The shantytown-like machinery plant has a bad name among Lyubertsy residents for housing scores of overnight shelters and cheap hostels for undocumented migrants. One photo, shared online, shows an illegal shelter located in one of the factory buildings. In the picture, a scantily-clad woman in stockings poses against the backdrop of the factory buildings in the distance.
The den is located close to a World War II monument and the Hero of the Soviet Union Yuri Gagarin vocational school, where the world’s first cosmonaut studied between 1949 and 1951.
The town’s administration has been receiving numerous letters from local residents, crying out for help, asking to remedy the situation. They are not happy with
“camouflage-dressed migrants” inhabiting non-residential premises in the center of the town. They are also concerned that the half-ruined, nearly crumbling buildings pose a threat to people’s safety.
Last year, the administration succeeded in closing a drug store located on the premises that they said was illegally selling narcotic drugs. Before the ill-famed pharmacy was closed, it used to attract hordes of local drug addicts forming long lines in front of the building.
Intruders on Victory Street “They shot a film about World War II here. No set design was needed,” a volunteer from a local neighborhood watch group, Evgeny S., told RT. The man is part of the informal team that set out to protect public order on the premises of Ukhtomka, as the plant is called by locals.
Evgeny waves at the surrounding landscape – dilapidated buildings, construction debris, and waste.
The history of confrontation between the site owners and Lyubertsy’s administration resembles a real battlefront dispatch. The price for taking down two of the crumbling buildings was a burnt tractor. And then when the administration was about to resume its activities on the premises, they faced even fiercer opposition. Evgeny said that his vigilante unit was attacked with stones and brick rubble thrown at them from the rooftops.
“When we tried to take down the adjacent building, they got two people inside to stay at the windows and block the way for demolition machinery,” Evgeny told the RT crew.
While we are still talking to Evgeny, an old and battered Hyundai Porter truck drives past us. Then it stops not far away, turns around, and heads towards the TV crew and vigilantes standing together. At the last moment, the truck swerves and the two men in the front seats stare at our group.
“That’s the truck that rammed our vehicles.” Evgeny’s eyes follow the Hyundai truck as it drives off.
Evgeny’s fellow vigilantes told us that the grey Porter had repeatedly attacked their vehicles in the past. Each time the truck would swing around and reverse towards the group’s cars, which were parked on the premises, ramming into them. When the traffic police arrived, the driver would simply tell them he had lost control of his vehicle. The vigilantes recalled four similar car-ramming attacks in just one year and showed photos and videos from the incidents to RT.
The head of Russia’s Committee for Car Owners’ Rights Protection, Georgy Kholmansky, believes that the actions of the Hyundai truck driver can be qualified as willful damage of property.
“The offender responsible for the car accidents can be charged with willful destruction or damage of property pursuant to Article 167 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. I don’t see any problem here,” the lawyer told RT. “The deliberate nature of the offense can be confirmed by the fact that the man behind the truck’s wheel has rammed the parked cars systematically, on a number of occasions.” Businessman or criminal mastermind?
How the criminal cases initiated on charges of fraud and theft of public funds from the Lyubertsy budget might fare is still unclear.
Each of the experts RT has talked to so far have different views on the best way to hold Gast accountable. The head of
Your Legal Representative, a Russian bar association, Konstantin Trapaidze, said that the problem was not merely one of interpretation of the law, but could involve corruption and dodgy dealings. “It is strange that the injunction prohibiting resale and long-term lease of the buildings was only introduced 10 years after the first case of missed payments. This could mean that some public officials have a vested interest, possibly along the line of agencies and organizations in this relationship,” Trapaidze told RT.
According to Stanislav Smolentsev, a commercial litigation lawyer, Russian law enforcement has good chances of holding the ultimate owner of the buildings, Gast, responsible – all they need to do is prove that he has played the leading part in this scheme.
“It’s really possible to prove the guilt of the person who virtually pulls the strings in such a case. And his Swiss citizenship won’t be an obstacle,” the lawyer said. “Extradition from Switzerland to Russia is possible, as stipulated by the European Convention on Extradition.”
In his interview with RT, Mayor Ruzhitsky said the current situation on the plant premises is a major concern for almost every local resident.
“Local residents are very emotional when it comes to the Ukhtomsky plant – they think that the municipal government won’t do anything as they are in cahoots with the owner. They think this appalling situation is the result of the government turning a blind eye to the problem.”
The mayor believes that the problem can only be solved if the defense team and law enforcement agencies join their efforts.
“Today, this type of case is dealt with by the local offices of the prosecutor and prosecutor general, as well as the regional and federal investigative committees. I hope that Russia’s law enforcement agencies will take measures to sort out this mess,” he said.
Ruzhitsky also pointed out that the newly adopted general plan of the town does not provide for warehouses and logistics facilities to be located in the central part of Lyubertsy.
“This area will be turned into a public space – schools, child daycare facilities, green alleys and a business area will be built. Once we have resolved all the issues related to this area with its owner, we’ll be able to finally focus on the development plans for this part of the town. And it’s in the downtown of Lyubertsy,” the mayor said. The demise of a factory with history
The A. V. Ukhtomsky Agricultural Machinery Plant was founded in 1902. Around 15,000 people were employed here during the Soviet era.
During World War II, the plant produced shells. It received the Order of the Red Banner of Labour for supplying over 20 million mines to the frontline, and then the Order of Lenin, too.
Back in the 1950s, Yuri Gagarin, who later became the world’s first cosmonaut, worked here as part of his on-the-job training in his teens. He studied foundry practice at the technical college affiliated with the plant.
In the 1960s, the plant assembled agricultural machinery for Cuba. Cuban leader Fidel Castro is said to have personally come here to inspect the production line during his official visit to the Soviet Union in July 1972.
After 1992, the plant was privatized and by 2000 had become bankrupt. That’s when Gast bought it out, bringing about the current saga.
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