Sunday, July 21, 2019

Looking into the Faces of Russia’s Poor

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 18 – On the basis of a visit to rural areas Tver Oblast, which currently leads the Russian Federation in the rate of the dying out of villages, Moscow blogger Ilya Varlamov offers 47 photographs of what rural poverty in that country looks like,  a face of destitution that often is talked about statistically more than in human terms.

            When you turn off the main roads in that region, Varlamov says, you see houses that are dissolving into the ground but soon discover that “in many of them, people are living out their lives”  in what can only be described as abject poverty and quiet desperation (

            The blogger visited some of the villages with activists of the Rus Foundation, a group that buys and distributes food and other goods to the needy. “They have the addresses of old people who need help.” One of these, Viktor Sergeyevich, lives in a decaying house. Old and recently the victim of a robbery, he won’t even open his door.

            Most of the houses have no running water, indoor plumbing or gas heat.  Nonetheless, they are charged with paying for “capital repairs.” But because they know that such repairs are never going to happen, many don’t pay, only to have their debt to the state go up each passing month.

            One older woman they met, Varlamov continues, lives on a pension of less than 9,000 rubles (150 US dollars) a month. It goes for food – but no meat – and medicine.  Often there is no money left at the end of the month even for that. The store advances her a loan on the next month’s pension payment, leaving her ever further behind.

            Another Tver pensioner says he gets out of the village only once or twice a year.  Like other villages, he admires Putin but has no use for other officials. A third says he has stopped drinking because he can’t afford it but does allow himself an occasion beer – and makes sure that he has food for his dogs.

            No social workers come to these villagers even though they are supposed to. Indeed, many of the elderly in the villages aren’t sure exactly what a social worker is.  Things are tough, but most say they don’t want to go into a home for old people. They have cats and dogs and things are familiar.  “I think I will try to live to 80,” one says.

            There are millions of such people in Russia today, Varlamov says.  “Often, they live in dying villages, far from civilization and any hope. Often their only joy are pets and perhaps the television.” Rural health aides don’t visit them and when they are sick they must either suffer or make their way to the cities.

            “For them, the only messenger of the state is the postman with a miserly pension in an envelope,” the blogger concludes. But they gave the state the remains of their love.” The pictures he offers only emphasize how remarkable an act that is.

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