Tragedy in Kemerovo: tens of burned to death, billionaire owner in Australia and parallels with Admiral

How another billionaire in Russia earned on the shopping centre that wasn’t designed for trade by turning it into a fire trap

A big fire in Kemerovo, inwhich more than a fifty lives became victims, was echoed with pain in hearts of many Russians. But it caused painfully familiar feelings among citizens of Kazan who experimented a similar tragedy three years ago. Winter Cherry as well as Admiral is the same shopping centre that was rebuilt from a factory building where the billionaire owner seemed not to take care of people's safety. Realnoe Vremya talked with citizens of Kemerovo who miraculously survived and victims of the Kazan shopping centre who warn that many Russians aren't secured against such misfortune yet.

Deputy mayor accepted the shopping centre: ''his eyes were closed by money''

The fire in Winter Cherry broke out on 25 March at midday, it became possible to bring the fire under control only on 26 March morning. The building's two upper floors completely burnt, its roof collapsed then. According to preliminary data, the fire alarm didn't work in the shopping centre, evacuation was carried out in an unorganised way. The Investigative Committee (IC) said about 64 casualties by 1 pm on 26 March, several tens of people are in hospital or under supervision of nurses:

''44 victims have turned to medical establishments since the beginning of the fire, 10 of them are in inpatient department,'' says official representative of the IC of Russia Svetlana Petrenko.

The bodies of 19 dead people were delivered for identification. A genetic expertise will be needed to identify some, said Russian Minister of Health Veronika Skvortsova. Now rescuers continue clearing the debris. The firefihgters have examined about 70% of the territory of the shopping centre.

Many citizens of Kemerovo replied to an urge to give blood for the victims, they formed a long queue near the collection point to help nurses. Flowers and candles have been brought to the scene of the tragedy since yesterday's early morning.

Owner of KVD holding, dollar billionaire Denis Shtengelov is called to be the ultimate beneficial owner of Winter Cherry Trade and Leisure Centre. Photo: pulseparty.ru

According to officials of the shopping centre, teenagers who allegedly set fire to foam rubber in a pit in the playground could have caused the fire. Another version is that the fire broke out because of candles at children's party.

It's said about four people arrested for the criminal case on the fire in the shopping centre – it is Director General of Winter Cherry Nadezhda Suddenok, one of the lessees, where the fire supposedly began, is responsible for occupational safety.

Owner of KVD holding, dollar billionaire Denis Shtengelov is called to be the ultimate beneficial owner of Winter Cherry Trade and Leisure Centre. Shtengelov doesn't deny the fact he owns the facility.

''The person who earned on Winter Cherry is in Australia now, it's where he permanently lives. It's billionaire Denis Shtengelov, owner of KVD Group, Russian confectionary king… The formal director of the shopping centre also needed to be responsible. But it's important the shopping centre was put into operation in 2013. The act of acceptance was signed by a commission. The deputy mayor put the main signature, he is also the director of the administration of urban improvement. He could turn a blind eye to obvious problems only in one case, I think, if his eyes were closed by money,'' State Duma deputy from Kemerovo Anton Gorelkin said on Facebook.

''I came with my daughter and understood I will never go there''

Realnoe Vremya managed to reach out to citizen of Kemerovo Arina Ivanova who survived together with her little daughter. The woman with the kid also was in Winter Cherry on 26 March. She regrets her visit and just left the shopping centre before the fire by chance. Like Admiral in Kazan, the building wasn't built as a facility for mass attendance and obviously didn't correspond to parameters of a shopping centre:

''There was a confectionary there, it was abandoned, it was closed for some time. Then they started to equip it, a leisure centre, shops, a big number of shops appeared. There is a pile of cash machines, an appliance store, huge O'STIN on the first floor. In other words, there was too little room there – it was like an anthill! There were so many arcade cabinets, moreover, they were so massive and heavy, on the upper floor where a playground for kids was. When the merry-go-round was turned on, the floor was trembling. I came with my daughter and understood I will never go there because I don't like where the floor trembles under my feet. There was a feeling that the floor was about to collapse from the abundance of all these things for game,'' Arina told.

