Russian Activist's House Burns Down After Protest Against Deforestation

VERKH-BIYISK, Russia -- The home of a Russian activist has been burned down in what he suspects was an arson attack in retaliation for his opposition to deforestation in the Altai Republic in southern Siberia.

Vladimir Shvetsov's wooden house in the village of Verkh-Biyisk was completely destroyed by fire on February 18.

Speaking to reporters, Shvetsov linked the incident with a February 13 demonstration in which he and others protested the felling of 100-year-old conifers in the region. A neighbor and fellow activists said opponents of the deforestation have been threatened.

The protest was held outside the office of President Vladimir Putin's envoy to Siberia in the city of Novosibirsk.

Shvetsov's neighbor Olga Toruchak, who is also an anti-deforestation activist, told RFE/RL that everybody in the village believes the overnight fire was an arson attack.

"Thanks to the dogs, who started barking, Vladimir woke up and managed to get out of the house in time, saving himself and his little dog. His two cats died in the fire," Toruchak said.

"Those who own the land and those who are involved in the deforestation did not like our protests," she said. "They have openly threatened us, saying they will bring people with assault rifles to shoot everyone, especially Shvetsov, who impede their activities."

Toruchak said the activists will continue their protests against cutting old pine trees in the area.

"Of course, our people are shocked by the fire but I think nobody will manage to frighten us," she said.

Since January, local residents held three rallies in the region protesting the deforestation. The next protest is scheduled for February 24.

With reporting by MBK.Media