Moscow Authorities Demolish Neighborhood As Residents Look On

As the bulldozers roamed through his Moscow neighborhood knocking down homes allegedly built illegally on protected land, Sergei Bobyshev stood his ground, refusing to leave.

"We will fight to the bitter end," Bobyshev told state-run news agency RIA Novosti.

"We" included his pet leopard, Cleopatra, a "very affectionate pet cat" that Bobyshev said he may have to sic on Moscow city officials if they approached his house.

Another man, a retired military officer, reportedly threatened to set himself on fire if his home was touched. He barricaded himself inside alongside neighbors, threatening to pour boiling water on anyone trying to evict them.

A fight is being waged in Russia's capital over some three dozen structures in a rural, residential enclave in western As of today, 10 structures had been torn down, the office of the prefect for western Moscow told ABC News, including about eight homes. No demolishing took place today as representatives for residents negotiate with the city. That didn't stop officials from walking through the middle class settlement of Rechnik, taking note of which buildings were inhabited and prioritizing which would be razed next.

Several Russian media outlets reported today that the residents would seek asylum in the U.S. and Germany. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow said they had not heard of any asylum requests and the German Foreign Ministry did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Before dawn last Thursday, police and demolition equipment moved into the scenic neighborhood on the banks of the Moscow River, arresting villagers and starting to knock down the first houses. Residents protested loudly, accusing the city government of evicting them during an abnormally cold

Moscow Property Fight

"Destroying property is prohibited by law," said Anatoly Kucharena, head of Russia's Public Chamber committee that monitors law enforcement. He is working as a mediator and argues that each case has to be reviewed individually due to the variety of buildings and residents on the 50-acre piece of land.

The Rechnik village was developed in 1956 to reward distinguished Soviets, including World War II veterans. They were allowed to build "garden communities," but since then small sheds developed into hundreds of much larger houses.

Authorities argue that what they are doing is in line with Russian law because several years ago the land was declared part of a national park. But residents point to a Russian law that says that if they've lived in a house for 15 years, it's theirs.

"By all legal reasons this is their land, these are their buildings," says Yulia Latynina, a political commentator for the Echo Moskvy radio station. "Lots of settlements like this have been granted property rights under the same circumstances."

Latynina calls those trying to expel Rechnik's residents "raiders." She is one of many who feel the Moscow government is carrying out a land grab, as they have been accused of doing in the past.

Fueling that theory is the nearby luxury neighborhood of "Fantasy Island," home to Moscow's wealthy businessmen and senior government officials. "Fantasy Island" was also built on land that is now protected, but no announcements have been made about its impending destruction.

The city has insisted there are no plans to develop the Rechnik land which would sell for a substantial sum. Instead, they say it will be turned a park.

"We are demolishing houses on court instructions and we will return this land to Moscovites," said Yury Allatov, western Moscow's prefect.

Rechnik's residents have announced they are organizing a mass protest for this weekend, hoping to hold on to their quiet community by the river for just a little bit longer.