Facets of diamond

As cities grow in size, gaining ever more high-rise buildings, with their many windows, so demand rises for ‘industrial climbers’ to clean those modern facades
As cities grow in size, gaining ever more high-rise buildings, with their many windows, so demand rises for ‘industrial climbers’ to clean those modern facades. In the summer, they appear like ants, crawling up vertical surfaces. Of course, the rhombicuboctahedron design of the National Library makes it particularly tricky. 

Alexey Rys, aged 36, the foreman of a climbing cleaning team, shouts out, “I’ve reached the ‘crown, and we’ve finished the ‘skirt’!” The stained-glass window of the library’s atrium is known as the skirt, and he is calling from the very top, speaking to colleagues Dmitry, Sergey and Vitaly. All use nicknames, to make it easy to call out messages. 

Rys tells us, “Safety is our primary concern, followed by comfort,” speaking for all steeplejacks and climbers. “We’re starting today by checking bands: the belly band and guideline, descender devices, haul-safe, carabiners and knots.”

As they rig up, wearing mountaineering helmets, I join head of sales Nina Radevich of Chisty Svet Plus Company, and her colleague, Dmitry Linevich. We’re on the 23rd floor of the library, at the scenic viewpoint, over 73m up. It takes your breath away to see beauty of the city. Suddenly, the crew comes into view, descending slowly. 

“I see this every day, but I’m still afraid for them,” Nina admits, closing her eyes. The crew shrugs off such concern. Alexey laughs, “Usually, people have only three questions: are we afraid? How much are we paid? and Can we swing on the bands?” 

Industrial climbers clean National Library facade

Alexey hands out buckets, rags, strainers and roller sleeves for cleaning, as well as microfiber cloths. “For cleaning surfaces, we use different tools than most cleaning teams; the library windows are protected with special film, so we use diluted soap solutions to avoid damaging this, without excess alkalinity or acidity. It’s the same method as is used in Dubai, for the Burj Khalifa tower,” Nina explains.

Some parts of the library can’t be accessed from outside, even via mobile scaffolding and skylifts. Nina takes me where no journalist has stepped before, between the bearing wall of the library and the spider glazing system of the facade. I can’t help but feel fearful, here, within, standing in the gangway. A female team cleans in this space. 

Alexey notes that he spends a lot of time on his knees, which requires endurance. Nina comments that their company cleans most of the tall buildings in Minsk but that the National Library presents the most challenges. She muses that designers don’t tend to think about how buildings will be cleaned safely when they’re making their plans: adding bars where climbing equipment can be hooked, for cleaning the facade. Instead, she notes, “Our industrial department has to work out how to reach ‘dead zones’.”  It takes three to six months for the team to complete a thorough cleaning of the National Library building, working every day, regardless of wind, rain, fog, heat or frost. 

Nina notes that it takes a certain frame of mind to become a professional climbing cleaner. Besides being fit and unafraid of heights, you need a diploma in industrial mountaineering and high-rise works. She believes that experience, a clear mind and sharp reflexes are important too. The crew underline the need for a certain serious attitude. Rys tells us, “No matter how you look at it, we fear heights, as is logical. In fact, you need to retain this caution, to remain careful and responsible.” 

Alexey knows about danger first-hand, having fallen several times in his climbing career. The first was from a height of 7m, which broke his heel. When he fell from the third floor, he got off with only a scare. “I fell through stupidity, failing to think seriously about safety,” he explains. “I was young, so did not feel fear.” 

Everyone on the cheerful team has completed higher education. There’s a former teacher of physical training, a civil engineer, a coach, and a policeman. Each passed specialised training, involving theory and practice. They’re full of jokes, which they explain may be a side-effect of the dangerous element of their job. As to the enjoyment they gain for their work, they laugh, “We like it so much that we’re climbing the walls.” 

The foreman notes that while it takes only a fortnight to become a ’Monkey’, able to climb and descend, it takes at least for 3-4 years to become a professional able to navigate any object. Naturally, the team is most busy in the summer, while February and March are quiet. In the winter, they tend to just remove snow and ice.

Nina Radevich adds, “In the past, only builders tended to employ industrial mountaineering crews but, with the appearance of new high-rise buildings, made from glass and metal, climbers have begun to enjoy popularity.” Saying goodbye, I ask Alexey whether he’ll be sunbathing this summer.  He admits that there’s too much work to do for that, although he may find time to go to the mountains. He speaks with horror of the idea of parachuting though. Even the bravest have their fears.  

By Anna Kisel 

Lebyazhy among Europe’s top 25 

Lebyazhy waterpark is popular with Minskers and foreign tourists, with Tripadvisor including it among Europe’s top 25 waterparks, in 19th place for 2016

Spanish Siam Park leads the rankings, with three other Spanish waterparks mentioned. WaterWorld Waterpark (Cyprus) is ranked second while Water Park (Greece) is placed third. Meanwhile, H2O AquaPark in Russia is ranked 7th, while Lithuanian Druskininkai occupies 8th place and Latvia’s Liva is placed on the 23rd place.

Annually, Tripadvisor names the top tourist sites across Europe, which include museums, resorts, hotels, waterparks and other recreational facilities. All ratings are compiled exclusively from traveller feedback.

By Alexander Fedotov

Berrying scheduled

Cowberry picking is allowed in the woods of the Brest and Gomel regions from August 15th, in the Grodno and Minsk regions from August 18th, and in the Vitebsk and Mogilev regions from the 20th. Meanwhile, cranberry picking begins from August 27th in the Brest Region, from the 28th in the Gomel Region, and from September 1st in the Grodno Region. In the Minsk and Mogilev regions, cranberry picking is officially allowed from September 3rd and in the Vitebsk Region from September 6th.

According to the Chief of the Forestry Office at the Ministry for Forestry, Nikolay Yurevich, the Forest Institution of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus expects an average to heavy crop of berries and mushrooms this year. People should only pick in a way that does not harm plants or mushroom spawns, with labour-saving devices forbidden. Violation of the rules will result in a warning or a fine.

However, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection expects cowberry crops, and those of many other wild berries, to be below average this year in most parts of the country, despite favourable summer weather, due to conditions in April and May, which affected blooming. Crops of cepe, Aspen mushrooms, birch boletus, girolle and honey mushrooms are expected to be poor. However, experts say that, provided July and August aren’t too dry, the mushroom situation may improve.

By Olga Potvorova
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