Europe

Moscow protests over demolition of Soviet-era homes

Residents protest against the decision by authorities to demolish soviet five-storey houses in Moscow, Russia, May 14, 2017. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Estimates of the crowd varied from 5,000 to 30,000 residents

Thousands of people took to Moscow's streets to protest against plans to demolish their Soviet-era homes.

The three- to five-storey Soviet apartments are nicknamed "khrushchovki" after the former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

Moscow's plan to demolish the blocks and resettle nearly a million people has met stiff opposition.

Opponents claim their rights are being ignored and many fear they will not be compensated fairly by the state.

Some protesters believe the project is simply a way to divert funds to construction companies.

"Let us keep our houses!" a 59-year-old engineer shouted, laying the blame directly at the feet of mayor Sergei Sobyanin.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Soviet-era buildings were only expected to last for a few decades

"It's Sobyanin who should be demolished. This is in the interest of developers and the authorities," she told the AFP news agency.

But the project also has the backing of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The BBC's Chloe Arnold, attending the protest, said signs called for the resignation of mayor Sobyanin, and the crowd chanted: "Hands off our property!"

Many of the attendees had never protested before, she said, but came demanding to know where they would live when their homes are torn down next year.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Moscow has already demolished some of its khrushchyovka buildings - this one was brought down in October

There was also a marked difference in crowd estimates, according to the AFP news agency - police said about 5,000 people attended, while organisers claimed 30,000 protesters turned up.

Opposition politicians also attended the protest, amid a heavy police presence.

The khrushchovki were built by the thousands in the 1950s and 60s, during a housing crisis. They were often built with haste out of prefabricated concrete, and were only intended as a temporary solution.

Many are now in poor repair and require replacement.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Police contained the protest within a specific area

Moscow's $61bn (£47.5bn) renovation project is, supporters say, designed to replace the old five-storey buildings with modern high-rise apartment blocks.

However, the bill currently making its way through parliament does not guarantee that residents will be compensated with a new home of the same value in the same area.

Instead, it simply promises a new apartment of the same size.

In light of the controversy, both mayor Sobyanin and President Putin have hinted at amendments to the plan to address residents' concerns.

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