A JOURNALIST OF THE NEWSPAPER "THE KOMSOMOL TRUTH IN BELARUS" BECAME AN EYEWITNESS OF ILLEGAL FELLING OF THE LIVING FOREST (JANUARY, 2003)

Events, facts, documents and evidences: In autumn 2002 mass illegal felling of living pines of old ages was started in many quarters of Belovezhskaya Pushcha (see section "Felling of living Pines of old age"). During autumn and winter 2002 clear cutting was carried out of elite spruce-pine forest of old age, bordering to the area on which numerous trees had been blown down by a huge thunderstorm (see section "Felling of living coniferous forest of old age"). At that time fellings were carried out on scientific permanent plots, which serve scientific monitoring of the processes of forest growth and development of ecosystems, as well (see section "Felling of scientific permanent plots set up for monitoring of the forest").

Alexander Khilimon, a correspondent of the Belarussian newspaper "The Komsomol Truth in Belarus", witnessed these illegal fellings by himself.

The first information in press on the fellings conducted on the living forest in Belovezhskaya Pushcha were published in 2003 by Heorhi KAZULKA ("Belovezhskaya Pushcha: they go on logging it out, on and on and on .", "People's Will", No 2 (1565), January 4, 2003), by Valentina KOZLOVICH "The cutting of best living old-age forest in the National Park "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" is carried out now", BelaPAN, January 4, 2003) and by Yulia DRANCHUK "Belovezhskaya Pushcha: a chance for its survival", "Radio "Racia"", January 10, 2003). After these publications on the adopted management, which contradicts to the national legislation on nature protection, Alexander Khilimon visited "Belovezhskaya Pushcha" National Park in order to verify and confirm the published facts.

Mr. Khilimon did not obtain sanction of the board of the National Park to visit Belovezhskaya Pushcha, since the director did not invite him to talk at all. Nevertheless he was able to visit and travel across the forest reserve thanks to support of the local inhabitants, who testify the ecological crimes of the park's administration. Alexander Khilimon published his observations in the article ""Talibs" are sole managers of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha" in the newspaper "The Komsomol Truth in Belarus" ("The Komsomol Truth in Belarus" Newspaper No8/3, January 17, 2003). It led to a grandiose Belarussian scandal. It was answered by the Property Management Department of the Republic of Belarus with the organisationf of a press-tour for journalists in which the actual situation would be clarified. During the tour an excursion was made to one of the spots on which the forest had been blown down by the huge thunderstorm as well as to some other sites within Belovezhskaya Pushcha. The excursion had been arranged carefully, like its accompanying press conference. However, access to these activities was forbidden to some journalists and local habitants - who had witnessed the illegal fellings of the living forest. The journalists that initiated the press-tour were not authorized to take part in the press-tour, since the Property Management Department of President refused to grant them access ("Excursion of journalists to Belovezhskaya Pushcha under escort ", September 29, 2003; Marat GOREVOI "The ecologist Valery Dranchuk supposes astonishment of the society when it will open the scales of tragedy in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park ", BelaPAN, September 30, 2003; Elena TRIBULEVA "A log in the own eye. What was there shown to journalists from Minsk during their visit to the Belovezhskaya Pushcha?", "The Evening Brest ", No 8, September 31, 2003). Nevertheless, the excursion and the press-tour could not hide the fact that infringements had been made onto the legislation on nature protection. This can clearly be drawn from the contents of the critical articles which most journalists wrote after the press-tour (Anatoly KOZLOVICH "The bark beetle is not patriot", "People's Will", No 20, February 1, 2003; Veronika CHERKASOVA "Do not fell, muzhiks!", "The Byelorussian newspaper", No 371, February 3, 2003; Dasha SOKOLOVA "The bark beetles grow thicker in the depth of the forest", "The Byelorussian market", No 4, February 3, 2003; Marina ZAGORSKAYA "Whose cones are in the forest?", "The Byelorussian business newspaper ", No 13, February 3, 2003; Tatyana ANTONOVE-MEL'YANOVICH "Bark beetles", "Work - 7", No 27 (24219), February 3, 2003 and others.The further development of the situation showed many similarities with the plot of a detective novel.

