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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Matviyenko Failing the Snow Test

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Finding myself outdoors on Monday afternoon after the first big snowfall in St. Petersburg this winter, I had to jump over numerous deep puddles. I soon realized that if I wanted to get safely to the nearest cafe for lunch, I would need flippers and a helmet: the flippers to speed me through the pools of water, the helmet in case of accidents caused by big piles of snow falling from roofs.

Later that day, I thought of another item of clothing I was missing: chemical warfare overalls. Cars splashed me three times in a row, covering me with dirty melting snow while I was trying to cross Ploshchad Truda on my way home.

When I got there and looked in the mirror, it struck me that this was the first time in a long time that I had seen a coal miner in the flesh.

It would be impolite to repeat the words that came to mind regarding St. Petersburg's new governor, Valentina Matviyenko. Given that it was only a day after my return from Britain, the words were four letters long and rather colorful.

St. Petersburg hit a low point this week. City Hall failed to clear even St. Isaac's Square of snow. I can't remember that not having been done when the city was ruled by Anatoly Sobchak or Vladimir Yakovlev. Matviyenko is a pioneer in this respect.

City Hall's maintenance committee representatives say that more than 700 snow-clearing vehicles were on city streets Monday. I saw one on my way home that was not actually clearing the street but just spreading melting snow around, making the puddles even bigger.

"Oh, that's why City Hall has said it is ready for the winter season," I thought, looking at a snow-clearing vehicle passing by. Although I don't understand why I saw only one such machine in my 20-minute walk home -- surely there should have been more. After all, City Hall authorities said only 30 percent of snow-clearing vehicles broke down shortly after they started work Monday morning.

Some people have already suffered from this half-hearted approach to clearing the streets.

On Monday, a mere 48 St. Petersburg citizens injured their legs, arms and backbones after falling on the ice, 33 of them being hospitalized, according to local media reports.

On Oct. 27, Vladimir Dedyukhin, head of the maintenance committee, who has kept the post he held under the previous administration, informed Matviyenko that 1,699 snow-clearing vehicles were ready to start clearing city streets as soon as snow started falling. That was 10 percent more than last year, he added.

This inspired Matviyenko to suggest that the snow-clearing service should work around the clock. It looks like her inspired suggestion has only been partially realized.

I could give Matviyenko the benefit of the doubt, knowing that her experience lies in social issues such as pensions and state employees' salaries (she never had to deal with snow in the corridors of the Kremlin), but I won't.

The reason is that Dedyukhin, the person appointed by her to be responsible for snow clearance, has been in charge for years and was described by the new governor as an experienced manager, along with several other officials who retained their committee chairmanships following Matviyenko's election.

On Monday, we saw the first sign that the "new" city government won't work any better than its predecessors, and may be even worse.

If snow in winter is so unexpected for Matviyenko, how will she manage the city in general?

Vladimir Kovalyev is a staff reporter for The St. Petersburg Times.