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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Flower Sellers Busted In Women's Day Raid

Ah, the sights of March 8, International Women's Day: a stern police officer sticking a bouquet of snowdrops into the face of a visibly shaken old man at a Moscow outdoor market; environmental activists volunteering their time to search and seize crocuses from the luggage of recent arrivals at the city's Kursky Station.

Once again, March 8 dawned with city police and environmental activists teaming up to crack down on the selling of flowers f or at least, those flowers listed as endangered or rare.

The trade in endangered flower species begins in mid-February and peaks on March 8 every year, when Russian men buy bouquets by the ton to congratulate the fair sex with their day.

Thousands of snowdrops, crocuses and cyclamen f to name three species listed in the Russian Red Book of rare and endangered species f are uprooted from the forests of Crimea and the Caucasus and smuggled into Moscow in boxes to be sold.

The city police, environment officials and volunteers have already confiscated some 15,000 bouquets of snowdrops since mid-February.

This is a third of what they netted last spring f and since it suggests the smugglers are learning to be frightened, that's progress, said Mikhail Kreindlin, senior inspector with the city's ecological inspectorate.

"It is a kind of a victory for us all," said Kreindlin, who has been combing the city for snowdrops sellers with a small army of teenage volunteers since Feb. 12. "All these smugglers have finally realized that they can seriously lose it all here."

The teen vigilantes often encounter resistance when trying to confiscate flowers and, therefore, prefer to roam the city jointly with patrols of the city's ecological police.

But not even the Moscow police can ensure that smugglers caught rare-flowers-in-hand will pay fines: most of the smugglers are citizens of Ukraine, and no fines can be collected from them in Russia.

"They know we can't really do anything to them except to confiscate [their flowers], so they just keep on coming," said lieutenant Igor Kondromashin of the city's ecological police, who has in recent days been patrolling Moscow streets with Kreindlin's team.

A bouquet of snowdrops can be purchased for about 3 rubles (13 cents) in Crimea and sold for 15 rubles or more in Moscow. This is "huge money" for Crimea's impoverished population and "some just can't think of any other way to feed their families," Kondromashin said.

Yet neither Kreindlin nor his teenage assistants have any mercy for those they catch selling species that have been driven close to extinction by years of ruthless collection.

"Sometimes I feel sorry for some babushka who is merely trying to make a few rubles to buy food," Kondromashin said. "I might even let such a woman go. But not these teenagers. They are like bull terriers f they bite into the heel and then work their way up to the very throat."