Moscow Volunteers in Krymsk

14 July 2012

By John Crowfoot

This piece from Moskovsky komsomolets that I have translated and edited gives a good idea of what is happening in Krymsk in the aftermath of the tragic flooding. It tells how volunteers have organised themselves from all over the country (Moscow, Novosibirsk, Makhachkala) and gone to help in various ways:

"As Volunteers Count the Dead They Also Help Civil Society Find a Voice"

Alyona Popova gives Moskovsky komsomolets her assessment of the situation in Krymsk following the tragic flood that swept through the town late on Friday night, 6-7 July. Popova took part in the Honest Elections rallies in Moscow; now she heads a team of Moscow volunteers in the disaster area around the southern Russian town.

One of the issues that most concerns people in Krymsk is to find out exactly how many people died. The Ministry of Emergency Situations is constantly searching the outer limits of the town (pop. 57,000). Yet there has been no change in the official figure issued by a spokesman of the ministry at the beginning of this week.

How many died?
The volunteers have decided that they will conduct their independent count this Saturday. They are doubtful as to its success, however. “I would just like to throw some light on the subject,” says Popova, “not in order to count corpses but to dispel some of the rumours. I want us to stop feeling that we are being lied to – although I have the sense that the numbers of dead are significantly higher than officially stated. No matter who I talk to in Krymsk, everyone says someone in their family has died.

“The doctors have been saying the total dead is over one thousand. Of course, they are not letting us into the morgues. Our guys tried to count all the new graves but couldn’t agree on an answer. It’s a pretty unclear picture.”

At the moment the volunteers are directing their efforts into clearing the rubble in the private sector and restoring damaged houses to a more or less respectable condition. Things have got easier now, Popova says, because an entire lorry-load of Karcher street-cleaning machines has arrived in Krymsk and they have been cleaning the buildings.

In the immediate future the volunteers will shift their attention to the purchase of essential household items and basic furniture. It has been decided to use part of the donated funds to provide education for children from the families affected.

“We have raised quite a lot in funds and now we’re thinking how we should use the money. Novosibirsk has provided an excellent example. The city has a municipal public fund it can turn to on such occasions. We are also being helped by major companies, and their staff are even working alongside our volunteers.

“If we raise a billion roubles we could even build a new city. However, money for reconstruction has already been allocated from the budget. So what should we do with our funds?”

A new sense of independence
The tragedy of the recent flood, Popova believes, has had a strong effect on the inhabitants of Krymsk, transforming the way they regard relations between society and the State.

“Understandably people at first laid all the blame on local officials, but that’s very common in Russia. Before we arrived they had no idea that such a thing as a public initiative existed. Our example showed that the most complex tasks can be tackled without any support from the State.

“Now they are talking about setting up their own flood-warning system. A civic awareness is indeed coming into existence. Naturally, we shall do all we can to foster its development.”