Protest camp: how activists stop the eco-catastrophe on the Baltic coast

    28 Nov 2021

    In the Leningrad region of the Russian Federation, activists set up a camp to protect the forest. They say that the local ecosystem is threatened by the illegal construction of the Primorsky Universal Transshipment Complex (Primorsky UPC).



    The forest has been mercilessly cut down for the third year in a row for the construction of the complex.

    Activists told the media that instead of a unique ecosystem that is home to Red Book plants, birds and animals, the oligarch wants to build a 3,500 hectare concrete industrial zone.

    The co-owner of Primorsky UPC, Ilya Traber, was often associated with President of RF Vladimir Putin in the media. However, in the summer of 2021, the presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov said that the head of state was not “in friendly or business relations” with the businessman.

    Activists argue that businessmen are cutting down the forest in violation of federal laws, international conventions and technologies that destroy the environment. They have already cleared more than 1,000 hectares of forest.

    But at this stage, the ecosystem will still be able to recover. Therefore, a group of activists managed to “direct action” to stop the construction of the transshipment complex.

    As a description of what’s happening on the north of Russia, we’ve found The Village article. Let’s remind that all the opinions that ecoastivists said in their interview belong to them.


    The construction of the port in the Yermilovsk Bay in the Baltic threatens the life of hundreds of thousands of fish, birds and will lead to cutting of valuable forests.

    Opposite the future port, just a couple of kilometers away, there is the Birch Islands nature reserve, the main breeding area for ringed seals that have survived in the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland. The islands themselves lie on the route of the Baltic-White Sea route of migratory birds, stopping here to rest in spring and autumn, and non-migratory birds build their nests with might and main.

    Meanwhile, the fairway of cargo ships will lie next to the islands, moreover, the port water area will almost touch the protected area.

    However, the project documents state that the future site will not affect the protected Birch Islands and their inhabitants.

    Why there’s such confidence? The point is in the specifics of the research methods carried out by the contractor hired by Primorsky UPC. For example, they observed birds for only five days, from June 1 to June 5, 2020, not covering the period of spring and summer-autumn migrations. “This does not allow for a complete and reliable survey of the avifauna,” say public experts. “Due to the incorrect choice of the timing and territory for conducting surveys in relation to marine mammals, unreliable conclusions were made about the absence of suitable places for seals, including the Baltic ringed seal, and favorable conditions for their reproduction.”

    The Village journalists describe resistance to illegal logging of the coastal forest for the construction of a coal industrial complex. Yulia Galkina visited the ecological camp “No to ecocide!”.


    “The authorities, in conjunction with business, are ready to kill all living things in order to fill their pockets, destroying the unique ecological environment. We cannot close our eyes to this. At the same time, the bureaucratic apparatus does not work in the interests of ordinary people. Direct action is one of the most effective tools that can generally work in Russia.”

    Vlad Barabanov, from an interview


    Early November, late evening, forest in Leningrad region, a few kilometers from the city of Primorsk. A Finnish harvester (logging vehicle) with the Ponsse sign stands over a cut pine forest. (A harvester is a type of heavy forestry vehicle employed in cut-to-length logging operations for felling, delimbing and bucking trees – Ecolife). A man in a cockpit threatens eco-activists with a finger. They covered the trunks of the trees that had survived, preventing the combine operators from approaching.

    Hundreds of hectares of forest near Primorsk are cut down to build a port. In the middle of autumn, activists from different cities set up a tent camp near the felling site. They ask not to indicate even the approximate number of protesters – and practice “eco-sabotage tactics, which consists in physically obstructing the operation of technology,” explains one of the camp participants.

    We will tell you how the camp “No to Ecocide” is organized and why there are no local residents in it.


    Who established the eco-camp

    The photographer and I leave the Primorskoe highway, go deep into the forest – and 10 minutes later we find ourselves in the (middle of the) clearing. A week ago there were hundreds of pines here, and now freshly cut trunks are everywhere. Our escorts say that, according to their information, there are five brigades working in this area: one from Finland, one from Karelia, one local, two more – “we don’t know where”. Hundreds of hectares were cut down in three months.

