St. Petersburg mulls snow-clearing brigades

RIA Novosti / Alexey Danichev
The governor of St. Petersburg, Valentina Matvienko, has thought of a new way to keep the streets of the city clean in winter – she has suggested that students, immigrants and the homeless should help shovel snow from sidewalks and roads.

­According to the governor, this might greatly improve the current state of the streets, allow students to miss a class or two, and be a good opportunity for the homeless and immigrants to earn some extra money.

On December 21, Matvienko stated that persons with no fixed address could spend two to three hours a day helping street cleaners do their job.

“This will allow the homeless to earn a little and buy some quality food and at the same time do a good deed for their hometown,” pointed out the governor.

However, when members of the Russian media attempted to find out what the vagrants themselves think about the proposal, the response suggested it will be met with less enthusiasm than Matvienko might have hoped for. Apart from the fact that some people simply do not like the idea, there are issues which make those who do like it doubt that the initiative will work. One of those issues is the demand to present certain documents, such as registration paperwork, which many of the homeless are unable to demonstrate. There are also doubts that people will be paid sufficiently for the job, offered food and a place to stay.

Students have not yet voiced their opinion publicly, but university principals have already been asked to excuse young people from attending classes on days with extremely heavy snowfall.  The idea of using student labor is far from a new one – one immediately recalls the Soviet practice of making students work part-time at construction sites during summers and help harvest crops in late August; experiences students never seemed to value all that greatly.

Immigrants who got the same request from the city authorities have remained silent for the time being. According to Valentina Matveenko herself, St. Petersburg still cannot demonstrate tolerance and a friendly attitude toward immigrants.

For the past fortnight it has been snowing non-stop in St. Petersburg. Even though nearly 100,000 cubic meters of snow are being removed daily, the city is still practically buried under it.

The metropolis lacks approximately 3,000 gardeners and public-vehicle drivers. The reason for this staff shortage is very simple: St. Petersburgers are not eager to fill these vacancies. The salary is far from high, and the job is physically demanding.

Matvienko also attacked the contractors who fail to clean the streets properly and on time – the shortcomings cause endless traffic jams and accidents. She also stated that several other problems should be solved before it becomes possible to clean the streets efficiently. Cars parked on pavements and very low parking fines are only the tip of the iceberg.

Last winter, the city authorities were harshly criticized for not dealing with the huge icicles forming on building awnings and endangering the lives of passersby.

As winter set in this month, it became clear that the situation has not improved. The statistics show that every day at least one person is injured by massive icicles that are not cleared from roofs. Dozens and dozens more people fall down because paths are slick with ice.

Well-known Russian actor Mikhail Trukhin, one of the numerous Petersburgers who is no longer willing to tolerate the awful street conditions, added fuel to the fire by writing a letter to city authorities. In the letter he addressed the governor with a request to shovel streets and precincts in order to avoid further accidents leading to severe injuries or even deaths.

This letter echoed the outraged voices on the blogosphere, where hundreds of Internet users expressed their discontent. Numerous entries with complains about the terrible road conditions appear on the web daily: “There are icicles on every house! I’m afraid even to walk under them, so I normally run,” “The sidewalks are covered with ice, I think I might lose my footing one day and go right under a car’s wheels.”

And bloggers are not just complaining – they are blaming their governor for what is happening on the city’s streets.

This year an extra sum of 100 million rubles ($3.2 million) was allocated from the municipal budget. The authorities claimed that they have drawn their conclusions and promised that by the end of December, St. Petersburg will boast clean streets and sidewalks. Whether with the help of the homeless or not, there is still a week to make the metropolis snowless.

Anna Yudina, RT