Russia, February 21, 1999
The real loosers in the 'new russia'December 16 (AFP) via Johnson's Russia List
Street kid numbers soaring in Russia
MOSCOW - Homeless and hungry, life for 14-year-old Yury Krekovetsky in Moscow is no easy street. But the adolescent would still rather take his chances in the Russian capital than return to Vastafiyevo, a small village 100 kilometres (60 miles) away, to be beaten black and blue by his drunken, jobless parents.
"My father and mother lost their jobs a year ago and started drinking. Every time they get drunk they start beating me, violently, kicking me all over," said Yury, a bruise the size of a large coin on his face silent testimony to the attack which provoked his latest flight. "I came to Moscow to ask the police for protection. I don't want to go back home and if they send me I will run away again," said Yury, his light jacket, trousers and shabby boots little protection against the bitter cold. "I'm afraid that my parents will beat me to death one day."
Yury's is an all too familiar story of domestic violence that has seen an explosion in child homelessness in the past 18 months, a tidal wave of human misery that has left Russia's hard-pressed social services swamped. Mikhail Danilin, deputy chairman of a parliamentary committee for children's and women's issues, says the crisis is a throw back to the early 20th century when child homelessness was a pressing social problem. He estimates more than three million Russian children currently live on the streets, in constant danger of being sucked into an even more brutal life of drugs and prostitution, crime and punishment.
The figures mean that "one child in 10 in this country has no place to sleep, doesn't have enough food and may be involved in crime. We have 597,100 kids who don't have parents," he lamented. "Just a year and a half ago the figure (for street children) was two million. A 50 percent increase is incredible growth, I can't even predict how many there will be in a year's time."
About one-third of Russia's children whose parents no longer care for them are placed in state-run orphanages.
Newsweek December 21, 1998
Russia's Gulags for Children Millions of the disabled live as virtual prisoners
By Bill Powell with Yana Dlugy
In the Soviet era, it was said that to visit a government-run orphanage for disabled children was not much different from watching animals in a zoo. In the new Russia, little has changed. In the "lying down" room of the Uvarovka Home, 90 miles west of Moscow, a frail child is tied to a bed by a twisted sheet. Another child, afflicted with elephantiasis, stares at the ceiling for hours. Nearby, another rocks back and forth, moaning.
Seven years after the Soviet Union's demise, such institutions remain a sort of gulag for the disabled--a fact that Human Rights Watch will document this week when it releases what is expected to be a scathing report on Russian orphanages. Part of the problem is economic: more children are being abandoned to state-run institutions. But the more serious problem may be old attitudes. The Russian Ministry of Health still classifies severely retarded children as "idiots"--those worst off--and "imbeciles"--children who are judged "ineducable."
Two million Russian children live in such homes. Some are merely blind, deaf or have cleft palates. To Uvarovka workers like Lidia Korsakova, this is fate: "God," she says, "has cursed these children, has chained them to a bed for all their lives." Tatyana Mikhailovna, a nurse, has another view: "They live like kings here ... They're fed four times a day, they're washed. We're the ones who have to figure out how to get money for food." In struggling Russia, there's little room for pity--even for the most deserving.
December 28, 1998 CNN
Russian orphanages struggle amid economic crisis
By Steve Harrigan
NOVGOROD, Russia (CNN) -- Some of the children of Russia's orphanages don't sound like children, move like children or look like children. The country's orphanages have been hard hit by the government's financial crisis -- so hard that last week, the New York-based Human Rights Watch called the conditions "inhuman."
Human Rights Watch found the Russian orphanage system condemns children "to a life of deprivation and cruelty." More than 200,000 children are classified as being "without parental care" and placed in orphanages, though as many as 95 percent of them still have a living parent, the organization concluded.
For children like Vitaly, a 6-year-old in Novgorod, six hours northwest of Moscow by road, that means bread soup for lunch. Staff members at the orphanage in Novgorod say the children don't get enough calories. Vitaly needs protein, but seldom gets any.
Neither does he see his parents, both still alive and teaching school in town. Like many parents of disabled children in Russia, they "gave up" Vitaly to an orphanage to "try again" to have a healthy child.
