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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Villagers See a Chinese Conspiracy

APYekaterina Vityuk pouring stored drinking water into a bottle in her home in Nizhnespasskoye, on the Chinese border.
NIZHNESPASSKOYE, Khabarovsk Region -- Bad fortune has floated down the river to Yekaterina Vityuk's wooden cottage.

Blocks of ice hide the benzene slick from sight, but the 74-year-old woman, who has lived her whole life on the banks of the mighty Amur River, can't erase it from her mind. She cannot fish, or wash, or invite her relatives for their customary summer vacations.

"The Chinese have poisoned my life," she said with a heavy sigh.

Workers from the Emergency Situations Ministry have set up camp next to Vityuk's village, Nizhnespasskoye, trying to assess the extent of the ecological damage in Russia stemming from a Chinese chemical plant explosion on Nov. 13. They are taking samples at the last water quality monitoring site before Khabarovsk, 70 kilometers to the north.

Every three hours, scientists drill holes in the ice covering the Amur at Nizhnespasskoye and draw water into glass collection bottles suspended on strings. As prosecutors look on, they seal the samples and send them to Khabarovsk for analysis.

"I have nothing comforting to say," said Yevgeny Rozhkov, an engineer from the Far East Meteorological Agency. "Other than benzene and nitrobenzene, we've found chlorine and phenol."

Earlier, Khabarovsk Governor Viktor Ishayev accused China of withholding complete information on the chemicals released in the spill.

Authorities are trying to calm the population and prevent panic. Emergency Situations Ministry workers have been prohibited from speaking with reporters.

The chief psychologist in the Khabarovsk regional public health department, Yelena Panchenko, advises people not to give in to panic.

"There's no need to read the newspapers or watch talk shows," she said on local television. "You need to trust official information and then you'll avoid stress."

The 15 elderly residents of Nizhnespasskoye are frightened and following the situation in their own backyards by watching the main television channels -- all state-controlled.

Alexei Kulov, 63, compared the situation with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, which Soviet authorities covered up for days. "Then the authorities were also reassuring people and saying that nothing terrible had happened," he said.

Still, he said he would not stop fishing in accordance with a ban that authorities have said could last as long as two years.

"Fish smelled like medicine before this, but I ate it and I'm still alive. Anyway, there's nothing else to eat," Kulov said.

Vityuk, in contrast, is taking precautions. She not only collected as much water as she could before the spill arrived, she has also brought her chickens inside the cottage.

"I saved the chickens from the poison," she said.

From the dark streets of Nizhnespasskoye, which does not have a single streetlight, villagers can see the bright, multicolored lights of the Chinese city Fuyuan across the river.

"The Chinese are just waiting for us to die so they can settle on Russian land," said Sergei Pomerantsev, 57, shaking a fist toward the twinkling lights and voicing a widely held conviction here that the Chinese are purposely poisoning Russians. "Every year there are more and more Chinese, and fewer and fewer Russians."