, headed by the chief inspector of the MVD, major-general of the police Anatoly Bakayev, had examined the work of the Trans-Baikal police over the past 5 years. According to reports in the local mass media, command-headquarters training on freeing hostages was conducted within the framework of the examination, and the ability of the actions of the staff under extraordinary circumstances and upon the announcement of a signal on full mobilizational preparedness was tested. Representatives of the MVD commission noted a huge quantity of comments on the work of the Trans-Baikal policemen. Shortcomings were uncovered in the activities of the patrol-and-post service, precinct officers, workers of the GIBDD [road police—Trans.], and temporary detention isolators. In the opinion of general Bakayev, a complex state of affairs is being observed in the Central Rayon of Chita and in certain Rayons of the Oblast. It would be interesting to know just what the general meant by “complex state of affairs”. Most likely the idiotism of his colleagues, who, when delivering just two prisoners from one building to another right nearby, actually contrive to bring traffic to a halt in practically the entire city. Chita is living an interesting life. On the footsteps of the «Privoz» restaurant, a new hotel has recently opened its doors – the «Vizit». Certain things about it are simply mindboggling. For example, a guest in one of the rooms pulled the plug of his TV set out from the wall. It turned out that all the televisions in all the rooms stopped working, because the images on their screens depended on this one plug.


Photo of city view from the window of the brand new hotel by Grigory Pasko

I saw small sheets of paper with announcements on them glued to one of the tables. One sheet offered the building of peasant stoves, another the installation of satellite antennas. The first ad had all the phone numbers ripped off; the other had them all intact. An eloquent fact in and of itself, in my opinion. Another exciting event in my time in the city was when one man discovered an anti-tank mine right in the middle of the road. He first removed it from the roadway by himself, and only then reported his find to the police. The assumption is that the military – of which there is a great deal in these parts – had simply lost it by accident. And a word about the military. There are persistent rumors going around in Chita that the Chinese have massed a tank regiment on the Russian-Chinese border in the event of the freeing of… Khodorkovsky. The rumor is idiotic, of course, but that is precisely the reason for its long life. How the snowdrops after winter creep out into the light and other stories. For example: Recently, the acting director-general of the open joint-stock company “Airport Chita” appealed to the Chita transport procuracy in connection with the sale of 38 brake discs. A check had established that the chief engineer of this enterprise, Valery Selin, had in January-February 2007 unlawfully sold the brake discs to the open joint-stock companies “Aviaresource”, “Aviaprompostavka” and “DeltaFly”, situated in the city of Moscow. The proceeds he spent, having caused material damages to OAO “Airport Chita” in an overall sum of 38 thousand rubles. From this report I understood that Chitan airplanes won’t have anything to brake with when landing. And so, to those readers who are thinking of flying to Chita, I suggest that you bring your own brake discs.


Photo of a Chita resident who just might live to see democracy by Grigory Pasko

…Before I flew out, the hotel manager said to me: “This isn’t the first time I’m seeing you here. And what is it that has so caught your fancy in this large forgotten city?” I replied that I would like to see in Chita the blooming not only of the wild rosemary, but of freedom and democracy as well. The woman looked at me as if though I were insane.