LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
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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: One highly-publicized event had the prime minister standing in the burnt-out village of Verkhnyaya Vereya, 300 miles east of Moscow.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: (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.
ANTON AVERIN: (Foreign language spoken)
GREENE: 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.
AVERIN: (Foreign language spoken)
GREENE: In fact, this village feels like a movie set. Until you meet shaken residents like Natalya Pyatak.
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.
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.
ALEXANDER FIRSTOV: (Foreign language spoken)
GREENE: 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.
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?
DRONOVA: (Foreign language spoken)
GREENE: David Greene, NPR News, Moscow.
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