One of these operations, for instance, included the culling of thousands of stray cats and dogs in an effort to “minimize ecological risks,” as Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov put it. Activists reported that many of the animals were put down, an attitude perhaps best summed up by one of the business owners awarded a government contract to carry out the work. “Why are we worrying about dogs when we should be worried about people?” he told me.
Because activists are generally used to this heavy-handed approach, they were wary in recent months about what officials might do with the homeless people that call the streets of central Moscow home. Would they be treated like strays, or would they be treated like people? As the World Cup approached, rumors circulated that they would be picked up off the streets during the tournament. Even worse, that they would be swept out to who-knows-where, beyond city limits.
Then, several weeks ago, Moscow’s Department of Labor and Social Protection officials met with activists. They agreed that the main tent in the city where the department and volunteer groups feed the homeless would be temporarily relocated for the duration of the World Cup. At the so-called tryokh vokzalov — the cluster of three train stations aimed for St. Petersburg, Kazan and Yaroslavl — the location was in plain view of tourists. (In a statement, a spokesman for the office cited a “preplanned sanitation” of the area.)
The interim location, in contrast, is far off the beaten track. Set between a train depot and a string of warehouses — both in use and abandoned — on the southeastern edge of the city, a tourist would not run into it. On a recent afternoon there, Max Groshev, 32, told me that he’s now had to trek further to get a meal, but he is still grateful he is provided one. Out of work for a year, he said he’s barely able to afford groceries.