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Fairy-Tale Ending: Russian School Finally Gets Its 'Antiterrorism' Fence

Former regional lawmaker Arkady Vasilyev and union leader Ulyana Mikhailova ceremonially open a fence at a Pskov school that is meant to protect students from a terrorist attack.

PUSHKINSKIYE GORY, Russia -- A Pskov school's new "antiterrorism" fence looks like one of the three little pigs built it -- and not the smart one.

But the rickety stockade erected last month out of donated scrap lumber turned out to be worth 2.14 million rubles ($37,700).

That's the amount local authorities finally allocated after seven years of requests from the school administration for funds to build a security fence in order to bring the public facility into compliance with federal law.

"The idea with the scrap lumber was pure genius," said Pskov Oblast lawmaker Lev Shlosberg, of the liberal Yabloko party. "They squeezed the money for their fence [from the government]."

Regeional lawmaker Lev Shlosberg (file photo)
Regeional lawmaker Lev Shlosberg (file photo)

But that's really just the end of the story.

The tale began in 2011 when the Pushkinskye Gory boarding school for children susceptible to tuberculous received a letter from the regional court "about the necessity of taking measures for the antiterrorism security of the facility." Specifically, the court ordered the school to build a perimeter fence at least 1.6 meters high along its entire 830-meter property line.

The school promptly applied to local authorities to fund the wall, but the regional legislature balked. Ironically, from 2011 to 2016, the school's director, Arkady Vasilyev, was a lawmaker himself from the ruling United Russian party. Each year that he was in office, he dutifully voted for a regional budget that ignored his own school's request.

Threat Of Prison And A Fine

Meanwhile, each year, Vasilyev applied to the regional court for an extension on the implementation of the order, and each year his request was granted.

And each year the school stood, unprotected. In fact, although it is located in a small provincial town, the school is in a fairly high-traffic area because it is just a stone's throw from the grave of the patron saint of Russian literature, Aleksandr Pushkin.

Arkady Vasilyev,
Arkady Vasilyev,

In December, the court's patience ran out and rejected the appeal for another extension. On December 22, marshals appeared at the school with a demand that a fence appear within a month. If Vasilyev failed to comply, he faced up to two years in prison and a 200,000-ruble ($3,500) fine.

Desperate, Vasilyev turned to the community for help. Local businessman Gennady Nikolayev came through, giving the school all the bark-trimmings that they needed from his lumberyard. School staff spent several days delivering the scraps with the school's old Gazel delivery van. Then they built the rickety fence themselves. One of the builders was local union leader Ulyana Mikhailova, who herself was also elected a United Russia regional lawmaker in 2011.

Dedication Ceremony

The school then held an ironic dedication ceremony on February 13, featuring Vasilyev and Mikhailova snipping a red ribbon that seemed to be the only thing holding the fence upright. The goal was to get the images to go viral and shame the authorities into coughing up the money.

"We sincerely hope that a proper evaluation of our activities by society will help the directors of many educational or health facilities to recognize their executive role in the budget process and to more actively demand from the authorities the funds needed for them to carry out their mandated functions," Mikhailova said at a press event following the ribbon cutting.

School staff spent several days building the protective fence themselves.
School staff spent several days building the protective fence themselves.

Vasilyev emphasized that the wooden construction was a "forced, temporary measure."

"We understand this is not a completely proper fence, and we knew that when we built it," he said. "It is temporary and I think that within two or three months we'll get a new, proper fence."

And the stunt worked. The regional government has already sent the school 2,140,000 rubles for a metal fence, and a tender is under way.

"By the end of the spring, we hope that we'll have a fence that isn't made of scrap lumber but is the real thing," Vasilyev told RFE/RL.

Federal-Local Disconnect

Although the fence dispute may be resolved, the school's woes continue. It owes the local utilities company nearly 5 million rubles ($88,000).

The story of the Pushkinskiye Gory fence is not unique, lawmaker Shlosberg said.

"It's a classic example of how the state establishes standards at the federal level but does not provide a single ruble from the federal budget for meeting those standards," he said. "And then along comes a federal enforcement agency and they start issuing warnings, including fines."

In 2016, a school in the Pskov Oblast town of Slopygino faced the same problem. School director Lyubov Zhiltsova told RFE/RL that the authorities told them to put up some fence posts and fill the space between them with scrap wood.

"But we refused," she told RFE/RL. "After all, it isn't a corral for livestock."

The school appealed to local businesses for help, and some wire mesh and concrete fence posts were donated and the school put up the fence itself. In order to do so, however, with the donated materials, the school had to surrender its playground, which now lies outside the reduced perimeter.

When the fence was finished, Zhiltsova recalled, local officials paraded to the site to have their photographs taken with the new local improvement.

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