Russian cleaners regained power in surprise rural votes

By Sarah Rainford
BBC News, Moscow

Povlikino Council building

Image copyrightPowlikino Council

image CaptionThis is the building in Povlyukhino that Marina Udgodskaya has spent years cleaning

For the past four years, Marina Udgodskaya has cleaned and closed the offices of the local administration building in Povalikhino in rural Russia.

Now the 35-year-old cleaner is stepping down to take her Duster to the boss seat, winning an election earlier this month after she entered to reappoint him.

When no one in the village signed on to challenge Nikolai Loktev from the Kremlin United Russia Party, he persuaded Ms. Udgodskaya to register as her “rival” to ensure the minimum requirement of the two candidates.

That plan backfired when the cleaner beat him with a landslide.

‘She was flustered’

Polovikhino, a member of the local Election Commission, told the BBC, “Nikolai Loktev thought no one would vote for him and he would stay on the job. But people were enough and he came out and chose Marina Udgodkaya.”

“He was amazed and he was flared!” The woman, who was not to be identified, laughed from the phone line.

She says that she personally asked Mr. Loktev to stand against the cleaner.

Image copyrightGetty Images
image CaptionThe outgoing boss at Povalikhino has no hard feelings about handling the former cleaner (file pick)

Ms Udgodskaya was paired with the call after she made national headlines following her surprise victory.

‘I did not do anything’

Since she stopped answering her phone and is keeping a low profile ahead of her opening this weekend.

But she was shocked at her victory in an early interview, describing herself as a “fake” candidate who was “not ready” for her intense publicity.

“I didn’t think people would actually vote for me,” she told Telegram news channel Podyom. “I do not anything!”

Nevertheless, she won around 62% of the vote. His boss managed just 34%.

Neither candidate actively campaigned before the election: no hoarding, no passengers, nor any meeting with voters. Locals argue that there is no point when everyone knows everyone.


Povlikhino, which has brightly colored, single-storey wooden buildings, is the largest of 30 villages now under the umbrella of the administration.

It has only 242 inhabitants.

“I have done everything necessary in the job; there is no problem in the village,” Mr Lokte told the BBC in his last days in office, struggling to make sense of his defeat.

“Clearly people wanted change,” the 58-year-old former policeman concluded.

‘I think she will cope’

Some suggested that the result was a protest against Mr. Loktev’s United Russia Party, which has been sluggish in elections around the country. In Kostroma, where Povalikhino is located, the party won just 32% of the votes for the regional parliament.

Elsewhere, the strategy of smart voting pushed by opposition politician Alexey Navalny – supporting a candidate to defeat United Russia – brought some new faces to politics.

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But in Powalikhino, the village shopkeeper insisted that the result was personal: Mr. Loktev showed no interest in his responsibilities.

“If we could vote

Against everyone We may have done, but we had the option to vote for Marina, so we did, ”explained Irina.

“I think she will cope. The whole village will help. However, her education needs a little boost.”

Like it or not, Ms. Udodskaya is stuck with her new job. If she refused the role, the Pensioners Party that is supporting her says she would have to pay to run again for the entire election.

It prefers to portray its candidate as Cinderella than a casual winner.

Spokeswoman Valery Gromov says, “She was working in administration as a cleaner and she saw how everything was done, and of course the idea came to her heart.”

Referring to the opposition leader of Belarus “Svetlana Tikankovskaya was a housewife and knew nothing! Now she is at the peak of her popularity.”

By the time she steps into her new role, Marina Udodskaya is asked to continue her cleaning work as the man she defeats packs her belongings and walks out.

“I’m not upset,” insisted Nikolai Loktev. “People voted for him, so let him do his job.”

Then she said: “I don’t think there’s anything bad about being in charge of the place she used to clean up. It means she knows him around her.”

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