Rostov on Fire: Get out or Burn Down
On August 21, around noon, in the center of Rostov-on-Don, a district of private houses burned down. Local residents blame the construction companies for the arson of 123 buildings. Authorities also have not excluded arson. Mikhail Shubin went to Rostov-on-Don and learned the details of what happened.
Teatralnaya Square is the heart of Rostov-on-Don and is filled with cafes, restaurants, a park, ferris wheel, an ice skating rink, the Rostov Drama Theater, and even a petting zoo.
Everything looks clean and well-groomed, however, just a block away the well-groomed city ends. This private sector called Teatralny, because of its proximity to the theater and the steep descent to the Don. The people also called this place "Govnyarka," as there used to be a housing and communal complex which handled sewage and garbage trucks.
Now it smells like a scorched dump here. Down the slope, past the typical southern one-story buildings asphalt disappears as if it was never there. The smell of smoke is distinct and the lower we go, the stronger smell becomes. The cinders here made me feel nauseous. Burnt brick walls, burned sheets of metal, and the skeletons of houses.
A yellow-brown satellite dish, a charred refrigerator, a white-fired heater are the only distinguishable objects in what used to be the house. Smoke rises from the rubble. A first responder carries a fire hose on his shoulder, extinguishing the smoldering ruins.
There are herds of fire trucks, rivers of water on the ground, and dirty, ragged fire hoses, lying lifeless on the ground, like the remnants of snake skin. A fireman sleeps on building pallets behind a wall away from the ashes. Another fireman bandages his burned hand.
A fireman with a naked torso and a red face yells: "P **** [ a nightmare - ed.], guys, I do not understand anything anymore." The commander orders: "So, Serega, take your people away. Have a rest. Go to the top. Drink plenty of water, there is food, coffee. Come on!”
Charred trees and pile of smoldering ashes where a house once was, only the brick chimney remains. Next to it is a car burned to a ginger, rusty color. Threads of electric cables are strewn about on the ground. Two policemen walk next to a couple, a man and a woman crying: "What is it! What kind of creatures are these!”
The "Govnyarka" caught fire on the afternoon of August 21. According to the Federal Rescue Service, the fire began at house 50 on Chuvashsky Lane. According to the head of the service in Rostov Region Valery Sinkov, the fire crawled through the buildings through the burning dump near this house. Because of the strong wind, the fire spread to neighboring buildings.
An emergency was declared in the city, around 10 thousand square meters was burned and an amphibious aircraft and seven helicopters took part in the extinguishing of the fire, as well as 2,066 people and 231 units of equipment. In addition to federal Rescue Service employees, police officers were also sent to fight the fire. The fire wasn’t extinguished for almost a day and more than 100 houses were burned down completely or partially.
A total of 650 people were evacuated from the site of the fire, 58 people needed medical attention, and nine required hospitalization. On August 22, during an investigation of Chuvashskaya Street, house 76, the body of a man was found.
"My uncle died, Vladimir Ivanovich Lavrenov. He was disabled, and didn’t have one leg. He was found near the toilet. Apparently he could not get out - he suffocated. Now his relative has gone to take tests to establish kinship. They did not believe us, and they have not released the body," said Nina, a tall woman wearing glasses.
She stands with her husband next to her parents’ burnt house. The building did not collapse, but everything burned, both on the outside and inside. The floor and walls are charred and the black ceiling creaks under each step.
"The way the fire was extinguished is screwed up. It's not how the fire was extinguished but when. When everything was already burnt. People began to extinguish the fire on their own, and the water supply was turned off. The city stopped providing this district with water. Here, look. The fireman stood here, one house from her parents. And what, they could not save the house? Weird! " exclaims Victor, Nina's husband.
Victor wasn’t the only one who told about the disconnection of water supply, almost everyone who lived at Teatralny descent said the same thing. Eyewitnesses also said that firefighters did not arrive for a very long time, someone said it took thirty minutes for them to come, someone else, an hour and a half. After they arrived, the employees of the Federal Rescue Service started to connect to fire hydrants, but there was no water.