    “Now that the forest has been cleared, it has become difficult for us to find our way [to the camp]. We were guided by trees, and now there are no trees, bald areas. The felling seemed to be proceeding at an accelerated pace,” says Vlad Barabanov, a participant in the eco-camp.

    The camp near Primorsk was set up on October 22. At first, it was kept secret, and a week later they held a conference and launched a telegram channel.

    There are no local residents – from Primorsk and other settlements Kilometers of pine forest were cut down near St. Petersburg – in the eco-camp. It was organized by, according to Vlad’s definition, “people of left-wing and libertarian views.” “The locals here are desperate, intimidated by the repressions. It was easier to gather activists [from other cities],” adds Alyona, a participant in the eco-camp.

    St. Petersburg activist Marina Parkina believes that “the local population has buried all hopes”: “They thought they had collected signatures, came to the rally [against the construction of the port] once and that’s it. But it doesn’t work that way. I talked to the locals, it came to ridiculous (situation). We stand, collect signatures – [and we] are asked the question: “Will the port be built? We thought the project was canceled long ago…” This is the level of awareness (of the locals).” And she immediately adds: “People have resigned themselves. They accepted that nothing depends on them. And since the project is closely related to the president, it turns out that the local population cannot be blamed for being passive. They are afraid to be against it, they believe that no one will hear them anyway. “

    The eco-camp activists’ tactic is “direct action”: they try to resist deforestation physically. “Bureaucratic” tactics, according to Vlad Barabanov, are ineffective here.


    How to fight for the forest with the help of bureaucracy

    On June 30, 2019, a post about the collection of signatures against the construction of a new port in Primorsk appeared in the VKontakte (social network – Ecolife) group “Our Ozerki”. Marina Parkina saw him. On August 18, she held a rally in Primorsk – about 500 people came. The next such rally in a year will be half as much.

    Primorsk (former Finnish Koivisto) is a regional city on the shores of the Gulf of Finland, 105 kilometers from St. Petersburg. The population is about 5.4 thousand people. The main attraction is the Lutheran church, erected at the beginning of the 20th century; today it houses a museum of local lore. Until the end of the 1980s, Primorsk was a restricted area because of the Energia test site, where rocket engines were tested.

    One port, an oil-loading port, already exists in Primorsk – it was built in the 2000s. The construction of a new one – “Primorsky universal transshipment complex (UPK)” – became known two years ago. Almost a third of the cargo turnover will be calculated for the export of coal. Almost a third (31.67%) of the stake in Primorskiy UPK LLC belongs to businessman Ilya Traber. In the documentary series “Piterskie” (“The St Petersburg one”) on Dozhd TV Channel journalists called him “a (criminal) authority from the 90s, with who are familiar with Putin.” Initially, the terminal was planned to be built in 2022, now the founders promise that “a complex with a cargo turnover of up to 65 million tons per year” will be created by 2030. The area is more than 700 hectares (including 29 hectares of alluvial land, that is, an artificial plot of land in the Gulf of Finland). Construction is estimated at 275 billion rubles.

    Activists, both local and from St. Petersburg, collected 400 thousand rubles for a public examination of the future construction – it was carried out by the ECOM center. The result is a 119-page conclusion; in short, the port cannot be built due to the “possible adverse effects on the environment and the associated negative social, economic, environmental and other consequences.”

    “The construction of the port infrastructure will have a devastating impact on the environment of a quarter of the Karelian Isthmus and the water area around the Birch Islands,” said the head of the ECOM center, Alexander Karpov, in a comment to Kommersant. Based on the results of a public examination, residents have filed a lawsuit against Rosprirodnadzor. The next meeting took place on November 15. From the defendant’s side, no one showed up (again). The new court was scheduled for December 13th.


