More than 1,000 students have been deployed to help build Russia’s first spaceport, the Vostochny Cosmodrome, including for the first time a contingent from the annexed territory of Crimea.
Have we forgotten how to build housing?– Dmitry Medvedev, Russian prime minister
Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev used the presence of 1,179 students at the site in the Amur Region in Russia’s Far East to underline the importance of the space centre, which he called Russia’s "most ambitious national construction project".
However, during a visit to the busy site last week he strongly criticised the project for falling behind in building homes for the people who will eventually run the space centre.
While complex rocket launch pads appear nearly finished, local housing is only 30% complete ahead of the government-set deadline of December this year, Medvedev said, calling the lag "inadmissible".
"Have we forgotten how to build housing?" he challenged project officials, according to a transcript of his remarks published by the Russian government.
The Federal Agency for Special Construction, known in Russian as Spetsstroy Rossii, is responsible for 20 different contracts including the launch pads and technical complex, the operations base, a meteorological complex, fuel depots, water-supply, roads, railways and other infrastructure.
In all 8,500 people including the students are working on the vast site in two shifts, without days off, in preparation for the first rocket launch planned for December.
The students, from 32 regions across Russia, are installing curbs and drainage gutters, tying fixtures, pouring concrete and laying bricks, plastering and painting, building roads and doing other auxiliary jobs.
(The cosmodrome is a) national student-sponsored construction project– Dmitry Medvedev, Russian prime minister
It’s the fourth year students have been brought in to help, but this year’s "Vostochny Cosmodrome national student construction team" has set a record in terms of both the number of participants and duration of work, the government said.
And for the first time, students have come from Sevastopol, Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in March last year following a referendum.
Medvedev highlighted the importance of the students’ participation by calling the cosmodrome a "national student-sponsored construction project".
The project has come under repeated attacks by the government for delays, alleged contractor embezzlement and staff payment problems, although Medvedev told reporters last week that the cosmodrome now appeared to have entered the "home stretch".
But he expressed dissatisfaction with how the general civil projects were proceeding, especially the residential construction.
"These are simple facilities and they must be built quickly," he said.
"We have these hugely complex launch pads, and they seem to be virtually completed," he told the meeting with Spetsstroy.
"They feature cutting edge engineering solutions and a tremendous amount of complex structures. But have we forgotten how to build housing?"
Photograph: Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, centre, during inspections at Vostochny Cosmodrome, August 2015 (Russian Government)