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Russian Whistleblowers are risking everything to expose the scale of the disaster of the Arctic oil spill



Vasily Ryabinin

“It still burns really well,” Ryabinin said. “It’s very possible this puddle stretches across the river and will pollute it for a very long time.”

The factory owner, metal giant Nornickel, said the spill was quickly contained, and damage was limited. Ryabinin has sacrificed his work and the future of his family at Norilsk in an effort to lift the lid on what environmentalists call the worst ecological disaster in the Arctic.

It was 2 o’clock in the morning in the Arctic summer. Half the light illuminates a fast-moving river as it flows through the endless tundra to the Arctic ocean. A layer of rainbow oil covers the surface; puddle of diesel that is sandwiched under our feet.

Ryabinin took us there on foot along the railroad tracks. Since the spill, the area around the site has been guarded by security officers, making them difficult to access.

He is a rare creature in Russia today – a reporter who quit his job with the state environmental agency Rosprirodnadzor and announced to the public about the extent of the disaster.

Ryabinin said he was first told about the scale of the crisis on May 29 with photos posted on Instagram. He was immediately surprised: Daldykan and other rivers were polluted by the flow of spills into Lake Pyasino. From there, contamination can spread to the Arctic Ocean.

Only a few hours later he was in the river, taking photos that would immediately provoke public anger. He and his boss tried to enter the Nornickel factory, but he said they were refused entry by the police.

More than 20,000 tons of diesel was poured into rivers from storage tanks, according to Nornickel.

Foamy red mud mixes with water and sucks life from the river and its banks.

“It looked terrible when we got there and it wasn’t even the worst because several hours had passed,” Ryabinin said. “You can smell diesel half a kilometer away … my boss is even afraid to smoke there in case it explodes.”

What he saw was very different from what was later reported by officials and the media: that the spill was quickly controlled. Russian state television ran a report showing aerial photographs of an oil spill boom that was guarding the diesel red coating.

“That is truly a childish lie, I cannot wrap my head,” Ryabinin told CNN.

“Obviously I think we should at least investigate the lake but my lake [agency] have different views, which correspond to one of them [Nornickel] plants – that the spill does not spread further than the river. “

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Ryabinin said the last straw for him was when Rosprirodnadzor told him to stop looking into the disaster after he found a helicopter to fly to the lake. At that time, on June 7, he announced to the public, taking a 45-minute account of what he had found – concluding that the fuel volume and flow rate must have spread contamination even further.

Rosprirodnadzor did not respond to requests for CNN comments. In an e-mail, Nornickel told CNN that spill clearance was in progress, and that the company was “guided by official Rosprirodnadzor data and the Ministry of Emergency Situations,” as well as satellite imagery showing “fuel limits” distribution. “

Samples were collected by Ryabinin on the day of the spill.
A layer of gasoline is seen on the surface of the Daldykan River.

Back in Moscow, YouTube blogger and environmental activist Georgy Kavanosyan made the same calculations as Ryabinin.

“All you need to do is look at satellite imagery, determine the area of ​​this red dot and divide it with thousands of tons that are told to pour it into the water,” Kavanosyan said. “And you will know that the diesel must run 50 meters to stop there – so that is clearly impossible.”

“They only caught the tail of this spill and no one even mentioned what was under the film, state TV continued to show spills that said there was nothing underneath and it was only on the surface,” Kavanosyan told CNN. “And under this layer, hydrocarbons dissolve and infiltrate all life – fish, eggs, mud, everything.”

After watching Ryabinin’s video, Kavanosyan decided to travel to the region to take independent samples from Lake Pyasino – and find out whether pollution had reached the lake.

Norilsk is a difficult place to operate. This is a remote ‘mono-city’ where one company and one industry dominates the economy – as a result, enjoys considerable influence. More than 2,800 kilometers northeast of Moscow, the city was founded during Stalin’s reign as a place of gulag prisoners. There is no land connection with all of Russia: to get there and back, you have to fly. Foreigners need to get special permission from the Federal Security Agency, or FSB, to enter.

Kavanosyan said he and the cameraman pretended to make a personal visit and lived in rented apartments, avoiding the main streets. At night they sneak into the river hoping to find a boat to take them to the lake.

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“It’s difficult, half the people here work for Nornickel and that would clearly be a risk for them,” Kavanosyan said.

When they finally reached the lake, they found that the level of contaminated hydrocarbon contamination was 2.5 times higher than what was officially permitted, Kavanosyan said. He was the only one who managed to take an independent sample from the area.

The others are not so lucky. Reporters from Novaya Gazeta said they faced ongoing harassment from guard Nornickel when they investigated other areas with Vasily Ryabinin, finding a place where wastewater was pumped directly into the tundra. Nornickel then admitted the violations in the tailings pond and suspended local staff. The Russian Investigation Committee launched an investigation into this incident.

Greenpeace Russia also spent two weeks trying to get samples from Lake Pyasino but said authorities were constantly trying to block their work – a police helicopter put them in a jungle hut and had their ship’s fuel confiscated.

A Moscow MP, who agreed to bring samples collected by Greenpeace journalists and activists back to the capital, said he confiscated them at the local airport last week.

In a video posted by Novaya Gazeta, airport staff said that the airport was “also Nornickel” and taking water samples required company permission.

When asked to comment on this accusation, Nornickel said that “an emergency regime had been installed on the site and access to many locations was restricted.”

This spill is by no means the first environmental disaster in this part of Siberia, some of it rivers flowing red with poisonous waste from factories amid weak environmental regulations. Local residents complain of acid gas that pollutes the air; Norilsk’s edge resembles a large rusty junkyard with dead trees as far as the eye can see.

