Four arrested after building spire in Moscow painted in Ukrainian colors

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Russian authorities have detained four people on Wednesday on suspicion of vandalism, following an incident where the spire of the iconic Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building in Moscow was painted in the colors of the Ukrainian flag. The suspects, reportedly consisting of two men and two women, allegedly ascended the building by stairs to reach its top floor, before using climbing equipment to complete the ascent, according to Moscow police.

File photo of the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building in 2009.
Image: SphinxTheGeek.

Over the course of the previous night, the suspects proceeded to paint the top half of the building's star-shaped spire blue and erected a Ukrainian flag atop at about 7:15 am local time, reports the Interfax news agency, with information corroborated by Moscow's municipal emergency services. The alterations to the building made by the suspects remained for several hours, before workers removed the flag and repainted the spire to its normal color. Containing 32 floors and standing at a height of 176 m (577 ft), the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building is one of the Seven Sisters, skyscrapers constructed between 1947 and 1953 in Moscow under the direction of Joseph Stalin.

Following the act, at least one of the suspects then reportedly descended from the building by parachute, reported state news channel Rossiya 24, and captured on a video published by Lifenews, reportedly filmed by a local resident. Additional video broadcast by Rossiya 24, taken from a window, captured a parachuting suspect landing in a nearby playground. Among the suspects was Alexander Pogrebov, who has denied the charges brought forth by authorities. “I was detained for parachuting off the skyscraper. I chose that place because it's beautiful. [...] It just so happened that at the time of the jump, someone else committed an act of vandalism — they destroyed the spire with paint, and raised the Ukrainian flag.” said Pogrebov in an interview to LifeNews.

Pogrebov's comments were supported by a police official, who stated to the Itar-Tass agency: "The two young men and two girls say they jumped from a high building with parachutes. They say they didn't hoist any flag and didn’t paint the flag." If convicted of vandalism, Pogrebov and the other suspects may be sentenced to a maximum of three years imprisonment. Over the phone to Bloomberg, an unidentified duty press official stated the suspects were previously arrested over other charges. According to reports from Russian state television, all four suspects were Russian citizens.

Other acts by Russian protestors to show support and solidarity with Ukraine, contrasting the approval which came following the Russian annexation of Crimea, included the singing of the Ukrainian national anthem by protestors while being arrested. Russian musician Andrey Makarevich, who fronts the band Mashina Vremeni, which translates to "Time Machine", was labelled as a "traitor" by Russian lawmakers and musicians who supported Russian interests, after he traveled to eastern Ukraine last week to perform for displaced children in regions held by the Ukrainian army.

On a post on Twitter, Russian opposition leader Gennady Gudkov stated "I don't justify youngsters who painted a star on the skyscraper, but this is an administrative offense, not criminal". In 2011 and 2012, following accusations of electoral fraud during the parliamentary elections at the time, Gudkov supported protestors who took to the streets of Moscow in opposition to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The act comes just days prior to Ukraine's Day of the National Flag on August 23 and Independence Day on August 24. The country's president, Petro Poroshenko, expressed his approval from Kiev of the act and praise for the suspects in a written post on Facebook. "On the eve of Independence Day we are starting an initiative called 'Our Colours,' which is devoted to the Ukrainian flag" ((uk))Ukrainian language: ‍Напередодні Дня Незалежності ми починаємо ініціативу "Наші Кольори", яка присвячена українському прапору, wrote Poroshenko. "And it is symbolic that, on this day, our colours have been painted on what is perhaps the greatest skyscraper in Moscow. I urge Ukrainians throughout the world, wherever they are, on the eve of the anniversary of our independence, to decorate their homes, offices, and cars in our national colours." ((uk))Ukrainian language: ‍Символічно, що в цей день в наші кольори розфарбували, можливо, найбільшу висотку в Москві. Закликаю українців по всьому світу, де б вони не були, напередодні річниці Незалежності, прикрасити свої будинки, офіси, авто в наші національні кольори.

"I like very much the fact that, on the eve of celebrating the Ukrainian flag, one of Moscow's highest buildings was painted in our colors," Poroshenko said in a video posted on Facebook. "I congratulate these Ukrainians." Following the deaths of more than 2,000 people and the displacement of 300,000 from their homes amid fighting in eastern Ukraine between the Ukrainian armed forced and pro-Russian separatists, Poroshenko is scheduled to discuss the crisis with Putin next week, the first such meeting in two months.