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Media-Savvy Mayor Of Magadan Becomes A Meme

Local artist Grigory Sychev is using clever graffiti to cast doubt on the Magadan Mayor Yury Grishan's assertions that his administration has spared no effort to repair the city's most dangerous and unsightly corners.

MAGADAN, Russia -- It isn't unusual to see the face of the mayor plastered all over towns in the Russian provinces. But the portraits of Mayor Yury Grishan that have appeared in recent days in the Far Eastern city of Magadan probably aren't the kind of promotion he wants.

The mayor's face has appeared in stenciled graffiti at some of the most rundown locations in the city along with the enigmatic text, "You don't go there, Anton" and the mayor's username on the social-media site Twitter.

The street art is the brainchild of local artist Grigory Sychev, who is casting doubt on Grishan's assertions that his administration has spared no effort to repair the city's most dangerous and unsightly corners.

"Maybe in this way he'll at least see the real problems in the city, since it appears that he observes the situation through Twitter," Sychev told RFE/RL.

Like many locals in Magadan, the 60-year-old Grishan is the son of people who were repressed and exiled to the gulag labor camps under dictator Josef Stalin. He has served as mayor since 2015 and was previously deputy mayor starting in 2004.

Grishan is also an avid Twitter user has gained a reputation for actively engaging with his critics online.

On May 14, local blogger Anton Afanasyev wrote on Twitter: "In 2016, the mayor's office spent a good deal of money on repairs to Berzin Street, but I don't see any result except for some dug-up paving stones." To which Grishan replied with the now-gaining-fame phrase, "You don't go there, Anton."

Shortly afterward, Magadan's pothole-pitted streets, impromptu garbage dumps, and unkempt green spaces that look like wildlife preserves began sporting Sychev's graffiti -- and the mayor's face.

Sychev's protest caught Afanasyev by surprise, but he hopes it will focus attention on a serious issue.

"My attitude is that this graffiti could somehow influence the mayor's office of Magadan and it will begin to work on improving the city," he told RFE/RL. "To be honest, there is plenty of this work to do in Magadan. But I'm not prepared to evaluate Mayor Yury Grishan's performance overall either positively or negatively so far. He just hasn't been in office long enough."

Grishan has initially responded to the protest on Twitter with humor. When one user tagged him on a photo of a puddle-specked parking expanse of broken pavement featuring the graffiti, Grishan wrote back: "Excellent! I used to have to pay money for this. Now it is free. Thank you, guys. Thank you, Anton."

In an interview with local media published on August 9, Grishan wrote that he is prepared to give Afanasyev an itinerary of locations in the city where the mayor's office has been working. However, he said the mayor's office appreciates Afanasyev's input.

"We listen to everyone resident of Magadan," Grishan said.

Sychev said he has been questioned by authorities, who accused him of vandalism because of his graffiti.

"I responded by asking them what these concrete blocks and abandoned garages where I post [my art] have to do with the beautification of the city," he said. "They agreed that these things aren't municipal property, but they told me that they are going out every day and taking photographs for their reports. But it ended with them telling me not to paint on residential buildings."

He added, however, that he hasn't seen any significant results of his campaign.

"Anton Afanasyev started by mentioning Berzin Street," he told RFE/RL. "That is practically next to my house and I haven't seen any work there since 2003. But at the same time [officials] always say that everything is fine and beautiful here. I don't think that is right. I don't know which areas they are repairing. Apparently, I don't go there."

Written by RFE/RL senior correspondent Robert Coalson on the basis of reporting by RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Andrei Grishin