City Life Moscow: Ecology cops tackle wild-eyed axeman

THE SERGEANT adjusted his bullet-proof vest so he could comfortably kneel down for a good long look at the carnage. After a moment or two, he picked up the evidence in his hand, smelt it carefully and rubbed it against his cheek. It was still warm.

"This is a crime," he declared as he stood up again, brushing the dust from the knees of his faded blue combat trousers. "It's just happened. This is fresh." We stood together in regretful silence, gazing at the scattered remains of the victim, which had been chopped up by someone with an axe.

"You know, this was a good tree," said Sgt Sergei Molodkin, smelling the warm wood shavings again. "It probably took 50 years to reach that height and now it's been chopped down in a minute or two." He shook his head in uncomprehending disgust and ran his boot over a chunk of the fallen lime.

A few yards away, the axeman was prowling around the wooded courtyard where the tree had once stood alongside a dozen or so silver birches, now also reduced to six-inch stumps. Until today, these had helped to provide a canopy of shade for the occupants of the shabby, sweltering Moscow apartment block near by, some of whom - old women in floral dresses and ankle socks - had gathered in the yard to glare at the axeman.

He was Viktor, an elderly, wild-eyed man in a pink T-shirt. He was bellowing defiantly at the sergeant's two partners, untroubled by the pistols that hung from their belts. "This wouldn't happen in Los Angeles," grumbled Sgt Molodkin, as the argument grew still louder. "We would have shot him by now. But here in Russia, you can insult us, shout at us, do practically anything." You wouldn't know, at first glance, that Sgt Molodkin is an Eco-Cop, one of a small band of warriors in the front line of the war against pollution in one of the world's unhealthier places, a city dotted with radioactive hotspots, the legacy of the Soviet Union's arrogant indifference to the environment. In fact, you cannot tell him apart from any other Moscow policeman but for the green logo on the side of the battered Zhiguli car in which he and his colleagues travel around their patch in the eastern part of the capital.

A few minutes ago, after rattling painfully slowly through the streets in response to a call-out, we pulled up here, at this apartment block on Izmailovsky Shosse, to investigate a neighbour'scomplaints that someone had chopped down a dozen of Moscow's 30 million trees without obtaining permission.

The scene of the crime - the stumps, the angry old ladies, the guilty- looking but unremorseful Viktor - told the story. The sergeant said it bore all the hallmarks of a familiar conflict: a war between Moscow's rapidly growing number of car owners who chopped down trees to make parking spaces for themselves in a city never built for cars, and non-car owners - the indignant old ladies.

Viktor was booked and a second team of inspectors was summoned to gather scientific evidence. He would, said the sergeant, probably be fined. Sgt Molodkin looked disappointed: he would have preferred Viktor to do forced labour, replanting the city.

This was our second bust of the day. An hour earlier, we had raced on foot into the woods of a city park to nab a group who had built an open fire to roast kebabs. The culprits were stunned to discover they were doing anything wrong. But the cops were adamant. There were more bookings, more likely fines.

This was, the cops later told me, a typical day for Moscow's ecology police, a body of only 730 staff that has been trying to clean up in the city. When it was founded in October 1996, it was the only such force: now there are 16 more around Russia. Their brief is extraordinarily wide - from catching illegal fishermen and the owners of unmuzzled pit bull terriers to cracking down on cars with illegal exhaust emissions or factories that poison rivers with waste. Their short history contains colourful episodes: catching a bear roaming in the woods and investigating an incident in which a schoolboy poisoned his classmates with a stink bomb.

Being taken seriously is a tall order in a capital that has plenty of more serious problems to worry about - such as 617 murders in the past six months and a flourishing underworld. But the Eco-Cops seemed genuinely, uncynically, committed.

"See this?" said Capt Sergei Bloshenko, 29. He was flourishing a photocopy showing pictures of flowers and fauna. "These are in danger of dying out. But we are trying to stop that. Every team in our force carries the pictures with them." Their target, he explained, were people who sold these flowers at Moscow's metro stations. "If we don't do something, who will? Our children won't have anything, will they?" he asked, with genuine emotion.

Call it what you like. Spitting in the wind. Closing the door after the horse has bolted. But you can't knock them for trying.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Provisioning Specialist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Provisioning Specialist is required to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Apprenticeships

£10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an outstanding opportunity for 1...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Support Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Support Engineer is required to join a well-...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Administrator - Swedish Speaking

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an awa...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum