Viktor Pavlovich watches with dismay through a wire fence, as a 16-storey
business centre takes shape in concrete in his yard.
The developers razed
a listed building to the ground to make way for it. Now they have the rights
to Viktor's home too, and they want the residents out.
Zamoskvorechiye includes some of Moscow's most prestigious areas. Once a
desirable residential quarter, house after house has been emptied in favour
of more profitable tenants.
New office blocks are going up all over the city
Behind the safety of an iron front door, Viktor confesses he is afraid. He
claims the developers' demands on his property are illegal but he is the last
man still resisting. Now the anonymous phone calls have begun.
"They call me and ask: aren't you scared you'll be burned in your home? Then
they tell me to leave," Viktor says. "Now I'm scared even to walk out of the
"They say: if we kill you, that's only half a job; if we spoil your
face, it will be so much worse. But what do you expect? This is Russia! It's
run by bandits."
Like many Russians, Viktor privatised his formerly state-owned flat in the
early 1990s but the freehold remains with the local authorities. He says
they handed that over to the highest bidder - then closed their eyes to its
Our society today is democratic - nobody should be
frightened, or forced out of their homes
Moscow deputy mayor
At a press conference devoted to city planning, Deputy Mayor Valery Shantsev
declares that the development work will go on in Moscow.
But he has the
deepest respect, he says, for the city's architectural heritage, and for the
rights of residents over the developers.
"Our society today is democratic," Valery Shantsev says. "Nobody should be
frightened, or forced out of their homes. If residents have a problem, they
should come and see me or the mayor and we will put a stop to anything
But at number nine Znamenka Street, just metres from the Kremlin, the residents
find that hard to believe. Their house is in a protected zone, but it too
has been earmarked for destruction.
Viktor Pavlovich is the last resident in his block to resist
Evgenia has been appealing to the mayor's office for months. Upstairs in
the kitchen of her communal flat she flicks morosely through a thick green
file, crammed full of official complaints.
City Hall has given the lease on
her building to investors who now want to replace it with a business centre.
They are already losing patience.
"We had to call the gas service at night once, because someone smelt gas,"
Evgenia says. "They told us a tap had been turned on deliberately. And in the
middle of winter, someone turned off our heating to try to burst our
pipes... They're trying to make our house unsafe - and force us out."
As the race for real-estate gathers pace, such scare tactics are becoming
Moscow architect Natalia Dushkina believes there is one chief culprit.
"Money now rules the whole of Russia - a country that lived for seven decades
with no interest in it at all!"
everything here - all we can do is keep a close eye on our house and then
put our hope in God
Natalia says big business interests, and big bucks, are destroying Moscow's
cultural heritage as well as forcing residents from their homes.
investors interested in maximising their profit-per-square-metre move in,
architects say much of Moscow's historic heart is being torn out.
Nowhere to turn
Znamenka 9 is in a protected zone
Natalia says developers have an incentive to damage a house, perhaps to set fire to it, if they want to pull it down.
"If the building is neglected, it is so easy then to destroy it,
invest money and build a new structure."
That is precisely what's worrying Evgenia. As darkness falls over the red
Kremlin stars, she heads out with her dogs on patrol.
The residents on
Znamenka street now guard their building themselves, day and night. They say
there is nowhere else they can turn.
"I really don't know how this will end," Evgenia says. "Money decides
everything here. All we can do is keep a close eye on our house - and then
put our hope in God."