Now those orphanages lack the resources to meet their basic needs. And conditions are worse the farther you get from Moscow. The children of Novgorod's Orphanage Number 3 have no coats to go outside in the winter, and no shoes to go outside in the summer. Now food is running low. "This orphanage is supposed to get 12 cents a day to feed each child. This month they've gotten nothing," said Irina Vodkailo, the orphanage's director. "What we have now is powdered milk and some grain -- enough for three days, not more."
The children stay in bed all day, or sit in a playpen, wet. According to staff members, few survive to age 14. The leading cause of death in Orphanage Number 3 is pneumonia.
The Russian government has publicly announced steps to improve conditions in its orphanages. But Human Rights watch concluded the proclamations have yielded few results. "The reaction of the Russian authorities to the critique of their orphanages has been to block access to the institutions; punish or threaten to fire workers if they speak about abuses; and, in some instances, pardon those who are responsible for the wrongdoing," the group's report found.
Call if you want to help:
- Russian Orphanage Association 011-7-81664-345-05
- Action for Russia's Children 011-7-095-283-3526
- Downside Up 011-7-095-256-4525
- Center for Curative Pedagogics 011-7-095-131-0683
- Maria's Children 011-7-095-929-1311 NAN 011-7-095-126-3475
- Our Family 011-7-095-924-7664
Mon, 28 Dec 1998 For the Hindustan Times
By Fred Weir in Moscow
DIMITROV, Russia (HT) -- Seven year old Maxim claps his hands and smiles delightedly as he rummages through a package of New Year's treats brought by visitors from Moscow. The goodies include a toy car, a chocolate figure of Ded Moroz -- the Russian version of Santa Claus -- a bag of apples and a bunch of bananas.
"I hope he'll share it. None of the children here have seen fresh fruit since last summer," mutters Nina Sergeyeva, head doctor of the Dimitrov Specialized Children's Home, a facility for severely disabled orphans. Little Max, paralyzed from the waist down by a birth defect and abandoned by his natural mother, looks radiant as he chatters excitedly with Alyona, a Moscow professional woman who has been helping out financially with his care for the past couple of years.
But otherwise it's not a pretty picture. The orphanage, which occupies the outbuildings of an old Orthodox hillside monastery in Dimitrov, about 100 km north of Moscow, looks like something Charles Dickens might have described. About 120 children live in the combination school-hospital, sleeping on narrow cots, four per tiny room, amid peeling paint, fraying linoleum and rattling pipes. In a small, cold common room, about a dozen kids crowd around a single TV set -- with no adult supervision in sight.
"I know that many of these children wouldn't be institutionalized in a Western country," Ms. Sergeyeva says. "But here there are so few options for them." She admits that life in the orphanage is tough. Ms. Sergeyeva is the only permanent doctor in the entire facility, with just four nurses to help. None of the staff has been paid in at least two months. Morale is extremely low, she says. State funding, never very much, has virtually dried up since financial crisis struck Russia last August.
"It's a lucky thing we have our own garden in the orphanage. We still have some potatoes, cabbage and beets left from last summer's crop," Ms. Sergeyeva says. "Otherwise there would be very little. We haven't eaten meat, cheese or eggs for months now." Despite the grim conditions, the children in the Dimitrov home appear reasonably well cared for and their relations with the staff seem warm and friendly.
That is not the case everywhere in Russia's vast network of state orphanages, according to a report issued this month by the non-governmental monitoring agency Human Rights Watch. The result of a year-long investigation, the report alleges that Russia's 200,000 institutionalized orphans are subjected to systematic "cruelty and neglect" and are deprived of their most basic human rights.
It says that Russian orphans are routinely mislabelled as "ineducable" and warehoused in closed institutions -- like the Dimitrov facility -- where minimal resources are expended on caring for them. The report alleges a widespread pattern of abuse by staff in Russian orphanages that includes beatings of children, sexual assault, criminal neglect and punishment by public humiliation.
