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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FACES & VOICES: One Holdout Fights Goliath For His Home




To Moscow's voracious property developers, Yevgeny Filatov is an obstinate and irritating little man. Others might call him a hero for resisting intimidation and standing up for his home, his heritage and his rights.


Yevgeny lives at 5 Molochny Pereulok, or Milky Lane, so called because cattle from the Zachatevsky Monastery used to graze in meadows where the street runs. An aroma of chocolate from the Krasny Oktyabr candy factory fills the air.


But the district is overshadowed by the giant bronze statue of Peter the Great, arguably Mayor Yury Luzhkov's most tasteless erection, and glass and concrete office blocks are going up all around.


Living in the wooden house that his great-grandfather built, Yevgeny is the last private householder in this area of prime real estate. He is resisting attempts by the developers to move him to a soulless flat in the suburbs.


Last week he invited me to the house that has, over the years, welcomed famous Russian artists as well as nurturing Yevgeny in his career as a painter. The living room was hung with animal skins and his dark, swirling fairy-tale landscapes.


Yevgeny took out a folder containing samples of antique lace. His great-grandfather, Siegfried Thal, a Baltic German, had been a lace merchant. From the profits of the trade, he bought a piece of land in 1912 and built the eight-room house.


After the Bolshevik Revolution, Herr Thal fled to Germany, but the rest of the familystayed behind. Yevgeny's grandmother, Margaretha Siegfriedovna, lived in the house until the age of 99. Her daughter Veronika married Mikhail Filatov, and they had their children here. Yevgeny was born and brought up on Milky Lane.


The fact that the family never left the house means their claim to it is clear.


In Soviet times, the family had to share their home with dozens of people. It became a giant kommunalka, or communal apartment, in which residents were squeezed in, four to a room. But, as numbers on the housing list came down, the neighbors went joyfully to new, self-contained apartments. Only Yevgeny rejected the offer of a modern box and stood in the way of the house's demolition.


In the Gorbachev era, Yevgeny was summoned to court to receive an eviction order. "The judge was very kind," he said. "She whispered in my ear that if I appeared at the hearing, she would have no choice but to order me to leave. She advised me not to turn up, and so I played that delaying game."


Now, ironically, it is Yevgeny who wants to go to court. The Iron Curtain has come down, Russia has joined the civilized world, and an unfair decision by a Russian court could, in theory at least, be reviewed by international judges.


The developers, preferring to avoid a court case, have resorted to dirty tricks. After a number of telephone threats, Yevgeny's roof was set on fire. Next time, he fears that bandits might come and kill him.


He has no faith in politicians. Hope for the future, he says, lies only in an independent legal system, so that Russia's leaders are not above the law.


Meanwhile, he has a touching trust in the protective power of the press. I tell him sadly of the bag lady who was dragged off to jail despite appearing in this column and worse, of the death row prisoner executed after my visit.


For what it is worth, I have promised to watch over the house on Milky Lane.