VORONEZH, February 9 (RIA Novosti) - Police in the Russian city of Voronezh are investigating claims by the director of a geological prospecting firm that he was beaten by eco-activists on Friday while trying to start work at a nickel deposit in the area, the police said on Saturday.
Yury Kopeykin, director of local prospecting company Voronezhgeologiya, said he and his deputy were attacked by eco-activists and Cossacks guarding the local Elansky copper-nickel deposit, and their documents were seized from them and torn up.
The trouble began when eco-activists found out that a drilling device had been delivered to the site on Friday evening. The activists called in local police and demanded to see the workers' drilling permits. Kopeykin arrived at around 9 p.m. with the documents, the police said.
"There were already around 30 people gathered there, Cossacks and activists," said local police spokeswoman Natalya Kulikova. "A conflict broke out, and Cossacks began threatening them, using abusive language. The director says his documents were torn up. But the local policeman says the documents were in a file, so if they were torn up, they were torn up in the file" she added, adding Kopeykin's claims he was struck are so far unsubstantiated.
Konstantin Rubakhin, coordinator of the Defend Khopra movement, which is campaiging to protect the area, said a "group of people, pretty aggressive, started pushing him. He saw they were worked-up, and he left. He dropped his documents when they were pushing him around. I didn't see anyone hit him, but it was dark and they were pushing him."
News began to emerge last spring that work was going to begin on development of nickel deposits in the Novokhopersky district of Voronezh Region, triggering protest actions in the district and regional towns.
Protesters claim nickel mining would lead to an ecological catastrophe in the area, causing infertility in the soil, pollution to the nearby river Khoper and the nearby national park, which is home to the endangered Russian muskrat.
Russia's largest nickel mining city, in Norilsk in the country's Arctic north, is one of the most polluted inhabited places on earth, according to Norwegian environmental foundation Bellona.
Russia is the world's largest producer of nickel, which is widely used in making special alloys and plating, as well as producing batteries.