"I ran after the firemen and asked ‘Well, there is no water. But on TV they show that you have foam.’ And he answers me: ‘Well, it's on TV.’ And so they had nothing. Then, when everything was already burnt, the helicopters started flying. My husband’s friend works in City Gas Service. He says that he heard on portable transmitter, someone saying ‘Do not rush to extinguish it all.’ But you know how it is it doesn’t matter if anybody heard anything or not," said Irina Morina, one of the victims.
Residents pulled all the basic necessities out of their homes, household appliances, washing machines, refrigerators. They walked around the yards and unhooked the dogs from their chains. And they tried to extinguish the fire in their burning houses on their own.
"The police first did not let us go to the house - everything was cordoned off. And then I broke through. That's why everything worked out. We ourselves ran with buckets, with a hose. If we did not go to put out the fire in our house ourselves, we would have lost it. We were on duty all night near the house afterwards so that, if anything happened, it would not catch fire again," Irina said.
Who is the arsonist?
"Govnyarka," despite its name, is an elite district. The land here is not cheap; in the city center across the river they are building a new stadium for the World Cup.
The fire’s victims on condition of anonymity said that they suspect the company "Megapolis" was responsible for the fire.
LLC Megapolis was established in Rostov in 2014 and is owned by the Cyprus company Md Time Holding Limited. According to a report for 2016, the balance of the company was 3.4 billion rubles and net profit, 153.3 million rubles.
Its managing company is Manhattan Real Estate Management LLC, whose founder is Atrium European Real Estate Limited. It is a large European company engaged in real estate investments in Eastern Europe. In 2014, the company refused to invest in projects in Russia, and on August 20 it became known that Atrium European Real Estate put up for sale its assets of Russian real estate, including those in Moscow and the Leningrad region.
In 2014, LLC Megapolis planned to build a shopping complex on the Teatralny district. They bought out and demolished private homes until the "main" unit abandoned projects in Russia. The work was stalled. Local residents complained more than once that homeless people were living in the un-demolished homes that belong to Megapolis. Because of these tenants, there were fires from time to time.
While the fire could have been an accident, locals say that the fire started in two places at the same time.
"Look, what sparks, prominences!" (prominences are giant fountains of hot gas above the sun. - ed.) A straw, a twig - zap! - and the fire went to the other side. Have you never seen a fire burning?" a man in a camouflage uniform pokes his fingers on the screen of his phone and explains how the fire could have spread so far from the alleged starting point.
His patch indicates he is security officer and he smiled wryly and introduced himself as "a citizen who put on a camouflage uniform, took a camera with him and films everything in the guise of being an employee."
The fact is that there is 130 meters between the burnt streets of Chuvashskaya, Shatoevskaya, and Chuvashsky lane and Sedova, Krasnykh Zor and Ochakovskaya streets. There are several high-rise buildings that separate these streets. It is because of this gap that local residents believe that the fire began in several places. Everyone told about numerous arsons.
Federal Rescue Service experts agree with the fact that the fire arose from arson. Law enforcement agencies have so far not officially confirmed the victims’ version of events, but it is likely that the fire was started at once in several places. The police have opened a criminal case under the article "Deliberate destruction or damage to property" (Part 2, Article 167 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). Later they opened another one, concerning negligence by the authorities and municipal services (part 2 of article 293 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation).
"You see - here, there. It was burning in a ‘spoty’ manner. It's just that the sparks flew in the air, maybe fell on something highly inflammable - zap!, It caught fire. The wind was strong and there was the heat. In general, my opinion is that somebody set fire to it. And this is not the first time here, it has recently burned before," said a man in camouflage and with a camera.