In a publication entitled "Talibs" attack the word freedom in Belarus and beyond its boundaries" could be read: " . According to our informal sources, the Newspaper "The Komsomol Truth in Belarus" was imposed a financial punishment of the judicial suit with a sum of 40,000 $.". Considering the difficult conditions in which the press and journalists work and the limited scope of the word freedom in Belarus, resulting especially from the current rigid authoritarian control system, such statement is not deprived at the bases. At least, after the publication Alexander Khilimon's article ""Talibs" are sole managers of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha" in "The Komsomol Truth in Belarus" Newspaper ("The Komsomol Truth in Belarus" Newspaper, No 8/3, January 17, 2003) and the appearance of information about probable judicial suit the editorial office of the newspaper immediately made outcomes.

The management of the Newspaper "The Komsomol Truth in Belarus" visited the National Park on invitation its board. They only met the administration of the National Park and a few experts that are "trusted" by the board. Meeting local inhabitants, who have witnessed the illegal fellings, is not part of the visit. After their return they published an article entitled "Have demons moved in the protected forest?", signed by Victor Malishevskiy and Yuliya Slutzkaya ("The Komsomol Truth in Belarus"), No 96/22, May 30, 2003). As a fact the article was nothing more than a refutation of the previous publication of their own correspondent Alexander Khilimon. The article simply reflected the position of the administration of the National Park. "The things we have seen differed in many respects from our former conception." "Within compartment ¹741, which was said to be entirely «felled», nothing indicated any presence of human action, so there is no sense in talking about clear cutting of this forest." "We change one «place of a crime» to another". These are just a few citations from the article mentioned above. It turns out that correspondent Alexander Khilimon, softly speaking, "made mistakes" with his facts and conclusions. It is already attempt upon the reputation of Alexander Khilimon, the professional journalist and simply the respectable and honest man, the man of principle.

Simultaneously with the publication of ""Talibs" attack the word freedom in Belarus and beyond its boundaries" on the website of the "Social-Ecological Union" the editorial office of the Newspaper "The Komsomol Truth in Belarus" addressed to the website of the "Social-Ecological Union" requiring an urgent and immediate removal of the full version of Alexander Khilimon's article "Talibs" are sole managers of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha". It is about half a year after publication of his article and the editors state that the placement was not authorized by them. The editorial staff specified a non-participation in the publication of the discussed article. Henceforth the staff requested to refrain the publication in name of the editorial office; no sanction would be imposed by "The Komsomol thruth of Belarus". This request leads to the assumption amongst the editors of the website of the "Social-Ecological Union" that a series of juicy scenes described by Khilimon displease the high officials which assigned Nickolai Bambiza as the general director of Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park. The scenes compromise Mr. N. Bambiza, for example, by foul language.

In line with the articles and scandal mentioned above a number of facts and proofs are provided here; they do confirm incontestably the correctness of correspondent Alexander Khilimon. Alexander visited the sites on which evil deeds were brought to practice, he saw them, he touched trees that had been cut down illegal and he made photographs of several "scenes of ecological crime".

1 Alexander Khilimon is located on the first picture in scientific permanent plot 7, for forest monitoring, in quarter 741B. He stands on the stump of the cut spruce tree demonstrated on the second picture; both made on October 16, 2002. Close to Alexander, on the right, a spruce with number 9 is growing. To the left young spruces, numbered 6 and 7, are situated. Right of spruce nr 9 a shield is visible far off from the behind. This shield indicates this scientific permanent plot, the quarter 741B, the date at which it has been set up, the forest type, age and structure. The third picture shows the same shield from the front and a stack of gathered fire wood behind it. This third picture was made in July 2002. For more details about the local ecocrime see section "Felling scientific permanent plots set up for monitoring of the forest"

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(Compartment 741, picture 1 - January 05, 2003; picture 2 - October 16, 2002; picture 3 - July 06, 2002)

For what reasons did the editorial office of "The Komsomol Truth of Belarus" not notice similar and obvious infringements, since it wrote (quote): "Within compartment ¹741, which was said to be entirely «felled», nothing indicated any presence of human action, so there is no sense in talking about clear cutting of this forest. Each tree is numbered and the territory protected by fences. ?" The answer is remarkably simple; two scientific permanent plots are located in quarter 741! As can be seen on pictures 2 and 3 the area of the permanent plot situated in sector B of quarter 741 is not fenced. But "The Komsomol Truth in Belarus" newspaper writes ". the territory protected by fences . ". However, the second permanent plot of quarter 741, situated in sector A, is truly fenced off. The forest on that plot (A) exists of oaks, instead of the spruces present in sector B. The permanent plot in sector A has an important educational / tourist function. In the past as well as presently visitors are shown this specific scientific permanent plot; they are shown the achievements of scientists in Belovezhskaya Pushcha, which were true achievements once upon a time.

