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An engineering mom leads effort to save an old-growth Russian forest

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Mr. Beketov suffered brain damage and the loss of his right leg and four fingers, and now uses a wheelchair. He was the first of several journalists who covered the Khimki Forest struggle to be viciously beaten in crimes that all remain unsolved to this day.

In March 2009, Sergei Protazanov, a designer at another local newspaper, Grazhdanskoye Soglasiye, died after being assaulted in the street. The next year Oleg Kashin, a star reporter for the Moscow daily Kommersant, was beaten nearly to death outside his Moscow home after writing about the issue.

Several of Chirikova's group were similarly attacked, and some suffered serious injuries.

"These tragedies hit us very hard," Chirikova says. "But it also brought more attention to our cause, more supporters."

In the summer of 2010, the construction company began moving machines into the forest to cut down trees. Chirikova's group increased their sit-downs and picketing.

In August about 5,000 people gathered in Moscow's downtown Pushkin Square, where they were addressed by Chirikova and Beketov, and were entertained by a historic duet between Russian rock legend Yury Shevchuk and Irish star Bono, vocalist of the band U2.

"It's hard to imagine building democracy in Russia without people like Chirikova," says Boris Kagarlitsky, head of the independent Institute for Globalization and Social Movements in Moscow. "Democracy isn't just about having several political parties; it's about people participating in the solution of social issues. What we saw was a local issue suddenly drawing mass attention, and Chirikova became a figure on the national stage."

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