- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 22, 2005

YANDOVKA, Russia — Sealed from the outside world and deprived of their main livelihood, the inhabitants of the tiny village of Yandovka were reeling last week as Russia fought to prevent an outbreak of bird flu from spreading toward Europe.

A quarantine was in force following the mass cull of farm fowl in this village.

Police prevented visitors from entering. Anyone leaving was sprayed with disinfectant by officials in masks and green uniforms, and police searched cars to check that birds were not being smuggled out. Car wheels also were sprayed.

A cloud of smoke rose from the cremated remains of chickens, ducks and other poultry from the village, less than 217 miles south of Moscow.

“All 2,300 fowl in Yandovka have been slaughtered,” Nikolai Vlasov, deputy head of the veterinary control department in the agriculture ministry, told reporters. “Russia is the first victim of the bird flu after Asia. Europe is next.”

That prediction is causing deep fear in Europe, where specialists warn the spread of the H5N1 Asian strain of flu could lead to a public health disaster.

It has already raged through bird populations in Asia and killed about 60 people, but specialists worry that H5N1 has the capacity to mutate into something far more infectious among humans.

When Russian authorities confirmed that the H5N1 strain was to blame for the deaths of hundreds of birds in Yandovka, the village became a new front line. Almost immediately the European Commission announced the extension of a ban on Russian bird imports.

For the 200 or so inhabitants of Yandovka, the economic impact of the fight against avian flu is already hurting.

“The compensation they promised us is pathetic: 100 rubles ($3.50) for a chicken, 200 rubles for a duck and 300 rubles for a goose,” said villager Viktor Boldine, 48.

“We could feed ourselves for a week on a goose, but in the shops it costs 500 rubles — too much for us.”

Semyon Butrik, the driver of an earthmover brought to bury the bird remains, said that not everyone in the village was taking the order to surrender his livelihood calmly.

“Most people dealt with the news of avian flu coolheadedly, but I have seen people attack the veterinarians with an ax,” he said. “I feel sorry for the people who depended on their fowl. They are depressed.”

Local official Sergei Ponomarev said that farmyards would now be disinfected and that the village would remain in quarantine for three weeks, with compensations paid in two weeks.

“People have showed understanding. There have been a few incidents, but that is understandable because the population is very poor,” he said.

Russian officials and the press have been playing down the threat from bird flu. The country’s top sanitation official, Gennady Onishchenko, said the H5N1 virus “poses no danger to humans.” He also said there was no need for mass vaccination of people in Russia.

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