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Grigory Pasko: Women of the Baikal Region

The Land Where You Sit: Russian Women of the Baikal Region Grigory Pasko, journalist The small settlement of Listvyanka stands right on the shore of Lake Baikal. The population is 1500 residents. Distance from Irkutsk – 70 kilometers. Principal activity of the local residents – fishing. Very recently, I’ve been told, the settlement has begun a transformation: rubbish bins have suddenly appeared, old houses are being repaired, and the «Mayak» hotel has been built.

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Photo of hotel «Mayak» by Grigory Pasko

All this has taken place after the election of Tatiana Kazakova as head of the local municipal formation. Kazakova has an ambitious project: to build a business center with a chain of modern hotels in Listvyanka. The project is called «Baikal-City». And, they say, it already has the approval of the government of Russia and even of president Putin himself. The project is now at the stage of finding investors, because the planned cost of the business center with the chain of hotels is $30 billion dollars. Recently, the project was presented as a special economic zone of the touristic-recreational type «Baikal» in Cannes within the framework of an international exhibition-fair of investment projects in the sphere of commercial real estate.

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Rendering of Baikal City

A gathering of the local residents took place not so long ago in Listvyanka’s «Europa» hotel, which is owned by Ms. Kazakova. They met Ms. Kazakova and members of the local municipal assembly there. They spoke about many problems, and Listvyanka’s mayor, Ms. Kazakova, promised to solve all of them. And what with all the problems that were discussed – rubbish collection, the organization of the police precinct, the opening of a new store, etc. – the «Baikal-City» project wasn’t mentioned at all. Which I’m sure you’ll agree was rather strange, given that this project will affect practically every resident of Listvyanka in one way or another.

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Photo of Tatiana Kazakova by Grigory Pasko

Ms. Kazakova invited me, through her press secretary, to visit her in her office in Irkutsk the next day. After the gathering, I paid a visit to Sophia Ageyeva, a local environmental activist and an opponent of the Baikal-City project. The small wooden house in which Sophia lives with her husband Yevgeny stands not far from the fashionable (by Listvyanka measures) hotel «Europa». Two small children were getting ready for supper, while Yevgeny hobbled away on crutches (his back is temporarily paralyzed) to heat up the sauna. Sophia told me that the project to build the business center is bad because it does not factor in the specifics of the protected natural zone and that it will certainly cause damage to the main heritage – Lake Baikal, because all the waste water from all 20 hotels and business offices will be flushed right into the pristine waters of the “sacred lake”.

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Photo of Sophia’s wooden house by Grigory Pasko

Sophia spoke with fervor. Her three-year-old daughter Paulina ate some chocolate I’d brought instead of supper, and then pulled a piece of ice as pure as a baby’s tear out of a bucket and began to gnaw on it. The next day, Sophia invited me to the opening of an environmental exhibition in Irkutsk.

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Photo of Sophia Ageyeva by Grigory Pasko

…I greeted the morning of the next day on Baikal, at its southernmost point – the village of Kultuk. The women standing along the roadbed were selling a local fish, the omul [Arctic cisco] in all its varieties – smoke-cured (the barrels were smoking away right there by the highway), dry-cured, and fresh-caught… Passing but five meters from the highway was the Trans-Siberian Railroad right of way, along which the train «Rossiya» on the route «Vladivostok-Moscow» soon passed. Below us, in the Baikal valley itself, stood the wretched and decrepit old homes of the local residents. They were about as far as could be from any business centers with their fashionable hotels. Ms. Kazakova’s office set itself up in the «Europa» hotel (owned by Ms. Kazakova, needless to say). That very day, there was a conference going on in preparation for the exhibition in Cannes. Kazakova’s entire work day was written out by the minute. Meetings, conferences, participation in a charitable evening, interviews with journalists… I would venture to guess she didn’t get home until late. Kazakova’s cottage, as the local journalists reported to me, is found not far from Irkutsk, but not in Listvyanka. Tatiana Vasilievna has an invalid husband (they say that he had been her bodyguard and had shielded her with his body from a hit man’s bullet) and four children. That same day, Sophia Ageyeva was presenting an exposition of her Baikal-Lena Preserve, in which she works as an ecological enlightenment resource specialist, at the exhibition. She told visitors to the exhibition about the preserve, its significance and about how it is included in UNESCO’s list of participants in worldwide cultural and natural heritage. As a specialist in the area of ecological enlightenment, Sophia naturally keeps an eye on the conservation of natural sites and identifies instances of violation of the preserve regime. It is therefore not surprising that she is an opponent of the unthinking construction of all kinds of business centers and fights for public oversight and environmental impact assessments of such facilities. Today, 44-year-old Tatiana Kazakova heads the municipal formation in Listvyanka. Before this she entered into the leadership of the association «Baikalskaya visa», which owns five hotels, three restaurants, a café, and a culturo-recreational center. 33-year-old Sophia Ageyevna owns a small wooden house, and she is also the author of several books and a multitude of stories for children and publications on the subject of protecting nature and preserve affairs. Both the one and the other, it seems to me, are happy with their fate.