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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Residents Urged to Shed Their Furs

MTA street vendor hawking fur hats as he basks in the midday sunshine last summer at his stand on Vorobyovy Gory.
It may seem a futile request, like asking the French to give up wine or the English tea, but as winter has finally gripped the city, one organization is calling on Muscovites to cast off their furs.

Vita, an animal rights group, is mounting a campaign to convince people that, as the well-known slogan goes, "fur is murder." It has created a hotline to field calls from people eager to give up their furs.

On Feb. 12, the start of maslenitsa, or Shrovetide, when it is customary to begin spring cleaning before Lent, Vita will collect unwanted furs during a noontime rally on Pushkin Square.

Vita director Yelena Maruyeva said the furs would either be destroyed or buried, perhaps in a pet cemetery.

"The aim is to lower the reputation of fur," she said, "to show that fur is not fashionable."

Maria Smolina, 26, said she would be among the first to hand over her fur coat.

"When you wear fur you don't always think of the suffering involved in producing it," said Smolina, an office manager with an environmental NGO and a vegetarian who does volunteer work for Vita.

Vita decided against following the example of PETA -- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals -- in the United States, which collected furs and gave them to the homeless.

"We thought long and hard about this question," Maruyeva said. "But we decided that it was not quite ethical and could cause offense."

Vita says that a number of celebrities have agreed to take part in the rally, including actress Yelena Kamburova and children's poet Grigory Gladkov -- not exactly the A-list celebs that stump for the anti-fur movement in the United States.

"We know from childhood that all animals have souls," said Gladkov, who is most famous for the cartoon "Plastilinovaya Vorona," or "The Play-Doh Crow."

Gladkov is currently writing a poem against fur, which includes the line: "They greet us with a smile and we put them on our heads."

One celebrity who is unlikely to turn up is Ksenia Sobchak, the ubiquitous Russian It girl. Although she once turned up to a fur event with a "Fur Is Murder" sign, Sobchak is regularly seen wearing fur, and appeared in one photo shoot wearing little else. Sobchak hung up when contacted for this article.

Vita maintains that the production of fur coats and hats involves unacceptable cruelty to animals. Its web site provides statistics on the number of animals that die to make a typical coat, depending on the type of fur: 100 to 250 squirrels, 170 chinchillas, 55 minks, 18 otters, 11 badgers or seven mountain lions.

"Many people have heard of the destructive energy of furs and their negative effect on people's health. Owning something that is the result of murder is not recommended by the principles of feng shui," Maruyeva says in a statement posted on the Vita web site.

Vita faces an uphill battle in its bid to convince Russians to do without fur. And some think they're barking up the wrong tree.

"These organizations have a big problem with logic," said Helen Yarmak, one of the country's most famous designers of furs, who has salons in Moscow and New York. "If there were no fur [trade], many regions in Russia would die. Families survive on the fur."

Yarmak said she recently saw some anti-fur activists outside Burberry's in New York. "They looked like zombies from some kind of sect," she said.

Furs are much healthier than artificial materials, and they fill you with a feeling of peace, said Yarmak, whose furs cost from $500 to $400,000 and are made exclusively from wild animals killed by hunters.

Tamara Makarova, deputy director of the Fur Industry Institute, similarly dismissed Vita's chances of success. "Fur is a necessity. Without fur you will freeze," she said.

Maruyeva admits that only a small minority of Russians share her views on the issue, but notes that progress has been made and that public awareness of the need to protect animals' rights is increasing.

"I know that the rally with the burial of furs could meet with misunderstanding and even irritation," musician Alexei Martynov writes in a statement on Vita's web site.

More surprising, Martynov writes, is the fact that many people continue to wear their furs simply because it would be a pity to throw them away. "Nobody thought to use the rack after they had abolished torture just because they had one lying around and felt bad about not putting it to good use."

The unseasonably warm weather that extended into mid-January may have done more to reduce sales of fur coats and hats than any rally ever could.

Makarova said fur sales had "fallen sharply" before the cold weather finally arrived. But she remained optimistic. "Winter is just getting started," she said.