"The abuse in orphanages cannot simply be attributed to Russia's economic crisis," says Kathleen Hunt, the report's author. "The problem of scarce resources does not justify the appalling treatment children receive at the hands of the state." Photographs accompanying the study depict concentration camp-like conditions in some Russian orphanages, including starvation, filth, overcrowding and physical mistreatment. (The entire report, with photos, is available on the internet at: http://www.hrw.org).
Russian experts say the abuses cited in the Human Rights Watch report are the exception rather than the rule, but admit that the system is not working. "In today's harsh economic climate many parents are simply dumping their children on the state," says Maria Ternovskaya, director of Children's House number 19, a clean and apparently well-run orphanage in downtown Moscow.
"More than half the kids we get have parents somewhere. The numbers are increasing every year, and the system is overburdened". Ms. Ternovskaya says it is true that the state medical commission is often too quick to diagnose a child as "retarded" or "disabled". "Resources are stretched to the limit, and we have no staff to bring up all these children properly," she says. "The easy way is just to say nothing can be done with them, and that's what happens all too frequently."
About half the children from Children's House 19 have been given to foster families over the past year, an experimental approach for Russia that Ms. Ternovskaya believes should be widely adopted. "We pay professional foster parents, often unemployed women, to do what we cannot: give the children some sort of normal family life," she says.
"It doesn't cost more, but it seems to work much better."
Moscow, December 16, 1998 Human Rights Watch
Report Documents Brutal Treatment in Russian Orphanages
Thousands of children suffer neglect and cruelty in state institutions
Thousands of Russian children abandoned to state orphanages are exposed to appalling levels of cruelty and neglect, according to a 213-page report released in Moscow by Human Rights Watch. The report is a year-long investigation accompanied by a series of powerful color photographs providing further evidence of malign neglect and inhuman treatment. Entitled "Abandoned to the State: Cruelty and Neglect in Russian Orphanages," the report documents that "children in state custodial institutions are deprived of basic human rights at every stage of their lives."
"The abuse in orphanages cannot simply be attributed to Russia's economic crisis," said Kathleen Hunt, author of the Human Rights Watch report. "The problem of scarce resources does not justify the appalling treatment children receive at the hands of the state. It wouldn't take more money for Russia to change these policies immediately."
Hunt said that many of these children do not need to be institutionalized at all, but could be better cared for at home, or in foster homes, at considerably less expense. "The population of these orphanages is far too high and it's growing," said Hunt, noting that about 200,000 children live in state institutions in Russia. Beginning with infancy, orphans classified as disabled are segregated into "lying down" rooms of the nation's 252 "baby houses," where they are changed and fed but are bereft of stimulation and lacking in medical care.
Those who are labeled retarded or "oligophrenic" (small-brained), face another grave and consequential violation of their rights around the age of four. At that time, a state commission diagnoses them as "ineducable," and warehouses them for life in "psycho-neurological internats." After this diagnosis, it is virtually impossible for an orphan to appeal the decision. According to official statistics, some 30,000 children are confined to these locked and isolated institutions, which are little better than prisons.
The orphans may be restrained in cloth sacks, tethered to furniture, denied stimulation and are sometimes left to lie half-naked in their own filth. In both "baby houses" and "internats," children may be administered powerful sedatives without medical orders. In a throwback to the abhorrent abuse in Soviet psychiatric institutions, orphans and institution staff also told Human Rights Watch of cases when children who tried to run away were sent to a psychiatric hospital for punishment or treatment. Not only disabled orphans suffer violations of their rights in Russian state orphanages, according to Human Rights Watch. Even 'normal' abandoned children---whom the state evaluates as intellectually capable of functioning on a higher level---may be beaten, locked in freezing rooms for days at a time, or sexually abused. Public humiliation was one of the forms of punishment recorded by Human Rights Watch in interviews with children from three different regions of Russia.