“Everyone is dying here,” said Andrey, a local driver who did not want to reveal his last name. “People are mostly worried about gas, sometimes it gets so bad that we don’t get children out.”

But the spotlight is scarce in the city and Nornickel has encouraged companies to provide an explanation to the public, accept full responsibility for the spill and accept cleaning fees. Last week it was said that more than 90% of fuel from spills had been collected.

In the initial assessment the company blamed the melting permafrost for affecting the foundation of the fuel tank but said the investigation was still ongoing.

Arctic Russia is heating up, and melting permafrost has the potential to damage infrastructure in the region. More than 60% the vast state land surface is supported by permafrost. Summer in Norilsk is also very hot.

But both Kavanosyan and Ryabinin doubt that the sudden collapse of the tank was caused by climate change. They say Russia has enough experience building on ice and can artificially freeze land if needed. They believe that poor maintenance or lack of supervision is to blame.

A river bank dump next to a pre-processing plant on the outskirts of Norilsk.

The scandal, and Ryabinin’s accusations, also prompted Rostekhnadzor, the state body that oversees the maintenance of industrial infrastructure, to reveal that its specialists could not gain access to the tank at the Nornickel plant for five years.

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The spill even attracted President Vladimir Putin, who chaired a television meeting with Nornickel’s head, Vladimir Potanin, in early June. Potanin said the company expects to pay around $ 140 million to cover the damage.

“A ship containing fuel is much cheaper, far cheaper,” Putin answered. “I say that if you replace one tank on time there will be no damage to nature, and the company will not have to bear such costs.”

Beyond the rare public spotlight on environmental problems in Russia, the Nornickel spill has provided an example of dissent and protest that is increasingly rare in Russia. A few weeks after the discovery by Ryabinin and Kavanosyan, the state agency Rosprirodnadzor acknowledged that Lake Pyasino had been contaminated.

On Wednesday it estimated the damage to be 14 times greater than Nornickel’s initial assessment and asked him to pay a record $ 2 billion in compensation.

The company denied the assessment, saying that the agency had based its calculations “on principles that had distorted the results and needed to be adjusted.” He also added that he remained committed to his obligation to eliminate the consequences of spills at his own expense.

Kavanosyan called Rosprirodnadzor’s action “revolutionary” and said it sent a signal to all companies that chose to “dump waste into rivers and lakes and save on wastewater treatment plants.”

As for Ryabinin, he was preparing to leave Norilsk and move his family to another place.

“It’s very sad because I really love my city, North and I don’t want to go,” he said. “But I do this knowing that I won’t be able to live and work here after all this.”

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Portuguese historical films will premiere on 29 December.



Portuguese historical films will premiere on 29 December.

Method Media Bermuda will present the documentary FABRIC: Portuguese History in Bermuda on Thursday, December 29 at the Underwater Research Institute of Bermuda.

A spokesperson said: “Method Media is proud to bring Bermuda Fabric: Portugal History to Bermuda for its 5th and 6th showing at the Bermuda Underwater Observatory. In November and December 2019, Cloth: A Portuguese Story in Bermuda had four sold-out screenings. Now that Bermuda has reopened after the pandemic, it’s time to bring the film back for at least two screenings.

“There are tickets For $ 20 – sessions at 15:30 and 18:00. Both screenings will be followed by a short Q&A session.

Director and producer Milton Raboso says, “FABRIC is a definitive account of the Portuguese community in Bermuda and its 151 years of history, but it also places Bermuda, Acors and Portugal in the world history and the events that have fueled those 151 years.

“It took more than 10 years to implement FABRIC. The film was supported by the Minister of Culture, the Government of the Azores and private donors.

Bermuda Media Method [MMB] Created in 2011 by producer Milton Raposo. MMB has created content for a wide range of clients: Bermuda’s new hospital renovation, reinsurance, travel campaigns, international sports and more. MMB pays special attention to artistic, cultural and historical content.

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Maestro de Braga is the first Portuguese in the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba.



Maestro de Braga is the first Portuguese in the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba.

Maestro Filipe Cunha, Artistic Director of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Braga, has been invited to conduct the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra, as announced today.

According to a statement sent by O MINHO, “he will be the first Portuguese conductor to conduct this orchestra in its entire history.”

In addition to this orchestra, the maestro will also work with the Lyceo Mozarteum de la Habana Symphony Orchestra.

The concerts will take place on 4 and 12 March 2023 at the National Theater of Cuba in Havana.

In the words of the maestro, quoted in the statement, “these will be very beautiful concerts with difficult but very complex pieces” and therefore he feels “very motivated”.

From the very beginning, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 will be performed by an Italian pianist (Luigi Borzillo), whom the maestro wants to bring to Portugal later this year. In the same concert, Mendelshon’s First Symphony will be performed.

Then, at the second concert, in the company of the Mexican clarinetist Angel Zedillo, he will perform the Louis Sfora Concerto No. 2. In this concert, the maestro also conducts Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.

“This is an international recognition of my work. An invitation that I accept with humility and great responsibility. I was surprised to learn that I would be the first Portuguese member of the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra. This is a very great honor,” the maestro said in a statement.

“I take with me the name of the city of Braga and Portugal with all the responsibility that goes with it, and I hope to do a good job there, leaving a good image and putting on great concerts. These will be very special concerts because, in addition to performing pieces that I love, especially Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky, I will be directing two wonderful soloists who are also my friends. It will be very beautiful,” concludes Filipe Cunha.

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