Russian protesters smash fence at cathedral site
Hundreds of protesters in Russia’s fourth-largest city, Yekaterinburg, have condemned a controversial plan to build a Russian Orthodox cathedral in a city-centre park.
Russian anti-riot police ringed the site in the city of 1.5 million people with the authorities saying 13 arrests were made.
Around 2,000 protesters ripped down a fence around a construction site on the River Iset embankment and clashed with security guards and martial arts enthusiasts linked to a project investor.
“Nobody is against a church but everyone is against building one here,” a protester told Radio Free Europe. “There are lots of churches… but not much green space is left in the city.”
Yekaterinburg (pictured) is around 1,400km east of Moscow.
Similar protests have been seen across Russia at sites to build Orthodox churches.
The church says that it needs new places of worship after the Soviet-era destruction and for modern suburbs.
Yekaterinburg’s cathedral was demolished in 1930 by the Soviets.
The planned St Catherine’s cathedral would be a replica of the one demolished in the anti-religious crusade.
It was due to be completed in 2023 to mark the 300th anniversary of the founding of Yekaterinburg.
“To build the cathedral, they want to destroy the park, which is a favourite place for residents to relax,” the protest group posted online.
On Monday residents found a large area of the park had been fenced off ahead of construction.
The crowd formed a human chain around the fence and ripped it down, clashing with security guards and a professional MMA fighter Ivan Shtyrkov, known as the Ural Hulk.
He runs a martial arts academy founded by a major donor to the cathedral project, billionaire metals boss Igor Altushkin.
The security guards are also hired by the Russian Copper Company (RCC).
Activists chanted: “We want to see the mayor”, in reference to former mayor Yevgeny Roizman, one of few political figures to openly criticise President Vladimir Putin.
Roizman resigned last year after it was announced that Yekaterinburg’s direct mayoral elections were being ditched, attacking the decision as anti-democratic.
Regional governor Yevgeny Kuivashev held an emergency meeting with church and protest representatives.
Vakhtang Kipshidze, a spokesman for the Orthodox Church, accused demonstrators of being “anti-religious”.
He told Interfax: ”There are a multitude of lawful ways of expressing disagreement… but to create conflict on religious grounds is especially sad on the soil of Yekaterinburg, where not so long ago by historical standards mass religious persecution took place and Tsar Nicholas II and his young children were murdered.”
Yekaterinburg. Picture credit: IHA