Like Admiral in Kazan, the building wasn't built as a facility for mass attendance and obviously didn't correspond to parameters of a shopping centre. Photo: 42.mchs.gov.ru

Without playing till the end by ticket, the woman went with the girl, as it turned out, fortunately. According to her, the complex has a big zone for food court and leisure. ''I understood that this stuff started to burn. Consequently, people were running away without clothes: the cloakroom is near the playground, and nobody had the time to take anything.'' Arina also remembered that there was a situation one month ago when people got stuck in the lift in the shopping centre and sat there for hours in a row until they were rescued:

''It was one of the most attended shopping centres in the city. People from the nearest settlements and cities visited it, people often came from Tomsk. It's clear that if people were there for the first time, it was difficult for them to get their bearings in this smoke and slag.

Judging by opinions about the shopping centre before the fire, people often complained about bad navigation, numerous entrances and passages that led to a dead end. To get from one shop to another one, one had to go outside: ''In fact, there is one exit, stairs and lift near. And other entrances are always closed, people were lost and got caught in a trap,'' Arina worries.

The majority of the casualties are visitors of the cinema. It seems that they couldn't find an exit from the hall in the dense smoke. By the way, many people noticed it's a common problem for many cinema halls in Russia. As a rule, ticket inspectors stand only next to one of the entrances. This is why other exits from halls are blocked.

Painfully familiar – Admiral fire victims on Winter Cherry

Information that one of the girls lost in the fire was from Kazan appeared in social networks. Indeed, the page of 13-year-old pupil of Gymnasium No. 71 Maya Yerokhina says the capital of Tatarstan is her native city. However, the Kazan school denied it: ''Maya Yerokhina has never studied at our school.'' The namesake gymnasium in Kemerovo said it was really its pupil, but her birth certificate has the city of Kemerovo as her native city.

The incident in Kuzbass reminded citizens of Kazan of their own tragedy. The third anniversary of the fire in Admiral shopping centre, which also killed tens of lives, was just several days ago.

The third anniversary of the fire in Admiral shopping centre, which also killed tens of lives, was just several days ago. Photo: Roman Khasayev

''It's painfully familiar, everything is repeated. And here the administration and the owner's guilt is evident. They saved money somewhere, they agreed with fire inspectors somewhere. It all leads to one thing – it's a common problem for all Russia,'' complained head of the fund that supports entrepreneurs of Admiral Shopping Centre Lilia Chernikova.

The owners of such shopping centres who, as a rule, are billionaires, aren't responsible for safety of their facilities. Moreover, they aren't responsible for not only lives that were lost but also what entrepreneurs lost in the fire. The woman heard of a bill on financial responsibility of the administration of shopping centres. But it hasn't been adopted yet: ''So we go bankrupt, and they receive money in insurance!'' According to the woman, after the fire in Novaya Tura, the administration received reimbursement, while the entrepreneurs left with nothing. The same thing happens in Admiral now.

''Why were the charges of our billionaire Syomin dropped? A factory was put into operation by fake documents. It's already a system, all factories went bankrupt in the 90s. Then it all was bought for a tiny amount of money. For instance, in Kazan, so many property belongs to one person, Syomin is a bankruptcy chairman! He drove all factories and enterprises to bankruptcy first. And as a result, he made them shopping complexes. The same thing was in Kemerovo. They thought of safety the least, money was on the first place,'' Chernikova is convinced and emphasises that the threat is common to all Russia.

The tragedy in Kemerovo is compared to three other biggest fires in Russia in the last 100 years in terms of the number of victims: it's a fire in the Samara Administration of Internal Affairs (1999, 57 victims), rest home in stanitsa Kamyshevskaya in Krasnodar Krai (2007, 63 victims) and club Lame Horse in Perm (2009, 153 victims).

On 25 March, when the tragedy in Winter Cherry took place, two shopping centres in Kazan – Tandem and Koltso – were evacuated, but the alarm turned out to be a hoax. On 26 March, Mayor of Naberezhnye Chelny Nail Magdeyev charged with examining local shopping centres against a background of the incident in Kemerovo. Kazan's city administration said it had no information about such examination.

By Vasilya Shirshova

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