TV News in Russia – Kemerov and Telegram – April, 2018

How the News is Reported in Russia
Special Edition: Kemerov and Telegram
April 2018

This month’s TV News in Russia looks at how the aftermath of the Kemerov Winter Cherry Mall tragedy occurred on March 25. The next Sunday, April 1, most of the major Sunday news broadcasts carried heavy coverage of the aftermath of the event with heavy emphasis on what was being done at the federal level, the replacement of the regional governor, and widespread inspections of similar businesses being held across Russia. Many of the reports were surprisingly negative – although by the next Sunday, coverage had all but disappeared. Other events covered in this month’s edition include the attempts to block Telegram, which caused up to a billion dollars in collateral damage for other Russian businesses as internet service was disrupted across Russia. We also cover the coverage of the launch of the Mikhael Lomonosov, the world’s first floating nuclear power station.

According to a 2016 poll by the independent Levada Center, 80% of Russians view television as their primary source of news. The same Levada poll, however, shows that only 41% trust the news as an objective source of information. The broadcasts sampled here are from Russia’s most-watched channels: First Channel and Russia Channel from the Sunday news reports.

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A Week has Passed since the Terrible Fire in Kemerov Winter Cherry Mall: Tragedy and Investigation

First Channel reports that the tragedy at Kemerovo’s Zimnyaya Vishnya (Winter Cherry) mall stunned all Russians. An investigation of the fire which left 64 people dead and 53 injured has revealed that the Kemerovo authorities had never inspected the mall’s interior. President Putin visited Kemerovo and met with local government and the town mayor. Putin stated at a meeting with local government that “we have lost so many people…because of criminal negligence, slovenliness.” Later, it was revealed that some local officials were invested in the mall, including the son of the head of the local Gosstroinadzor construction inspecting authority. The mall owners paid very low salaries and thus were not able to retain guards. Instead, the fire alarm system was left in dysfunction and security was kept by locking doors in violation of the fire code. Vladimir Putin stated at the meeting that he when he hears how many people died, he wants “not just cry, but howl” and requested the heads of law-enforcement authorities to give a legal assessment to the actions of every person involved. The channel reports that governor of Kemerovo region resigned soon after the tragedy, and his first deputy Sergey Tsivilev was appointed by President Putin as interim governor.

In Russia, Five Times More People Die in Fires than in the USA; Ten Times More than in Germany

First Channel reports that the death toll from fires in Russia in 2017 was 7,782 people. For comparison, in the USA, one person per 100,000 people dies on fires, in Germany – one person per 200,000, while in Russia, such death toll is five people per 100,000. The channel reports that the recent inspection revealed major flaws in the fire safety systems in all inspected malls. These flaws often included locked fire exits, flammable materials used in interiors, low quality construction and fire alarm systems that don’t meet standards. The channel quotes a professor of the State Fire Service Academy Vladimir Roitman as saying that 200,000 fires occur in Russia every year, with a death toll of 15,000 people, while in the USA, 1,500,000 fires happen per year, with death toll of 3,000 people.

Indifference, Negligence and Bribery Contribute to Tragedy No Less than Locked Fire Exits

First Channel states that no lessons were learned from the tragic night club fire in Perm eight years ago, where 156 people died. The fire in the Kemerovo mall happened for the same reasons: indifference and negligence. First Channel quotes Anna Federmesser, the Director of the Palliative Care Center for the Moscow City Health Department, as saying that in Russia, there is a vicious system of decision making, when decisions are made by the top boss, and all other people do not want to be held responsible, avoiding taking responsibility. In a man-on-the-street interview with a woman who works in a kindergarten, the woman state that she can’t understand why people, such as the owners of the Kemerovo mall, focusing on making as much money as possible, neglecting everything else. “Something has broken inside us, got covered in dust”, she states.

Governor Bows to Will of Kemerovo Residents, New Governor Promises to Develop Region

Russia Channel quotes President Putin as saying at a meeting with the Investigations Committee Head that the fire in the Kemerovo mall should be investigated with maxim objectivity and transparency, and all possibilities should be checked. Vladimir Putin states that such questions must be answered, as “why the fire alarm was not functioning for a week, why the fire exits were locked, and why toxic materials had been used in the mall interior.”

