In a David and Golith battle, a lone Shaman in Western Siberia is the only thing standing between a multi billion oil giant and a sacred lake. The Khanty tribe consider Lake Imlor in the Surgut region of the Khanty-Mansiisk district sacred and a local shaman is the only person left living near the lake and preventing oil giant Surgutneftegaz from extracting oil buried beneath it.
Sergei Kechimov, a reindeer herder, was born into a family of Khanty Shamans and the local population consider him the guardian of the lake. When oil exploration drills began appearing around the lake, oil workers built huts and brought dogs with them. One of the dogs was threatening Kechimov’s reindeer and so Kechimov shot him.
A few days later the police arrived and had Kechimov sign papers written in Russian. Kechimov has poor Russian, haven spoken the local Khanty language all his life. It transpires that the piece of paper was a confession that Kechimov had threatened to kill two oil workers. Charges were soon brought against the Shaman.
On Monday, when the case came before the court, the mysterious oil workers that Kechimov allegedly threatened failed to appear and even their employer, Surgutneftegaz, failed to locate them. Surgutneftegaz is the third largest producer of crude oil in Russia.
The odds are stacked against Kechimov – only a fraction of defendants in these types of cases in Russia are acquitted. That and an oil company with billions of assets look set to doom Kechimov. The Shaman has previously requested that the oil giant respect the lake and its surroundings, but has made no request for it to stop drilling. In recent times, Kechimov complained numerous times to the company about garbage left by workers, oil spills, pipelines and roads that were being built.
In addition, legislation was introduced making it harder for communities to protect their land. Many of the Khanty tribe have taken small offers of compensation from the oil companies and simply moved out of the area. But Kechimov remains committed to protecting the sacred lake.