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Putin Vows To Rebuild Homes Destroyed By Wildfires

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Putin Vows To Rebuild Homes Destroyed By Wildfires

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Putin Vows To Rebuild Homes Destroyed By Wildfires

Putin Vows To Rebuild Homes Destroyed By Wildfires

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Wildfires in Russia swept through dozens of villages in July and August. Prime Minister Putin has promised money for the areas to rebuild. He seems to be making good on the promise — maybe faster than some residents would like.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin promised a swift recovery from his country's summer wildfires. In some places whole villages burned down. And now the government is rebuilding at incredible speed. In fact, the government is moving too fast for some residents who are starting to feel a little less like people and a little more like stage props. NPR's David Greene explains.

DAVID GREENE: There was talk that Prime Minister Putin might suffer political fallout from the deadly fires in Russia. After all, there were questions about whether Putin had changed the way the government manages the forests in a way that made the response slow. But a month ago, Putin began an extraordinary campaign to help victims, and to re-polish his image.

One highly-publicized event had the prime minister standing in the burnt-out village of Verkhnyaya Vereya, 300 miles east of Moscow.�

Prime Minster VLADIMIR PUTIN (Russia): (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: He told frightened residents, before winter, your houses will stand again. And, four weeks later...

(Soundbite of power tools)

GREENE: ...the village is alive with construction crews. Whatever was left of old brick homes has been cleared. In their place, dozens of tidy, yellow houses, many of them nearly done. In less than a month, this rural Russian village in the forest has been transformed into the kind of tract housing you see in American suburbs.��

Mr. ANTON AVERIN (Deputy governor, Russia): (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: As Anton Averin put it, this could not be happening faster. He's a deputy governor in Putin's government. The prime minister's personal visit, he said, did give builders a sense of added responsibility. And by October 20th, the new village will be complete - houses with gas and water for the first time, furniture from Ikea, all courtesy of the Russian government.

Meanwhile, Russia's state-run media likes to play up how the prime minister is personally monitoring the progress. Putin ordered cameras to be installed in many villages.

Mr. AVERIN: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: You can see, there are the cameras, the deputy governor said, pointing up to the tops of telephone polls. There's one, two - they're everywhere.

In fact, this village feels like a movie set. Until you meet shaken residents like Natalya Pyatak.

Ms. NATALYA PYATAK: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: The 58-year-old woman barely outran the�raging fire that wiped away her house. Her brother's house up the street also destroyed. They both stopped by last week to see their new homes going up. And they were not impressed. They had a choice, sign up for this government program and have a new house within weeks. Or, take a compensation check and do it yourself.

Ms. PYATAK: (Through translator) After the fire we were all in shock. We were just happy when they said they'd build houses. It's good they're doing this. But first they should have talked to us to find out how we wanted our houses built. They promised they'd talk to us individually, but that never happened. They're building without us.

Mr. ALEXANDER FIRSTOV: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: Her brother, Alexander Firstov, said the foundation on his new house looks so weak it will likely sink in the spring rains. But angry as he is, he's blaming local officials, not Putin, who, he said, will surely come back and order these houses built again. He'll say break this down, Firstov said. And they'll do it.

Other communities are recovering more quietly. Fifteen miles through the forest is isolated Yuzhny. It's like so many tiny villages across Russia. There are mostly elderly people here, who've worked for the railroad or for a factory, and now live on pensions of just $200 a month. Here, the factory, the restaurant, the pharmacy all closed long ago. In truth, this community was already dying, and then fire swept away what was left.

Ms. GALINA DRONOVA: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: 62-year-old Galina Dronova tried to stop the flames, standing outside holding a picture of a Russian Orthodox religious icon high in the air. But the flames swallowed her house. The government offered her a house that's being built a half-hour away, in a field, with Putin's cameras filming the construction. Doesn't strike her as a very warm community, but what choice does she really have?�

Ms. DRONOVA: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: I'm just not going to fight it anymore, she said, standing in what's left of her village. She added: I am going to miss this place.

David Greene, NPR News, Moscow.

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