    How does an eco-activist who has been fighting against the port for the third year live?

    Marina Parkina is an activist of the group “Against the construction of the port in Primorsk” (“Stop the port!”). She herself lives on Vasilievsky Island in St. Petersburg. “The bay is the same for everyone. You can’t get dirty in one place so everything else stays clean,” she explains. The problematic objects in St. Petersburg – from Murinskoye to the Internationalists’ Park – have “many defenders”, and “in the Leningrad region, everything is more modest.”

    On February 6, 2021, Marina’s apartment was searched due to a protest rally in the center of St. Petersburg (in which the heroine did not even participate). She was pregnant – the woman became ill: they called an ambulance, hospitalized. During the search, they seized the equipment, returned it – unexpectedly for Marina – a week ago: “It seems to even work, only the batteries are dead.”

    Now Marina has four children. With a baby in a sling on her chest, she goes deep with us into a pine forest near Primorsk: “There is fear, of course. The biggest one is what will be influenced through children, through loved ones. There was a case recently, at night there was noise outside the window, voices, I was like: “Well, everyone, they came to take.” I pray that the bloody story will pass us. I hope we are green fools in the eyes of the state, and not a serious threat.” She, like the rest of the Stop Port! Movement activists, learned about the eco-camp recently. He jokes: “A young change has come, you can retire.”


    Marina Parkina, activist of the movement “Stop port!”


    We are “Stop port!” – and they themselves have long been eager to get up [camp], but they were confused: the territory is large, where to get up is not clear. And while we are definitely not ready. I personally have zero experience of survival in the forest. My weapons are paints, brushes and a telephone. I either stand in solitary pickets, or take pictures of clearings on the air.

    Shooting pine trees falling is emotionally difficult. Beauties as tall as a 12-storey building fall as if knocked down. We went to look at the clearings and saw a scorched wasteland instead of a forest. I seem to have PTSD. Feelings are the same as from the paintings of Vereshchagin. The apotheosis of war, only not a mountain of corpses, but a mountain of trees. There, four square kilometers have been cut down, this is an impression for a lifetime – you drive along the road, and the felling goes on and on, stacks of logs.

    For two weeks I was sausage, I wanted to grab the residents of [the village] of Ermilovo, Primorsk and ask: “How, how did you allow this!” We did everything for them: we read the EIA, ordered an EPE, and compiled the texts of the appeals. At some point, many activists also said: we can no longer travel and see this, it hurts too much.

    I got the feeling that it was I who had missed, I could not. As if I had gone under the saw and stopped with my body, if we had attracted more attention, the trees would not have been cut down. I understand that in fact it is not my fault, and yet after that trip I felt that I was not doing enough. And anger at those who do not help us.


    How the eco-camp works

    The tradition of ecological camps in Russia is over 30 years old. The first such camp was in the Samara region, where in the late 1980s a chemical weapons destruction plant was being prepared for launch. Around the same time, the radical eco-movement “Guardians of the Rainbow” appeared. Among other things, it participated in the organization of the camp in the Khimki forest in 2011. However, nothing has been heard about the “Guardians…” for a long time, and a fundamentally new generation of activists is operating near Primorsk.

    Vlad Barabanov is the only person in the eco-camp who does not hide his face or real name. He is from Nizhny Novgorod. Introducing himself to us, he immediately says that his “most recognizable marker” is the title of the ex-defendant in the “Moscow case” in 2019.

    Alena, an anarchist, vegan and eco-activist, says she was born in Saratov after Putin’s election. She learned about the “environmental disaster in Primorsk” in July 2021 at an activist event in Moscow: “I began to delve deeper into the problem, and the idea came to me to go to St. Petersburg. (I) gathered with comrades and called people to organize a camp. “

    Infrastructure of the eco-camp consists of a tent with supplies, a tent with equipment, a tent with a stove, living tents, a table, a campfire site. “Here we keep firewood – there I wash the dishes,” Vlad shows. There are several bags for separate collection of waste, and a compost pit where organic matter is dumped. Toilet is a crosspiece behind a screen in the open air: “The design may seem flimsy, but in fact it is quite comfortable.” 

