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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fight to Save Grove Takes Violent Turn

Furious babushkas, pensioners, mothers and teenagers took on construction workers and police Friday morning in a bid to save a small grove of trees they say is their only respite from surrounding factories.

A continuing dispute between developers and the residents of a 450-apartment complex at 22 Utrennaya Ulitsa turned ugly when construction crews showed up with two busloads of police at about 9:30 a.m.

Residents quickly scurried outside, some still in flimsy housegowns, to form a human barricade around the wooded courtyard, designated by the city for a five-story apartment block.

They said OMON riot police shoved them aside, injuring an elderly woman with a walking stick and roughing up a young woman with a baby. The pensioner was taken by ambulance to a local hospital as a police cameraman filmed the proceedings, they said.

Locals originally planted the grove to provide a small haven from the smoke-belching industry around them, including a nearby chemical factory and an asphalt plant.

"Why can't they find somewhere else? We planted these trees ourselves 30 years ago," said Boris Mikhailov. "The kids will have nowhere to go now."

As workers drove stakes into the ground to cordon off the site, a mob of sturdy babushkas descended on the scene, ripping them out of the ground with gusto.

"The environment here is terrible," shrieked Valentina Bakhvalova, teetering on the brink of hysteria. "We need something to breathe."

At day's end the trees were still standing, but the fence was back in place and patrolled by special guards. The fate of the trees seems sealed.

"I was expecting this to happen," said the project's chief engineer, Vladimir Zherdov, explaining why he had a squad of police in tow.

He said the project has been fully sanctioned by local and city authorities, and that he is just trying to do his job.

Residents contend they have not been properly consulted about the environmental effects of the project as required by city law. They say they have seen only a photocopy of the building plan, and they are worried that the new structure will be too close to existing buildings.

"Nobody is defending our rights," said a frenzied Bakhvalova, who joined the protest in what looked like a nightdress.

"That's just the system that prevails here. We are going to be living on top of each other."

"Yury Luzhkov used to live on this very street before he became mayor," added Natalya Pavlova.

"Now he is allowing 20 new apartment blocks to be built here. Let him remember that his two young sons used to have somewhere to play."

"This is a big city," said a beleaguered Zherdov. "People need somewhere to live. I have nothing to hide."

Residents counter that the new apartment was designed for the wealthy, not to help alleviate Moscow's chronic housing shortage as officials claim.

"They have been advertising the apartments in the paper for two months at $750 per square meter," said one young woman.

The police were reluctant to explain their presence. As a local television crew tried to film them, the officers turned their backs to the camera as the crowd jeered.

Residents of 22 Utrennaya say they intend to continue fighting the development and have a committee to make their case to municipal officials.

Unheard of in Soviet times, such David and Goliath scenarios are on the rise among Muscovites who revere their trees.

Disgruntled residents on Leninsky Prospekt recently prostrated themselves in the path of bulldozers to block the construction of an elite apartment building.

And many were furious when a grove immortalized in Vasily Polenov's 1878 painting "Moscow Courtyard" was logged to make way for a parking garage.

Moscow's tree-lovers can claim at least one notable victory, although it was back in the perestroika era of the 1980s. Residents of Povarskaya Ulitsa near the Arbat managed to save a 200-year-old tree from a construction project.