Just over a week after a deadly fire swept through a shopping centre in Russia’s Kemerovo Region, Governor Aman Tuleyev tendered his resignation to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The March 25 mall fire left 64 people dead, most of whom were children, including an entire middle school class of young teenagers who burned to death while locked inside a cinema hall while their teacher was shopping.
Tuleyev and his administration had come under scathing criticism from the victims’ families who said the city authorities failed to send enough sufficiently equipped and trained first responders to the shopping centre when the fire could have been contained.
The emergence of video footage of Kemerovo’s municipal authorities publicly chastising the relatives of the victims for their criticism of the government while accusing the family members of being operatives of the political opposition has sparked outrage across Russia.
In a meeting two days after the fire, Tuleyev told Putin that those who were critical of the government’s response to the tragedy were “forces of the liberal opposition” who were attempting to stoke unrest.
Tuleyev was earlier caught on camera publicly accusing a man who lost his sister, wife, and three children in the fire of political grandstanding for the anti-Putin opposition and engaging self-promotion after the Kemerovo resident was openly critical of Tuleyev and his subordinates and demanded answers from both the city and federal authorities.
Thousands of people in over 20 Russian cities, including Kemerovo, have taken to the streets in the days since the fire and demanded that the Kemerovo government be held responsible for the blaze. The demonstrators have demanded that anyone found guilty of being responsible for the incident needs to be properly punished that a transparent investigation must be carried out to shed light on the rampant violation of basic building codes, negligence, nepotism, and incompetence that plague Russia’s construction industry and regional administrations.
The Russian government, however, often has an allergic reaction to public criticism and demands that officials be held accountable for their actions. The common practice for the Kremlin is to follow the Soviet model of attacking those who make public complaints, often labelling the individuals as psychologically unsound or working for anti-regime political forces.
Putin, who refused to meet with the victims’ family members during his brief visit to Kemerovo on March 27, accepted Tuleyev’s resignation and appointed Deputy Governor Sergey Tsivilyov to serve as acting head of the coal-producing Siberian region, located 3,600 kilometres east of Moscow.
Initial investigations have indicated that blocked fire exits, a faulty alarm system, a sprinkler system that also did not work, and gross violations of safety and evacuation rules were the main reasons behind the high number of casualties.
Of the 64 people who died in the blaze, 41 were children.