Fighting fires sparks dialogue and builds respect

Greenpeace Russia's volunteer firefighting program supports community

As surprising as it might sound, volunteer firefighters are changing the way Russians feel about Greenpeace. Their work fighting peat bog fires in the Tver region prompted Yulia Latynina, a Russian journalist, to call “the guys from Greenpeace” “environmental enthusiasts” just a year after accusing them of spreading “anti-science hysteria” and “mass intimidation.” Every fire they extinguish opens up the possibility for conversation and understanding in the affected community.

Greenpeace Russia volunteers approach large fire.

Greenpeace Russia volunteers approach large fire.

More than 90 percent of wildfires in Russia are caused by humans, and that is where Greenpeace hopes to enact change by educating locals about the dangers of dry vegetation burning. Anton ‘Benny’ Beneslavskiy, who helps coordinate the Boreal Forest and Wildland Fire Program, tells MobLab that locals are often initially mistrustful of the volunteer firefighters.

“Traditionally firefighting is considered some governmental activity,” Beneslavskiy explained. “Volunteers are second tier…we must show our professionalism and our skills.”

We work in those situations when the state is not available to help, and it changes the opinion of the local communities when they see our work. We try to communicate with people just after we stop work, to explain why it happened, what the threat was. As it is a very emotional moment for the locals they listen to us.
- Anton ‘Benny’ Beneslavskiy, Greenpeace Russia

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