On April 1, President Putin approved the resignation of longtime Kemerovo governor Aman Tuleev, and appointed deputy governor Sergey Tsivilev as interim governor. In a TV address to Kemerovo residents, Aman Tuleev stated that “I have done everything I could. I have met with the families of the people who died, I tried to solve the issues of helping them.” Sergey Tsivilev also made a TV address, saying that he will do everything possible to “severely punish” those responsible. Also, the interim governor promised to support the families of fire victims, and to develop the economy of Kemerovo region and improve the well-being of its people.

Putin Responded in Tough Way to Kemerovo Incident

Russia Channel quoted emotional statements by President Putin during his visit to Kemerovo on March 27, “What is happening here? These are not combat actions, not methane emission. People came to relax, children…We speak about our demographic problem, and yet we lose so many people. And because of what? Because of criminal negligence, because of slovenliness. The doors were closed. This is outrageous! Even if the fire hadn’t occurred. And with the fire, I don’t know what it is! In past history, there were gas chambers. It turns out, that this is a very similar situation because people suffocated. An investigation team will work on this, one hundred people. They will go through the whole chain, starting from with those who gave permission to those in charge of monitoring security, private security firms, those who were sitting there and did not press the button in time. From the moment of the re-registration of the building and the issuance of permits,” said the President, referring to the fact that the mall re-registered itself as a “small business” to avoid the inspections it would have otherwise been subject to.

Head of Investigations Committee Alexander Bastrykin, who arrived in Kemerovo on March 31, states that there are two main versions of the fire: faulty wiring or arson. Some people have been detained: the mall director, the technical director of the mall’s parent company, the head of the company which had installed the fire protection system, the mall guard on duty at the time, and the head of the confectionary plant which owns the building. They all deny their guilt.

Heroes Told How They Rescued Visitors of Winter Cherry Mall

Russia Channel reports about the details of the tragedy in Winter Cherry Mall, quoting Igor Vostrikov, the man who lost his wife, three children and step-sister in the fire.  Three minutes after the fire started, dense and acrid smoke filled the mall. Some man (who survived the fire) decided to lock the door of the movie theater room from inside, covering all the slots with clothes so that smoke could not penetrate inside. Rescue workers found an unconscious man on fourth floor, put on a special mask on him and carried outside.” Mall visitor Dmitry Polukhin managed to rescue three little children: a boy and two girls. Some people found their way to the roof of the mall building. Later, they were evacuated by a crane. Before that, some people jumped out of the windows.

The main task of the investigators and rescue workers is to learn a lesson from the tragedy, so that similar situations could never happen again.

Checks of Safety: No Way to Neglect Any More

Russia Channel states that Russian people are longing for changes after the Kemerovo tragedy; first of all, they want changes in society’s attitude to issues of safety and especially to its tolerance of neglect. According to Russia Channel, the recent unscheduled inspections of the malls revealed major flaws, such as a not-functioning fire alarm in a mall in Rostov. The malls need new, up-to-date fire alarm systems which are produced in Russia, and much stricter control is required, to avoid such situations whereby malls operate under fake documents. Such was the case in the Admiral Mall fire, where 19 people died in fire in 2015, Russia Channel states.

PR and Money: Shady Politicians and Bloggers Got Hype in Full

Russia Channel reports that some people took advantage of the Kemerovo tragedy, using it for attracting more visitors to their blogs. Ukrainian pranker Evgeny Volnov called the Kemerovo morgues, asking about the capability to accommodate 300 more dead bodies which would be brought in soon. He has been arrested in absentia and put on a wanted list. The rumor about hundreds of victims of the Kemerovo fire, spread around quickly, and some media such as Echo of Moscow radio station and Dozhd TV Channel, picked up the rumor and disseminated it, Russia Channel states.

