WATCH: Environmental activists attempting to stop the felling of trees in Khimki Forest clashed with private security guards on May 5.
KHIMKI, Russia -- Warmer weather is returning to Moscow. But the sounds in the suburban Khimki Forest aren't the twitter of birds or the rush of spring freshets.
Instead, the forest is full of the roar of machinery, the crash of falling trees, and the chanting of protesters:
For years, local activists have been fighting government plans to level about 175 hectares of the 1,000-hectare forest to make way for a section of a new $8 billion highway between the capital and St. Petersburg.
Last night, a few dozen masked men stormed a camp in the forest that protesters established to have a permanent presence at the construction site. Activists believe the attackers were security guards hired by Teplotekhnik, the company subcontracted to clear the trees.
Three activists were injured, two seriously, says Yevgenia Chirikova, the leader of the Defenders of Khimki Forest protest group.
"About 20 people in civilian clothes together with security guards attacked us," Chirikova said. "One of our activists had his head cracked with a skull fracture. He has a concussion."
She said that another activist managed to take photographs of five men who allegedly attacked him early this morning, adding that the protesters will post the photographs on the Internet.Under Cover Of Darkness
Protesters established the camp after Russian Greenpeace activists on the night of May 4-5 captured video footage
of bulldozers and other heavy equipment clearing land in the forest under the cover of darkness.
Activists were able to stop the felling of trees last night after State Duma Deputy Gennady Gudkov of the A Just Russia party appeared on the scene.
For its part, Teplotekhnik and Avtodor, the company overseeing highway construction, maintain that protesters set fire to some construction equipment. Avtodor deputy CEO Sergei Kalbakh said he has no information about the attack on the camp.
"I don't know anything about any attack by security guards or by any unknown people," he said. "I know that the site manager is busy clearing the area. Also, the equipment is being protected by security guards. Yes, there are hired security guards, particularly since, if I'm not mistaken, the night before last someone tried to set equipment on fire and damage it. Honestly speaking, I have no knowledge of anyone being beaten."
Kelbakh added that the firm has all the necessary documents to proceed with the removal of the trees and is acting legally.
The protesters are organizing a mass rally on May 8 in the town of Khimki.
Meanwhile, the Defenders of Khimki Forest face an inquiry by the Federal Information Technologies and Mass Media Inspectorate following a complaint by the Khimki city administration.
The administration -- which supports the highway construction and has long resisted the protesters -- claims that the group's leaflet, "Khimkinskaya Pravda Live," is an illegal, unregistered mass media outlet.written in Prague by RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson, based on reporting from Khimki by RFE/RL's Russian Service