Picture number four shows the scientific permanent plot with oak situated in quarter 741, sector A. As stated, it has a specific educational function.

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(Compartment 741À, July, 2000, photo by V. Ezhelov)

2 Here Alexander Khilimon witnesses facts near the scientific permanent plot in quarter 742À (the picture 5). He is standing near stacks of timber wood, which are made up of huge pines that were logged alive. These pines are the same trees as those shown on pictures 6, 7 and 8 (for more details on the illegal cutting of these pines see section "Felling living Pines of old age". A part of the trunks of these pines of this stack had yet been taken away to the timber processing plant. But Alexander is touching by his left hand the largest and thickest logs, which so far have not been removed from the forest floor in order to be processed. With his right hand Alexander shows the place on which the pines were cut down (pictures 6, 7 and 8). The same stack with huge pines is shown on picture 9, which was made on October 20, 2002. The trees have been stacked up, but they have not yet been taken out of the forest.

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(Compartment 742, picture 5 - January 05, 2003; pictures 6, 7, 8, 9 - October 20, 2002)

3  Here Alexander Khilimon is standing in scientific permanent plot 38, within quarter 708D (picture 10). He is standing near a stack of timber wood in which logged large living pine trees have been piled up. The second pine from above shows the number 52. It was written on the pines bark with yellow paint. This pine was part of the scientific permanent plot and it was illegally logged by the woodcutters; the concerned felling was the result of the illegal expansion of the clearance of trees on a nearby site, which had become victims of the wind storm (for more details on this illegal felling see section "Felling of living coniferous forest of old age. Picture number 11 shows one more stack build up of living pines. Once again the logged pine on top of the pile shows a yellow number; 105. This tree was also growing on the scientific permanent plot. Alexander Khilimon visited quarter 708 after the illegal logging of the living pine forest had been finished and at that moment the trees had partially been dragged around to build up stacks in preparation of delivery of the timber to the processing plant. Pictures 12 and 13, made December 21, 2003 or three weeks before the visit of Khilimon to Belovezhskaya Pushcha, the same pines are lying in the positions they had after the clear cutting action of shortly before. On the sites where the trees have been felled no single stump of trees blown down by the wind are visible! This incontestably proofs that great numbers standing Pines were felled while they were alive.

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(Compartment 708, pictures 1 and 2 - January 05, 2003; pictures 3 and 4 - December 21, 2002)

Over many years "The Komsomol Truth in Belarus"-newspaper had a prime position as their publications supported the efforts on protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. The editorial office of the newspaper has seen the photographs of Alexander Khilimon which proved the fact that he did not invent the contents of his article and the fact that he actually visited sites on which illegal logging was carried out; it was clear he had seen it by his own eyes. There are people who have actually seen the materials that confirm the illegal fellings and vandalism in Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Others have seen it themselves. However the administration of the National Park threw up all possible barriers to them to contact the journalists, ecologists and commissions during their visit to the National Park. For that reason there are great doubts whether the administration of Belovezhskaya Pushcha would decide to bring a suit to a court against "The Komsomol Truth of Belarus". The judicial process to "The Komsomol Truth of Belarus" would be a huge scandal if all proof and materials would be compromised. It would be an international scandal which would support the sacred business of the international protection of Belovezhskaya Pushcha. This should be clear to the administration of the National Park.

However, the editorial office of the newspaper hurried itself to deny its own correspondent. Most probably not everyone will be as bold as to dispute the truth, under conditions of exceptional pressure imposed on the independent press and under the threats of judicial sanctions and penalties amounting 40,000 $; even "just" several thousands of Dollars would sort out in a wrong way. It is to be desired and to be expected with hope that, in spite of the difficult situation in which journalists and editors of "The Komsomol Truth in Belarus" work, they will be able to save their current positive image, in the eyes of ecologists and nature conservators, regarding future support for protection of the reserved territories in the whole of Belarus.

Further: Adaptation of the hydrological situation within the territory of the National Park, 2002 - 2003