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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Families Down and Out in Central Moscow

MTSergei Karasyov and his family are living in a garage now that the city government has condemned their building and evicted them from their apartment.
To the casual observer, Sergei Karasyov looks like any one of Moscow's thousands of homeless men -- camouflage clothes, an unshaven face that seems to have been lightly dabbed with mud, and a dark-yellow nicotine stain on the inside of his right forefinger.

But despite his physical appearance, Karasyov, who is blind and confined to a wheelchair, has a home. He just doesn't want to live there.

"This was the home of my father," Karasyov sobbed as he looked at a lime-green, six-story building at 46/2 Mytnaya Ulitsa in central Moscow. Until the city evicted him July 25, this is where Karasyov had lived for decades with his extended family in three separate apartments.

"I told them we had a document saying we could stay until at least Aug. 15, and they told me I could go shit on my document," Karasyov said, reclining next to his wheelchair in the ramshackle tin garage where he and his family have lived since the eviction. "They treated me like a dog."

The Karasyovs are hardly alone. City authorities have been condemning aging apartment buildings in the center for years, evicting their residents and moving them to alternative accommodation, often on the outskirts of the city.

Karasyov's wife, Antonina Karasyova, said the city had informed them they would be resettled in three apartments in the South Butovo district, a former village located five kilometers south of the Moscow Ring Road. "They just loaded up all our possessions in a KamAZ truck and moved them to South Butovo," Karasyova said.

In June, local residents in South Butovo staged a violent protest of their own against City's Halls plans to tear down their houses and resettle them in apartments in the same area. The cleared land was to be used for a luxury apartment development.

The Karasyov clan's decision to camp out in the garage next to the building they call home is part of the latest wave of popular protests over the ever-present kvartirny vopros, or housing issue, in Moscow.

Lawyer David Kozlov's building at 9 Sadovnicheskaya Naberezhnaya, a six-story building erected in 1908, has also been condemned by city authorities. On Thursday, Kozlov and other residents of Moscow's central district will announce the creation of a new organization aimed at pressuring local authorities to stop razing older buildings in the center to make way for high-priced apartments and office space.

Kozlov said the new organization might adopt tactics similar to those used in the South Butovo protests. It might also draw on the experience of a protest outside the White House in May, when hundreds set up tents and rallied against a nationwide real estate scam that left many homeless or penniless, or both.

"Both demonstrations showed how effective united civic action can be in defending one's home and putting [Mayor Yury] Luzhkov in an uncomfortable position," Kozlov said.

Residents of Kozlov's building have also been scheduled for resettlement in new apartments in South Butovo with no financial compensation, he said.

"Real estate in the center is worth five times as much as real estate in that area," Kozlov said. "It's simply not fair."

Kozlov said several thousand apartment owners in central Moscow would swell the ranks of the new organization, which has not yet been given an official name.

Calls to the press office of the city administration went unanswered Monday, but city hall spokesman Sergei Tsoi told Kommersant: "Muscovites have a right to express their opinion. It's normal, and we respect Muscovites' opinions."

But Tsoi called the demands of apartment owners in central Moscow "unjust in relation to other Moscow residents" and "egoism."

"Unfortunately, these situations have often been politicized lately," Tsoi told Kommersant. Third parties with political ambitions were often behind the demonstrations, Tsoi said.

Sheltering in their garage against the rain Tuesday, the Karasyovs said they were going to stay put. "If we go to South Butovo, then that's it. We'll never get out of there," said Karasyov's daughter, Yelena Chereshneva.

Until Tuesday, Chereshneva lived in an apartment in the condemned building on Mytnaya Ulitsa with her husband and two grown children.

"My daughter is living with a friend in the next building over, and my son has a girlfriend, so he's staying with her," she said. "My husband and I are sleeping in our car. But we're going to stay here until we get what we want."