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Russian Firewood Initiative Raises A Burning Question

A charity drive to collect donations for firewood for poorer households has set the Russian Internet alight.
A charity drive to collect donations for firewood for poorer households has set the Russian Internet alight.

A simple Russian-language Google search for "Russian gas supplies" ( retrieves headlines about Russia being the only country "able to provide Ukraine with gas," about "Europe being unable" to cope without Russian gas, and about Russian preparedness "to provide gas for Ukraine's occupied Donbas."

Russia is, after all, the world's second-largest producer of natural gas.

So some in the country reacted with incredulity to a Russian TV report about a charity in Tver, some 200 kilometers north of Moscow, which is collecting donations to buy firewood so that 116 village households can survive the winter.

With no gas lines in some swaths of Russia, residents must heat their homes the old-fashioned way: by burning wood in their fireplaces or Russian ovens. According to the Give Firewood initiative, the sponsor of the project, one truckload of wood worth 5,000-6,000 rubles ($80-97) should be enough to heat a household for an entire winter.

Among villagers the charity says need help are elderly people who live alone, large families, and people with disabilities. "For those who live in a village and have no money to buy firewood, winter turns into a struggle for survival," claims the initiative's website.

A special report on Russia's state-run Channel One featured volunteers delivering the wood to elderly recipients. Some houses are in shambles, with walls covered in yellow stains -- apparently from humidity and age. One woman's monthly pension is equivalent to one truckload of firewood, so she says she has to save money throughout the year to heat the house in the winter.

Russian government critic and anticorruption activist Aleksei Navalny said he initially thought a tweet about the story by Channel One -- a station that has given unflinchingly flattering coverage to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his policies -- must have been a joke.

"Somewhere in between news reports about the greatness of the country under the guidance of a wise ruler and about an entire population in union demanding to send troops to Ukraine and Syria, [the TV channel] is involved in this charity event," Navalny wrote on his blog.

The opposition leader, whose investigations recently revealed a $620,000 pricetag on Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov's watch and the estimated cost of Peskov's purported honeymoon on a luxurious yacht, the Maltese Falcon, suggested an easier way for the government to help the needy stay warm in winter.

Navalny estimated that Peskov's watch could have bought 7,400 truckloads of firewood, and one week's vacation aboard the Maltese Falcon yacht could buy 5,200 truckloads.

Other social-media users reacted to the initiative with similar dismay.

"It is certainly cool, talking about the unprecedented power of Russia, as great as ever, despite there being a Give Firewood initiative," wrote a woman from Moscow.

Some Twitter users quipped that oil refinery Rosneft CEO and close Putin ally Oleg Sechin must be thinking about those elderly Russians right now.

Others joked that the Russian president himself had it all under control and had "personally chopped 666,923 cubic meters of high-quality firewood."

The Russian Twittersphere also pointed out that the country's military involvement abroad costs considerably more than the elderly residents of Tver and Smolensk oblasts require.

"The 'Give Firewood' initiative has already collected enough for 14 households! The rockets, launched from the Caspian Sea, cost enough [to provide] firewood for 200,000 households," tweeted one user.

Many revisited a meme from last year:

"2014: Iskander [missiles] are not afraid of sanctions
2015: Give Firewood"

A relatively common Russian conspiracy theory blames U.S. President Barack Obama for events in Russia and beyond, including inciting "color revolutions." He has also -- jokingly -- been blamed for stealing all the firewood from Russia's elderly.

"Give back the firewood, damn it," the woman in this photo demands.

The original tweet of the report by state TV's Channel One about the initiative had 83 retweets. Navalny's calculation about how much firewood Russia's Peskov could buy instead of his watch and vacation had 726 retweets.

The Give Firewood website claims that only 14 impoverished households in Tver and Smolensk oblasts have enough wood to make it through the winter.

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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