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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dirty Politics: Sewer-Lovers' Party Surfaces

Of all the underground movements to hit Russia in the last few centuries, Vadim Mikhailov's may be the most literal.

Mikhailov is gearing up for a parliamentary campaign, but he has to work his schedule around the three hours a day that he spends in the city's sewers. Outfitted in wet suits and oxygen tanks, lowering themselves carefully through manholes, Mikhailov's fellow explorers have been convening nightly for 17 years, and they are ready to stand up and be counted.

Ever since Mikhailov first descended at age 12, he and his fellow explorers, who call themselves the Diggers of the Underground Planet, have been excavating the subterranean city. Lately they have begun to notice changes in their dim, beloved world: "mutant fish" misshapen by toxic waste; "genetic anomalies" and a freakish "white crocodile" rumored to live in the sewer.

"No one knows what organisms could develop in this ecological situation," he said at a press conference last week.

The pollution, visible only to the 15 intrepid spelunkers, has instilled in Mikhailov a passionate ecological mission that would be the guiding force of his planned "Digger Party."

"Digging means discovery," he said. "The future belongs to Diggers."

Of course, it's hard to run for office from the sewer.

Mikhailov, 28, surfaced last week to begin a publicity blitz for "the growing international movement" of underground exploration. At the opening of a small exhibit in the Ostrovsky Museum, he outlined for the media his grandiose vision: a television channel broadcasting their journeys; a wide-ranging international digger network, as "there are no borders for diggers"; and, ultimately, the use of subterranean space for shops, offices and family homes.

According to Mikhailov, the group is already on its way to national prominence. Across Russia, 500 people are regularly exploring the urban underground, and although the hard-core central Moscow group numbers only 15, more than 70 have tried it.

The artifacts that they have unearthed -- an 18th-century horseshoe and rare 19th-century coins -- have won the notice of historians and archaeologists. The city government has proposed a more extensive exhibit of their work. Planned projects include chemical analysis of runoff from the Moskva River and a two-week marathon descent. Perhaps most important, the Diggers have more and more access to the city's underground. The manholes of Moscow are swinging open one by one.

"It's no problem for us to go underground anywhere we want, whenever we want to," he said. "Everyone knows who we are."

"Diggers of the Underground Planet" is a exhibit of photographs and artifacts. It is located in the Bogachev Hall of the Ostrovsky Museum at 14 Ulitsa Tverskaya. Open 11 A.M. to 6:30 P.M. daily except Monday. Tel. 229-8552. Nearest metro: Tverskaya.