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Costly holiday tree scandalises Russian coal town

winnie munga

Nov. 29, 2019

The 25-metre (80-foot) artificial tree in Kemerovo, a city surrounded by coal mines, cost 18 million rubles ($280,000), three times more than the country's main tree installed in the Kremlin.
Russian comedian Ivan Urgant, who hosts a show on popular Channel One, ridiculed the Kemerovo tree as having "very expensive ornaments -- real rabbits, bears, cars and planes" and hinted at corruption in the city hall.
The city made national headlines last winter when residents reported seeing black snow due to large amounts of coal dust, while a town nearby covered a snow hill used for sledding with white paint to hide the coal residue.
"Here people don't really live, they survive. And they are spending 18 million on a tree!" local resident Roman Khabibulin wrote angrily on social network VK.
"It's as stupid as buying the latest iPhone when your children have nothing to eat," wrote another VK user, Ivan Lebedev.
Online commentators suggested that authorities direct the money toward children with cancer or subsidised housing instead.
Kemerovo's mayor defended the purchase, saying it was a "mid-range" technological tree that would replace an old tree which became too expensive to repair.
The new tree is made of steel and has 239,000 LED lights, he boasted.
The company that supplied the tree, Sibevrostroy, denied the price was inflated.
"This product cannot be called a tree," director Andrei Zorin told news agency Interfax. "It's a high-tech multimedia complex which happens to look like a tree."
Communist Party spokesman Alexander Yushchenko said the tree was "just an element of the whole system, our national problem, corruption."
Russians put up trees to celebrate New Year, which is the country's biggest holiday of the year and sees cities spending significant sums on decorations and fireworks.
Celebration of the Russian Orthodox Christmas, which falls on January 7, was discouraged during the Soviet era and remains less popular than New Year's.
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