"The teacher would punish children by bringing everyone into the classroom, and then making the ones who did something wrong get undressed and stand in front of the open window when it was very cold," according to an orphan interviewed in St. Petersburg. "Several children would be stripped and have to stand like that while the others had to watch...as a threat," the orphan said. Official statistics indicate that children have been abandoned to the state at a rate of 113,000 for the past two years. This figure is up dramatically from 67,286 in 1992. Human Rights Watch points out the wide variation among state institutions and cites an independent program in one psycho-neurological internat that has made remarkable progress with disabled children.
Among its recommendations to Russian authorities and international community, the human rights organization calls for the state to "immediately take steps to end the gross neglect, and the physical and psychological abuse by staff working in the custodial institutions of the three ministries involved: Health, Education, and Labor and Social Development." The report also urges the state to develop humane alternatives to huge custodial institutions by reallocating existing resources to more family-based care.
The photographs accompanying the Human Rights Watch report are available through the Saba Photo Agency in New York, telephone 212-477-7722 or through the photographer, Kate Brooks, in Moscow at (M) 7095-763-6603, or (P) 7095-203-4610.
For Further Information:
- Kathleen Hunt in Moscow: 7095-265-4448, mobile: 7095-764-5938
- Rachel Denber in Moscow: 7095-265-4448, mobile: 7095-764-5938
- Lois Whitman in New York: (212) 216-1239
New York Times 14 December 1998
Russia's Wards Survive on Strangers' Kindness and Native Ingenuity
By Celestine Bohlen
MOZHAISK, Russia -- It is lunch time in the children's quarters at the women's prison colony here, and 10 little pale faces are bent over bowls of grey mush, a blend of watery potatoes with a dash of meat. The meal is not a big hit with the scruffy 2-year-olds, but for the women who are trying to coax spoonfuls into their mouths, the fact that there is anything on the table at all is a small victory.
By their calculations, the Russian government has practically stopped paying a daily food allowance for the 64 children, all under age 3, who live in the fenced compound where their mothers are serving sentences for crimes ranging from theft to murder.
"This year, for the children, we received 185,000 rubles," said Lyudmila Yareva, who as head of the children's house can recite these figures by heart. "After salaries and taxes, 47,000 goes to food, which as you understand is nothing at all." At the rate the ruble is going these days, nothing is just about on target. Four months ago, 47,000 rubles was worth roughly $7,000. Today, as the value of the currency continues its downward drift, it is worth one-third that amount, or roughly $36 per child a year.
In a time of shrinking budgets and rising inflation, when Russia cannot afford to pay its teachers or army officers a regular wage, let alone come up with the cash for multibillion-dollar payments on its foreign debt, state institutions like this one have been set adrift. At prisons and hospitals, orphanages and psychiatric hospitals, money for inmates -- their food, clothes, medicine and bed sheets -- is being squeezed out like drops from a desiccated lemon.
Here in this women's prison, the official daily food allowance for the 1,600 women is 65 kopeks, about three cents at current exchange rates. Down the road at a juvenile detention center, the sum is greater -- 80 kopeks -- because as one official explained ruefully, his charges are "under age" and need more food to grow. According to the Ministry of Justice, the national average in Russian jails and prison camps is 67 kopeks.
But these are official sums, which in Russia these days are usually not worth much more than the paper they are written on. In fact, here in Mozhaisk, 60 miles southwest of Moscow, the women's prison actually spends almost four times more on its children than its budget allows. How Mrs. Yareva manages to clothe and feed her charges adds up to another one of those baffling puzzles that explain how this country and its people are able to survive in their calamity-prone economy. The answer is, as usual, a mishmash -- involving both the kindness of strangers and a dash of native ingenuity.
The potatoes, for instance, come from a local farm which now relies on women prisoners to help dig up their crop. Milk is also "free," after the prison, unable to dig its way out of a mountain of unpaid bills, agreed to provide milk maids to the local dairy. Soap comes from a local store owner who, after some pleading by the prison wardens, agreed to throw in a donation together with regular purchases.
But mostly, these wards of the Russian state survive on "gumanitarka," the Russian nickname for the humanitarian aid that in the last years has been sent to institutions like this one. In this case, toys, blankets, medicine and mattresses come from all over -- from Norway, from Germany, but also from sources close to home: from the grandmother who periodically shows up at the prison gates with a pile of neatly stacked baby clothes, to the Association of Russian Aristocrats, whose help is acknowledged by the signed photograph in Mrs. Yareva's office of the Grand Duchess Maria Romanova, and her son Georgi, acknowledged by some as the heir to the Russian imperial throne.