    Most of life in an eco-camp is centered around questions of survival,” says Vlad. “As for the spiritual environment, we have healthy communication. We are united by common ideas: there are many vegans, strangers, representatives of libertarian views here,” adds Alena. 

    The authorities, in conjunction with business, for the sake of filling their pockets is ready to kill all living things, destroying the unique ecological environment. We cannot close our eyes to this. At the same time, the bureaucratic apparatus does not work in the interests of ordinary people. Direct action is one of the most effective tools that can generally work in Russia. We see this in the examples of other initiatives: Kushtau, Shies.

    The problem is that the political landscape in Russia has been heavily cleaned up, and the locals are intimidated. But even in sparsely populated areas there is a backbone of the locals who are ready to do something. They help us: for example, they provide the camp with food, bring winter clothes.


    “Our primary goal is to sabotage the work of special equipment as much as possible. So that [the builders of the port] understand: there is a group of people who do not care about the problem, they are ready to act, to resist the lawlessness.”

    Alyona, anarchist, vegan, eco-activist


    We call this “clearing out”. When we see that the saw is approaching a tree, we approach it, hug the trunk or stand nearby, thereby absolutely peacefully opposing illegal felling. Workers react in different ways: jamming equipment and waiting for the activists to leave; leave by themselves; threaten to call the police; some begin to scatter the earth on us with [the harvester’s] claws. Others come at us in order to intimidate, and it looks really quite scary: a man against the backdrop of a huge technique. When she rides on you, it is an indescribable sensation, you feel strength and courage, especially when with your comrades. You understand that together you can resist even such crimes of the system. For us, the rhetoric of covering up ecocide by economic development is unacceptable.


    “It is impossible to answer how many trees we saved this way. We manage to effectively break the work schedule of accomplices in the crime by stopping the work of special equipment. If you put this on a systematic track with the required number of people, work will be able to paralyze completely.”

    Vano Human, philosopher, eco-camp participant.


     The forest is the space that creates the conditions for our existence in the city. By destroying the forest, we will also destroy our own habitat outside of it, we will put ourselves at a standstill.

    I believe [ecocamp] is a necessary practice, even if everything is doomed in one way or another. This is an investment in the future, including at the level of preserving and transferring experience to those who will come after us. And after us they will definitely come. Disagreement tends to accumulate and sweep away everything in its path. It is necessary to keep it inside ourselves, otherwise we will never be able to defend nature and, therefore, ourselves as a species.

    Activists spontaneously held an anti-conference in the open air, where they shared interesting stories about environmental activism and vegan cuisine. For example, one of the participants in the editorial board of “Taste the waste” Telegram channel made a report on the environmental struggle in the West, starting with the formation of the concept of “wildlife” in Henry Thoreau and ending with the “Earth First” campaign against deforestation of redwoods.


    What does a local think about “direct action” actions?

    A local resident drove us to the forest. An hour later, someone called him and said that his car was “grazed” by unknown persons. The resident hurried back, and we went with him. On the way – stepping over the wet slippery trunks that were piled one on top of the other – we asked him what he thought about the eco-camp. The resident replied that he has ambiguous feelings. On the one hand, he was impressed that young activists are throwing themselves under the technique – he considers tactics ineffective, but “it’s good that someone does it for us.” On the other hand, he did not like the (activists) talks about veganism, raw food, birth control and the fact that man is the root of all problems, he called (this opinions) fascist.

    On November 15, a day after our visit to the ecological camp, the construction of the “Primorsky UPC” was officially approved. The stone will be laid in the near future. The head of the complex, Andrei Sizov, said that the project “will create six thousand jobs.” This is 600 people more than the entire population of Primorsk. A separate town will be built for the port workers.

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