“They must be stopped”: how gold mining threatens the inhabitants of Siberia

Maria Marikyan

The once crystal clear rivers in the Askiz district of Khakassia have become shallow, the water has turned into unnatural colors. Hectares of the cedar forest have been barbarously cut down, the soil has been poisoned. Gold is mined here. Locals are sounding the alarm: artels work bypassing the law, risking the lives and health of people, threatening the population of rare animals.

At the same time, the control and supervisory authorities do not react to numerous violations. The RIA Novosti correspondent went to the south of Siberia to sort out the situation.

Dead river

“There used to be a school here. And there is a hospital, – a resident of the village of Unexpected Valentina Yakovlevna points out with a cane. “There were almost four thousand of us here, now about a hundred. Life was in full swing, and now there are only rickety log cabins around ”.

They began to mine alluvial gold near Neozhidanny as early as 1835, at the same time the settlement was founded. In Soviet times, a large enterprise operated here.

“I worked there for 18 years. For washing, mercury and manganese were used. I got asthma, I had to leave, – continues the 80-year-old pensioner. – In the 1990s, the enterprise collapsed, the equipment was sold for metal. Private traders took up gold: new ones appear every year. In my youth they worked conscientiously, but now … “

It is four hours from here to Abakan. The mountain taiga villages have been inhabited for centuries by the Shors, a small indigenous people. They live by hunting, picking mushrooms, berries, nuts. We have never been in conflict with gold prospectors. Problems arose when they got too close to settlements, began to pollute rivers and cut down the valuable cedar on an industrial scale.

People hoped that in 2016 the situation would change: then the regional authorities officially approved the boundaries of the territory of traditional nature management (TTP). Any work that could harm the environment and the way of life of the indigenous population was banned. Including alluvial gold mining. However, in reality, officials make big concessions to businessmen, provided that they agree with the locals.

The situation in specially protected areas is deteriorating from year to year. So, in the spring, residents of the village of Balyksa, which is ten kilometers from Neozhidanny, reported: the mountain river Balyksa, in the upper reaches of which the Krasnoyarsk gold mining company “Artel of Khakassia Prospectors” operates, turned dark brown.

In June, the Republican Ministry of Natural Resources announced the dumping of zinc and “other suspended solids” into the water. The level was exceeded three times. However, the Yenisei Interregional Administration of Rosprirodnadzor did not confirm the information on pollution.

“We’re just being held for fools here!” – the deputy of the Balyksinsky village council Sergey Kyshtymov is indignant. He showed a video made by fellow villagers in the summer: the brown Balyksu flows into the Tom River, the main waterway of the Kemerovo region.

Vyacheslav Krechetov, a journalist from Kemerovo, prepared several video reports on the pollution, after which the situation improved. “But still, precipitation is visible on the stones. For comparison, look at the clear bottom of the Tom, – notes Kyshtymov. – In Balyksa there were grayling, red book taimen and lenok. Today there is emptiness. “

This river used to be the main source of drinking water for the 1,500-strong village. “Now we take from the core and drill wells. Everyone gets out as best he can, – the deputy makes a helpless gesture. “I don’t remember there was so much dirt in Soviet times.”

“Golden” forest

The “Artel of prospectors of Khakassia” in the Askizsky region has two sites – Balyksinsky and Magyzinsky areas. The first license was obtained in 2015, three years later – for the second.

“In 2017, a gathering of residents of Balyksa, Nikolaevka, Shory took place with the participation of representatives of the regional administration and a gold mining company. It was reported that work would begin soon at the Balyksinsky site. Residents of Unexpected were not even warned, – says Viktor Azarakov, representing the interests of the Shors. “Not a word at all about Magyzinskaya Square”.

According to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Regulation on the TPP, you cannot fish without the consent of local residents. “We didn’t give permission, but we started mining anyway,” says the lawyer. “The officials responded to my inquiry as follows: at public hearings, everyone allegedly voted in favor.”

People learned about the Magyzinsky site last year – after the gold miners blocked the only road to the family cemetery, hunting grounds and places for picking berries and mushrooms. “We drove in insolently, without asking, and began to cut down the cedar, which, as you know, feeds both people and animals in the taiga,” Azarakov is indignant.

The Unexpected is five kilometers from here. The bumpy road can only be driven by a 4WD truck.

 “Golden dwellers drive heavy trucks on our village dirt roads. They all smashed. They are obliged to build a separate road for themselves. We have raised this issue more than once, but to no avail, ”explains Aleksandr Kadymaev, a resident of Unexpected.

The road to the artel is blocked by a checkpoint. Recently, a detour was made for the locals, but in rainy weather the road washes out so that even an SUV cannot get through.

Where there used to be lush cedars, larches, birches and pines, is a dug bare earth. In the center – a water jet, a device for washing gold. On the one hand, waste rock flies out of it into the dump, forming an embankment of waste, on the other, dirty water is discharged into the sump.

“Small and medium stones remain inside the mechanism, they fall into the perforated sheets. Under a powerful stream of water, they are sent through a gold-bearing pipe into the log. There, the metal settles on special rubber mats. Then the closers collect the gold-bearing concentrate, ”Kadymayev describes the technology.

The waste water must pass through at least three treatment tanks, so that it can then be used again for rinsing the precious metal.

“Instead of filtered water, every time they take a new one from the rivers – that’s why they are shallow. There is only one settling tank. Apparently, it was simply collected from waste rock – large stones, ”says Alexander.