"We run around, we ask, we beg, we do what we can," Mrs. Yareva said, a bitterness creeping into her voice as she remembers the days when the prison got more money from the state than it was able to spend. The last normal year, she recalls, was 1990, when Russia was still Communist, before "democratism, or whatever it is you call this."
Even with help, the diet for these children is not what it should be. By Mrs. Yareva's reckoning, they actually live on 16 rubles (about 80 cents) a day, when the "norm" should be 20 (a dollar). The missing four rubles, she says, would go a long way toward buying them the proper portions of eggs, fruits and vegetables that they should be getting, and do not.
Even getting the supplies they have received requires running around. For three weeks, prison wardens have been on tenterhooks, awaiting the delivery of a container full of gumanitarka that has been held up with red tape at a local customs office. "There are papers that have to be signed at every level," Lidiya I. Pustovoit, a deputy prison director, explained as she dashed out the door to do battle for the shipment one more time. "Each time I go there, there is another level, and another batch of papers."
Bureaucracy and budget shortfalls are part of the prison's routine. But what happened in Russia on Aug. 17, when the ruble devalued and the banking system froze up after the government defaulted on its ruble debts, was an unexpected jolt, which threw a season's worth of planned repairs into confusion.
By the time the banks released the allocated funds, fall here was turning to winter. By the time new pipes were being installed in the two-story house where the children live, winter had set in. The result has been an irregular water supply, and days with no hot water at all, at a time when temperatures here had dropped below freezing.
But for mothers like Yanna Strukova, 27, who is here on a seven-year sentence for armed robbery, having her son, Seryozha, close by, where she can spend two hours a day with him, is for the moment better than the alternative. When he turns 3 three next month, she faces a choice: either he goes to a state orphanage, or she has to persuade her mother-in-law, who already looks after her older daughter, to take him in.
"The whole problem is money," she said, shrugging her shoulders. "Imagine, a grandmother on a pension of 400 rubles, keeping two children. She doesn't even have the money to travel up here and pick him up."
21 February 1999, Johnson's Russia List
"Children Left To Die"
By Robert Aronson, MiraMedUSA
We are so sick of these horror stories about the 600,000 Russian orphans who are either "beaten and tortured" (Human Rights Watch) or "left to die." We have been working on the ground with Russian orphanages for 5 years and also work directly with the Russian Orphanage Association, which works with about 80 baby orphanages.
All over the world, including the US, you can find children being beaten and tortured and of kids in the US and left to die. And these kind of abuses should be exposed. But what about the tens of thousands of Russian orphanage workers who show up for work and love and care for these kids without getting paid for 6 months or more and the hundreds of thousands of kids who are NOT being beaten or left to die--but need help? Where is the press coverage, the editorials, the voices for change on these issues? Keeping pressure on the government NOT to continue to cut services (food, etc.) to these orphanages; making it easier to send humanitarian aid and working to make sure when these kids are turned out at 17 they are educated and trained enough to get a decent job instead of being the number one source of recruits for the mafia and sex traffickers is the real work that needs doing--but this is too dull for the media.
The so-called "extensive report" that Human Rights Watch did is a disgrace. They spent less than 30 days in Russia, spoke to less than 25 people, visited 15 or so orphanages in one small area of this enormous country and published a 200 plus page tirade that got enormous press coverage but didn't help improve humanitarian aid delivery, pay workers or increase orphanage budgets that have been slashed 30% this year.
Things ARE very tough in Russia for kids--there's a million of them on the streets and 600,000 in institutions. But sensationalist reporting too often just cause a knee-jerk reaction--like Americans sending checks to these orphanages (which of course cannot be cashed since there are no banks to cash them!). What is needed is a lot more thoughtful reporting and information about what can be done to improve the situation. For more information, please contact MiraMed Institute.