The houses on the Teatralny descent burned just over two weeks ago, on August 7. Though, then the fire wasn’t as bad. According to different data, several houses were damaged and the fire was quickly extinguished.The second time, the fire began with houses on Chuvashsky pereulok.
In the previous incident, Ruzanna Baghdasaryan’s two houses burned down. She believes that the incident was due to the fact that she was not willing to sell her houses at the suggested price to LLC Mercury 2000. A month before, representatives of the same company were asking the residents how much they were willing to sell their homes for.
A representative of Mercury 2000 told in a RIA Novosti commentary that they had managed to agree on the sale of almost all the sites that they were interested in.
"This is not the first case here, and not the second, nor the third. Local residents were beaten, threatened, not once. All this was done by developers, because high-rise buildings should be built here!” Nina said zealously.
"Let's just say, unknown people," corrected her husband Victor, "my father-in-law was greeted by them and they beat him. This place is very tempting. If they do not manage to relocate people, then they act by other methods. I don’t really have any other thoughts as to why this happened."
Fires and developers
When the Megapolis LLC decided not to build a shopping center on "Govnyarka," the company decided to sell the land and developers again took an interest in the land.
"People came to us and said “you have a lot of people registered here, you want too much in return for this land. The truth is we do not want anything from anyone. It’s they who wanted it! Literally here today again came some short, plumpy man in a blue shirt,"- says Victor.
"Bandits," his son says in a half-whisper.
"Well, we do not know this, I understand that it's not simple people, but they did not introduce themselves. They did topographic surveying. But what they offered, we did not listen. Just what they are now trying to offer here, a one-room apartment, we do not need it. This is a very expensive land, this is the city center. Now it is becoming very relevant, in connection with the future football World Cup. Give us the proper housing equivalent and we do not need money," summed up Victor.
About two months ago, Nina's father was invited to talk about the land by some firm. He and his relatives went to the meeting. They don’t remember exactly what the realtor was called, but according to Nina, the meeting was held on Bolshaya Sadovaya Street, 83. The company's representative allegedly did not introduce himself.
Irina Morina lives across the street from Nina and Victor. She recalls that two months ago representatives of the firm Parshin and associates visited all the neighbors. She displayed the business card on which the address Bolshaya Sadovaya, 89 was written. Morina claims that this firm offered to buy people’s land. She knows nothing about the price or those who agreed to this offer. Perhaps Nina and Irina talked with the same company.
"We collected information about the land plots, whether they are being sold or not. Our firm works as an intermediary, a real estate agency. A potential buyer was interested in a large plot in this area. One of them belonged to the company ‘Megapolis,’ and we considered the possibility to additionally buy local residents’ plots. We met with them at the office and checked their documents. A price was not offered, we just asked if they were ready to sell it or not. But in the middle of this whole process, Megapolis notified that they had sold their plots. That is where our activity stopped, because the interest was in buying a large plot," said the head of Parshin and associates, Eugene Parshin.
According to Parshin, his firm did not know the final buyer, only the intermediary addressed them. Parshin refused to disclose the name and contacts of this intermediary, saying that he had transferred everything to the appropriate authorities.
Megapolis LLC was left with almost half of the territory of the Govnyarka, as can be seen from Rosreestr's data. In 2017, the company privately sold several land plots.
There are several more versions of why the area was set on fire. Firstly, next to the burnt district, the new disctrict “Tikhii Don” is being built. The developer is JSC Vertol-Development, which is 60% owned by Yuri Slyusar. Furthermore, 20% of its shares are owned by Sergey Bolshakov and Sergey Medvedev. The general director is Asker Khapaev.
Yuri Slyusar is an influential man. In the past he was Russian Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade. Now he is president of United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) (owned by Finmarket CJSC, Oditers LLC, FTK CJSC and Federal Property Management Agency).