After Kemerovo Tragedy, Safety Systems Inspections Underway All Over Russia

First Channel reports that The Ministry of Emergency Situations is checking many highly trafficked public areas all over Russia. Inspections of 8,000 places have already taken place, and the findings “are not brilliant,” as staff at 2,000 facilities are not aware what to do if fire occurs, 1,500 facilities have violations in construction materials, and “plenty of other violations” were found.” Meanwhile, new fires continue to occur. On April 4, Moscow’s Persei Mall, which is for children, had a fire in which one person died. On the night of April 5, a fire occurred at a mall in Tyumen. Several malls, markets, and movie theaters have been temporarily closed by authorities because of gross violations of fire safety. First Channel additionally states that the fire safety situation in apartment buildings is far from perfect, which is indicated in reports from different cities of Russia.

Putin Meets with Interim Kemerovo Governor Sergey Tsivilev in Kremlin

First Channel reports that President Putin met with newly appointed interim governor of Kemerovo region Sergey Tsivilev. The President said at the meeting that Sergey Tisvilev took office in an emergency situation, but he should mobilize all the best traits of his personality in order to perform well. In response, the interim governor stated that the Kemerovo authorities are doing their best not to have tragedies similar to the deadly fire in the mall in the future.

Tagansky Court in Moscow Issued Verdict to Block Telegram Messenger

Commenting on the verdict of Moscow’s Tagansky Court authorizing blocking Telegram messenger by the Russian communications regulator Roskomnadzor, First Channel states that the problem about Telegram is the option of encoding messages, which is used not only by law-abiding citizens, but also by terrorists. As an example, the people who arranged the blast in St. Petersburg metro in 2017, used Telegram. The Federal Security Service requested keys for decoding from Telegram owner Pavel Durov, in order to be able to read correspondence between terrorists, if necessary, and Durov refused to do so. Telegram will be able to resume its work in Russia, if the decoding keys are provided, First Channel states.

Roskomnadzor and Telegram: The Game of Tag Continues

Russia Channel reports that the special services had complaints about Telegram after they learned that the plotters of the terrorist attack in St. Petersburg metro in 2017 had used Telegram for coordinating their actions. After Telegram management refused to share the decoding keys with the Russian special services, the process to block the messenger started, which caused difficulties in accessing many other websites and online services. The Channel states that Telegram is “using modes to bypass the blocking,” and Roskomnadzor continues its efforts on blocking it. Earlier, it had already blocked LinkedIn website, Russia Channel reports.

Advisor to the Russian President on the issues of Internet, German Klimenko said in an interview that all the states would be building virtual borders, as when the Internet started, nobody had an idea of the implications. Klimenko believes that there will be less room for anonymity online in the future.

The World’s First Floating Power Unit of Nuclear Power Station, The Mikhail Lomonosov, Sets Sail to Chukotka via Murmansk

First Channel reports that the first floating power energy unit left St. Petersburg for Murmansk, where it will be filled with nuclear fuel, and then it will depart for northernmost town of Russia, port Pevek, next summer. The unit will replace the nuclear power station there which is to be decommissioned at the end of its service life. The new nuclear power unit is environmentally friendly, has high energy production capacity and is a good example of Russia’s technological achievements, the channel states.

Russia Channel gave a similar report but emphasized that the floating nuclear power station has the capability to power a town of 100,000 people. The station requires minimum maintenance: dock works are needed only once every 12 years. After the floating nuclear power station is put into operation in 2019, its performance will demonstrate how many such floating stations will be required for the whole country, Russia Channel reports.

About the Author

Andrei Nesterov

Andrei Nesterov has reported on political and social issues for the Russian press as well as American outlets such as Russian Life,, and Triangle Free Press. He has travelled Russia extensively and penned many stories on the "real Russia" which lies beyond the capital and major cities. Andrei graduated from Ural State University (journalism) and Irkutsk State Linguistic University (English). He studied public policy and journalism at Duke University on a Muskie Fellowship and went on to study TESOL and teach Russian at West Virginia University. He is currently working on an MA from St. Petersburg State in International Relations. Andrei contributes news, feature stories, and language resources to the SRAS site, and is an overall linguistics and research resource. He additionally helps coordinate activities for our students in Moscow.