The muddy trail of the Magiza, another tributary of the Tom, stretches along the entire site. Kadymaev adds: the mud from the sump gets into the river, seeping through the soil.

Upstream of the Magiza, the gold diggers dug a ditch, changing the course. There is now a steep bank on both sides. After the development, the watercourse should be returned to its previous state, however, according to the locals, this will not save the situation – the rivers become shallow after such procedures, the chemical composition of the water completely changes. It will take years to restore the ecosystem.

To the right of the hydromonitor, the excavator rips off the fertile soil layer with a bucket. Felled trees all around covered with earth and rammed by bulldozers. Azarakov notes: the forest is in federal ownership, the territory is leased by the artel, the license is only for the subsoil. According to the law, the forest after felling must be transferred to a subordinate institution of the Federal Property Management Agency, where it will then be sold.

“Business timber – suitable for construction and furniture production – is taken out. And birches, pines and other “trifles” are simply buried. They also save on this, ”says the lawyer.

 In addition, gold mining destroyed mows and pastures. The constant hum of technology scares the taiga animals. The Shors are moving farther and farther from the village to hunt.

Things are better at the Balyksinsky section. You can watch the process up close near the former village of Ust-Vesely. At the entrance – another checkpoint. “This is a federal road leading to Kemerovo. The path is not easy, but short. Everything is in plain sight, there is no such lawlessness as Magiza’s, ”explains Kadymayev.

On the left side there is a row of sedimentation tanks. The further you go, the clearer the water. But, according to Kadymaev, it is this area that is the main source of pollution for Balyks. “In the spring, the sedimentation tanks could not cope, all the mud was dumped into the river.”

After mining, gold miners are required to restore the fertile soil layer and plant trees. A reclamation zone has been organized in Ust-Veselom – cedar seedlings are making their way through the stony ground. “If only they cleared the territory! – Yuri Kiskorov, chairman of the Shor community “Altyn”, is indignant. – By the way, millions were spent on all this. What’s the point? Saplings do not take root. Cedar loves moisture, you need to take care of it. “

“Sometimes they violate”

Kiskorov sent many complaints to higher authorities. In response – unsubscribe. The gold miners promised to build a church, a House of Culture, a kindergarten in Balyks. Didn’t do anything. They only help with diesel fuel, wood, and even then not everyone.

In response to one of the activists’ appeals, the Ministry of National Policy of the Republic reported that since 2016 the artel has allocated about three million rubles “for the needs of the population.” In the Askiz region in the form of taxes received more than six million and another 650 thousand “to the budgets of all levels.”

 “We are not accountable to us – we do not know how the money is spent. In Unexpected there is no normal connection and the Internet, street lighting, dilapidated houses. Now they want to deprive us of drinking water and taiga, which means earnings, “Kiskorov emphasizes.

In the spring, the representatives of the artel suggested that the locals move closer to the city, promised to take all the expenses on themselves, but soon abandoned this initiative. Although many agreed to move. Sergey Kovalkov, General Director of the Khakassia Prospectors’ Artel, assures RIA Novosti that the company is not going to enter the village.

The entrepreneur called the videos of the polluted river published on the Web “custom-made”: “It was filmed who knows where and when, not in the places of work”. And he reminded that the inspections of the supervisory authorities did not reveal any violations.

According to Kovalkov, there is no documentary evidence that there are hayfields, pastures and hunting grounds on the plots. These territories are officially assigned the status of industrial land. The artel helps free of charge with the repair of schools and administrative buildings, drilling wells, equipping sports grounds and regional roads.

The head of the village council, Vladimir Zavalin, is in favor of the gold miners staying in the region, as they create new jobs.

 “Licenses are distributed by federal agencies, we cannot change anything,” the official justifies. However, he is disingenuous: in the winter of 2020, the inhabitants of the Tashtyp district unanimously opposed the fishing. The former head of the Ministry of Natural Resources of Khakassia, Sergei Arekhov, also attended the public discussions. Then the gold miners were stopped.

“Sometimes they violate … And if they close, where will people work? With the support of the artel, the windows in the school were replaced and a new roof was made. We have a small budget, we can barely make ends meet. We cannot cope without them, ”Zavalin is sure. Artel taxes are distributed between the federal, republican and municipal budgets. The village council receives only subsidies, in fact – a penny.

Recently, another company (LLC ZDK) received a license for exploration of deposits in the upper reaches of the Kainzas River. “We have to start up, there’s no way out,” Zavalin says. – Public hearings have taken place, no one is against it. The company has not yet started work, but has already offered two million for the needs of the village council. “

“25 people voted for, 24 against. State employees participated – teachers and doctors who do not lead a traditional way of life. It is not clear why their voices were taken into account and why they were called at all. According to the regulation on the TPP, the consent of the Shors is needed, and they are categorically against it, ”says Viktor Azarakov.

As the ex-minister Sergei Arekhov points out, there are already enough reasons to stop the work of the Khakassia Prospectors’ Artel and revoke the license. It is not clear why the controlling federal agencies – Rostekhnadzor and Rosprirodnadzor – have not yet responded.

 “This is a specially protected area, which means that you need to strictly adhere to environmental standards. In addition to water pollution, there are violations of the rules for logging: trees in no case should be felled with excavators and buried. This will lead to the appearance of pests, ”argues Arekhov. – Question: why the foresters do not go to the site, do not insist on termination of the forest use agreement? They are obliged to check everything. No special permission is needed for this. “

Courtesy: (RIA Novosti)