: RFE/RL: Unpaid workers on Russia's bridge to Crimea report abuse and deceit

18:25 Aug. 7, 2016

RFE/RL: Unpaid workers on Russia's bridge to Crimea report abuse and deceit

The construction site of a bridge across the Strait of Kerch linking Crimea to mainland Russia (Getty Images photo)

Working on the Kerch Strait Bridge "is really like being a slave," one of the deceived construction workers says

At the end of July, construction worker Vyacheslav Abdullin quit his job and headed home on foot – a 600-kilometer trek from the Kerch Strait to his hometown in the Ural Mountains region of Russia.

After a month laboring on a project that President Vladimir Putin has made clear is extremely important to the Kremlin -- a bridge linking Russia to the peninsula it seized from Ukraine in 2014 -- Abdullin had nothing to show for his pains except harrowing stories of deception and abuse.

Read also Construction of Crimean bridge faces funding constraints

"You can't stand, and you can't sit. Even if you have to wait half an hour for additional materials, if you are standing around, you will be fired. If you sit down, you are fired. You have to be doing something, even if you are just moving boards from one pile to another or tossing stones back and forth," Abdullin told RFE/RL by phone from Zlatoust, a city near Chelyabinsk in the Urals. "You have to look busy all the time. If not, you are fired."

Read also Moscow Times: Why Kerch may prove a bridge too far for Russia

The laborers were not allowed to take off their shirts in the hot summer sun, and sometimes they worked whole days without being given water to drink, Abdullin said.

He was not given any of the 47,000 rubles (USD 718) per month he was promised.

The Kerch Strait Bridge is Russia's top-priority infrastructure project. At a cost of at least USD 4.5 billion, the 19-kilometer car-and-rail bridge will tie Russia to Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Moscow annexed from Ukraine after sending in troops and staging a referendum dismissed as illegitimate by 100 countries in a UN vote.

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