A cruel loss

Covid-19 takes the life of Russian anti-nuclear activist at just 40

By Linda Pentz Gunter

It’s hard enough to be an anti-nuclear activist in Russia. As stories on this website have already illustrated, it takes guts and persistence and an immense amount of unwavering integrity.

Some have had to flee the country for their own safety. But one who stayed, and faced the intimidation and arrests, was Rashid Alimov from Greenpeace Russia. 

Now a more deadly force has taken Alimov, at just 40 years old, when he succumbed on December 17, 2020 to covid-19.

Portrait of Rashid Alimov, from his Facebook page

Exactly one year earlier, Alimov had stood in protest “in the center of Saint Petersburg (see headline picture). Later the same day, two police officers together with six other people without uniform detained Alimov in front of his house. He then faced charges and a substantial fine. Charges were later dropped,” wrote the Russian Social Ecological Union in their report and our article, Standing up to Rosatom.

A journalist, before he became an activist, Alimov helped found the Russian-language environmental magazine, Ecology and Rights, before joining Greenpeace.

“Among his major contributions was a series of articles and working papers on remotely positioned radioactive batteries used in navigation beacons, called RTGs, thousands of which were left abandoned after the fall of the Soviet Union – posing lethal hazards in Russia’s polar regions,” wrote Bellona’s Charles Digges in a tribute to Alimov.

“The strontium-90 at their core risked becoming fruit for terrorists and their irradiated metal often turned up in the hands of scavengers who sold their finds in public markets.”

Digges noted that Alimov “was always the public’s advocate” and that “It’s not often that an entire Russian region owes a debt of gratitude to a single reporter, but in Rashid’s case, it’s true. He will be sorely missed.”

As a lead spokesperson for Greenpeace on the lapses and dangers in Russia’s nuclear sector, Alimov “frequently led expeditions to some of the former Soviet Union’s most contaminated sites – Chernobyl in Ukraine, and Mayak, Russia’s major nuclear fuel reprocessing site in the southern Urals. While there, he took samples and sounded the alarm on behalf of local citizens,” Digges wrote.

Rashid Alimov (left) with Vladimir Slivyak of Ecodefense, during an April 2016 presentation. (Photo: Rashid Alimov Facebook page)

And, with the advent of floating reactors, Alimov led the charge against plans to fuel the Akademik Lomonosov, Russia’s controversial floating nuclear plant, at the Baltic Shipyard, located in central St Petersburg and its population of 5 million,” said the Bellona article. “Because of that, the fueling operations were transferred to Atomflot, Russia’s nuclear icebreaker port in Mumansk.”

Now, the outpourings of grief and disbelief continue at the loss of a life so vibrant and yet so cruelly cut short. 

“Слов нет, мозг отказывается верить… No words, the brain refuses to believe…” wrote Fedor Maryasov at the loss of his friend and colleague. Maryasov, also a journalist, was the 2020 winner of the Nuclear Free Future Award in the category of Resistance alongside lawyer, Alexey Talevlin.

“Our Russian ‘environmental human rights and anti-nuclear’ family has huge grief.. It is impossible to believe because the name.. Rashid Alimov and ′died′ are incompatible,” wrote Nadezhda Kutepova on Facebook.

“I can’t understand this yet. No, no, no, no…” Kutepova was forced into exile in 2015 after years of campaigning for the rights of Mayak victims (she shared the NFFA Resistance award in 2011 with Chernobyl liquidator, Natalia Manzurova).

“We collaborated for almost 15 years. Together we took part in pickets, actions, conferences, press conferences”, wrote Oleg Bodrov, chairman of the Public Council of the South Coast of the Gulf of Finland on a tribute page in Russian. 

“Just 3 months ago we were together in an ecological bicycle action along the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland. The world has become poorer and harsher with your departure, Rashid!” (Bodrov won the NFAA Education award in 2010.)

“One of his last campaigns was against the import of nuclear waste from Germany,” Kutepova wrote. “AND HOW MANY things he did for the Mayak victims. The imperceptible hero of our time.”

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