Sergei Medvedev was in charge of FSUE Aviakomplekt until 2014. Together with Sergey Bolshakov they founded LLC Promspetsstroy (formerly known as Roszhilstroy) in 2006. This company is a major state contractor and since 2011, it has signed contracts for 1.5 billion rubles. It’s main customers were the Federal Fisheries Agency (facilities in Rostov-on-Don) and companies subordinate to PJSC UAC.
Another version of the events was that such a dysfunctional area had to be demolished before the World Cup. Next to the Govnyarka authorities planned to make a fan zone, the official place for free public viewing of the 2018 World Cup for 25,000 people.
The city had long planned for the renovation of Govnyarka and in 2015 a recreation zone on the site of the Teatralny descent was approved for creation by the new general plan of the city. They had to demolish houses, of course and was shown in the 2025 general plan of the city. Judging by the documents, the recreational zone will be located in the area most affected by the fire. After the fire, the governor of the Rostov region Vasiliy Golubev revived plans to create a recreational zone on the Teatralny district as well.
On the other hand, in May 2017 "Gazprom" discussed plans for the improvement of "Govnyarka." The company was ready to extend the embankment from the Bogatyanovsky descent to Derzhavinsky lane using its own funds. According to the head of the city administration Vitaly Kushnaryov, it was planned to buy houses at market value.
There are many companies who wish to improve the center and for this purpose 1.55 billion rubles have been allocated. Which construction companies will refuse such funds?
Compensations and placement of the victims
The temporary accommodation sites for the victims are located in two Rostov schools. Out of 600 people left homeless, only 47 people stayed in both accommodation points. The rest stayed with relatives and acquaintances.
A few blocks from the burnt houses, in social protection department building, the headquarters for fire reclamation has settled down. Victims of fire fill out applications for compensation for the loss of vital property. In addition, they are applying for new documents burnt by the fire, which were issued the very next day after the fire.
Each victim of the fire received 50,000 rubles for one-time assistance; 20,000 rubles from the city budget and 30,000 rubles from the regional budget.
Another 400,000 rubles will be paid to severely injured victims. 100 thousand rubles compensation will be paid to everyone for the loss of essential property. The Ministry of Emergency Situations has prepared a draft government order on providing financial assistance to the victims of fire. In total, according to the estimates of the Ministry, it will take 524 million rubles in compensation.
Victims are storing their goods in the social rehabilitation center for minors and in one of the warehouse facilities in the city center. Some volunteers take their things directly to the accommodation centers. At the entrance to Lyceum No. 5 are packed items and essentials on benches. People pass by with full packages.
The deputy director of the school, Elena Zadorozhnaya, evasive answered the question whether the administration is providing humanitarian assistance: "I do not know," she said, "who does it, thanks to all."
"We do not want to leave anywhere from here"
On August 26, people in need of housing were provided with rooms at Zvezda Hotel and temporary apartments. But even this was confused, as the real housing was significantly different from those photos that were published on the city administration’s website.
"We have not claimed temporary housing. We do not want to go anywhere from here. The fire helped us solve this. We had a family council. We are going to build here. We will build a normal house here, perhaps we will make a store here. We with the husband of my wife's sister will do the whole thing. We'll take the loan, and yes, we’ll do it!" Victor said with enthusiasm, standing in the charred hallway of his house.
"I'll tell you this. Let it all be ashes here, I'm not selling anything to them!" Misha said, a half-gray Cossack, making an indecent gesture with his hands. He sits, lounging on a chair, his shirt unbuttoned revealing a large belly. He smells slightly of smoke and his face and hands are smeared in soot. His family’s three houses burned down. He with his children are going to rebuild them.
"There are no suckers here, nobody will sell anything and we all will take up machine guns. And I'll take it, and Verka will take it, and Valka will take it, and Vaska. I have something to meet these people with. I'll find my Maxim machine gun and will shoot them here. They will not succeed. F*** them all!" Misha makes a gesture with his hand.
Nearby Irina Morina stands and smiles: "We also, by the way, have a machine gun in the attic."