On August 17, a 5-minute hearing was held in a provincial court of Surgut District (Siberia). The defendant, Sergey Kechimov, a reindeer herder from Yugra and one of the few Khanty indigenous people left, is accused of threatening to kill two workers of Surgutneftegaz – one of the largest Russian oil companies. Being sentenced may cost him up to 2 years in prison, under the Russian criminal code.
During the hearing, lawyers reminded the judge, Mrs. Asharina, that Sergey was not provided with translators throughout the investigation. Despite admitting Sergey’s rights had been violated, Judge Asharina decided to proceed with the case. The next hearings will take place on September 12. But this is a case that goes far beyond the accusations being levied.
What brought Sergey Kechimov before the Court?
The Kechimov case could be conveniently framed as involving a petty crime and deemed unworthy of the public’s attention. According to the case, the conflict rose when Sergey had to shoot a dog owned by the oil-company workers that had killed a reindeer in his herd and attacked him as well. Oil-company workers claimed Sergey also ordered them out of his ancestral lands and demanded compensation payment while waving his shotgun at them.
Sergey is one of the last Khanty people living near the Imlor lake. For centuries, Khantys have deified and praised nature, believing that no person can take more gifts from her than those she is ready to share.
When the oil companies arrived, the sacred Imlor lake became an expendable source of hydrocarbons, spoiled by oil and mutilated by ugly constructions. Animals around the lake are now hunted and fish caught mercilessly by oil-company workers – at any rate, this oil deposit will be over in a couple of decades, and the industry will move on leaving only barren fields with rusty pipes behind.
Unsurprisingly, most of the Khanty people decided not to live side by side with the newcomers, leaving their ancestral lands behind for the oil workers to take over. Those like Sergey and the others who dared to stay have become a constant nuisance for the oil companies. Government measures to protect the ancestral peoples’ rights are providing effective motivation for oil companies to swiftly get rid of such peoples.
For the locals, the presence of oil companies resembles the days of military occupation – with block-posts, humiliating document checkings and personal searches by private security guards.
So the “Kechimov case” is not just a conflict between individuals, it’s an expression of two incompatible approaches to the relation between people and nature colliding. A conflict now left for Judge Asharina, at the 2nd sub-district of the Surgut Court District, to resolve.
It’s time to end this threat!
Statistically, 99.6% of the court verdicts on criminal cases in Russia result in guilty convictions, and Sergey is likely to get up to 2 years of prison. Public attention and a powerful call from around the world is, perhaps, his only chance to change this prospect.
In order to save the Khanty, the unique Imlor lake and their traditional taiga landscape, any industrial activities within their lands must be completely banned.
Neither “restrictions” nor “obligations” would help at this point; the forces are too incompatible. Even in large Russian cities, enforcing the most basic environmental regulations becomes challenging when they rule against the interests of big businesses – remember the Khimki Forest story, or the unceasing battle for Moscow parks.The scientists have warned us: humankind must leave most of the existing fossil fuel reserves underground to avoid a climate catastrophe of geological scale. A good start would be to keep the oil under ancestral peoples’ lands in the ground