Kotlas: Russia’s Bankruptcy Capital

A City of Bankrupts
Vladimir Ruvinsky
Kommersant Dengi
November 28, 2016

Kotlas, a district center in Arkhangelsk Region, will be one hundred years old in 2017. During the first half of the twentieth century, it was one of the main transit centers for political prisoners, but nowadays it is the capital of individual bankruptcies. There is no work in the city, which over the past ten years has become a local consumer’s paradise, and every fourth resident is up to their ears in debt.

In 2012, Kotlas resident Tatyana and her entire family, including her husband, daughter, and brother, took out a total of five million rubles in loans from banks. She asked we not reveal her surname, since her husband is unaware their daughter also took out a loan. As Tatyana says, they took out the loans not for themselves, but for a friend.

“I worked for two female entrepreneurs who sold clothing. We had known each other for something like twenty years. We would visit each other’s homes, go to each other’s birthday parties, and attend the weddings of each other’s children,” Tatyana recalls. “One of them, in fact, asked me to take out the loans because otherwise, she said, they would have to borrow at an interest rate of eight percent on the black market.”

Tatyana borrowed 1.7 million rubles at Trust, Tinkoff Bank, Home Credit, and OTP Bank.

“I worked for my friends selling luxury clothing. The turnover was good so I was not particularly afraid,” she explains.

Soon afterwards, her friends persuaded to take out additional loans for them. Her husband, daughter, and brother agreed to do this, borrowing 900,000 rubles, 1.8 million rubles, and 700,000 rubles, respectively. The deal was based on trust. Tatyana’s family handed the loan agreements over to the female entrepreneurs, and they paid back the loans themselves. This went on for two years.

“In 2014, the police came and searched our workplace. It turned out the women had been running something like a pyramid. They had been borrowing money on paper to purchase goods. They had not been buying anything, however, but had been cashing out the loans,” say Tatyana. “That is how we got in trouble, although we had not taken out the loans for ourselves.”

The banks demanded repayment of the loans. At first, Tatyana admits, she felt like hanging herself.

“But that is no solution. A woman I know hung herself over a loan. Someone shot himself. Well, if I hung myself, the debt would have been passed on to my relatives. So I got up and went to work.” Continue reading “Kotlas: Russia’s Bankruptcy Capital”

Back to Beirut

A Toilet for the Investigator
Tatyana Voltskaya
Radio Svoboda
November 30, 2016

Inside the Café Beirut. Photo courtesy of Tatyana Voltskaya/RFE/RL

Criminal charges have been brought against the co-owner of the Café Beirut in Petersburg; on November 29, police searched her home. In September and October, the café was searched on several occasions by Investigative Committee, Rospotrebnadzor, and Emergencies Ministry officers.

The café believes the only cause of its woes is a casual patron who tried to use the establishment’s toilet last summer, but was turned away.

There is generally nothing wrong about popping into a café to use the toilet. The employees of the Café Beirut say they would never turn away polite, friendly visitors. But when an individual makes noise, swears, and might make a less than pleasant impression on diners, they do not see fit to let him in. Thus, this past July, they turned away a young man who, they say, behaved just this way.

On September 7, investigators, Rospotrebnadzor inspectors, and Emergencies Ministry officers raided the café and searched it. An employee recognized the young investigator leading the raid as the same young man who had unsuccessfully tried to use the Beirut’s toilet in summer.

Another search took place on September 23, resulting in the completely undocumented confiscation of the establishment’s cash register, computer server, order terminal, and charter documents, meaning everything they needed to stay in business. The café was closed for a whole week, but then it opened again, having suffered considerable losses, of course.

But that was not the end of the matter. On November 29, police searched the home of the café’s co-owner Elizaveta Izvozchikova, who has been charged with violating Article 238 of the Criminal Code (“Production, storage, transport or sale of goods and products, works or services that do not meet safety requirements”). According to Izvozchikova, the female investigator who led the search rang at her apartment at seven in the morning.

“She came to my apartment accompanied by an officer of the economic crimes department district office and two official witnesses. They served me with a search warrant, which made it clear to me that criminal charges had been filed against me under Article 238. The article says nothing about harming anyone, only about providing poor-quality services. To file charges under this article, it is sufficient to record violations of some kind, say, sanitation rules. We quickly fixed all the violations for which we had been cited and submitted a report to the Investigative Committee. After all, we opened just recently, in late February of this year. We did a major overhaul and replaced all the plumbing, sewerage, and electrical wires. The basement was in bad shape. Then we restored the historic storefront, made high-quality repairs inside, and installed new equipment in the kitchen. We wanted to do something good for people, feed them tasty food and give them good service. I am a designer by education, and I really wanted to make the café pretty. I am a responsibe person, so I tried to make sure everything was in order: that the fire extinguisher was certified, that the kitchen was clean, that we followed all the rules. But on September 7 we had our first inspection. The investigator from the Investigative Committee forced everyone outside and demanded we sign papers of some of kind without reading them. Otherwise, he threatened us with immediate closure and put a lot of pressure on my manager, who is fairly young.”

Café Beirut co-owner Elizaveta Izvozchikova. Photo courtesy of Tatyana Voltskaya/RFE/RL

I asked what the reason for the first inspection was.

“My internal investigation revealed that our manager had seen the young man who turned out to be an investigator: he had not let him use our toilet. We had guests, he had demanded to use the toilet in a rude way, waving his arms and cursing, so he was not allowed to use the toilet. The second inspection, headed by this investigator, took place on September 23. He confiscated the cash register and a bunch of other things. The investigation was then terminated. Later, however, the decision to terminate the investigation was annulled, the case file was submitted for an additional investigation, and another inspection was organized. Rospotrebnadzor and the Emergencies Ministry cited us for four violations. We immediately fixed two of the problems: we installed a missing washbasin and a germicidal lamp. But the other two violations were simply nonexistent. We were told our doors had to be at least one meter wide, and we had to have a second emergency exit. According to fire safety rules, however, wide doors and a second exit are obligatory only for premises larger than one hundred square meters, and if there are over fifty evacuees, but our place seats only thirty people. We explained everything to them and attached documents to our reports, including the cadastral passport, which shows we have only sixty-three square meters of space. We also requested that everything they had confiscated be returned to us, as they had nothing to do with the inspection. Instead of a response, however, criminal charges have been filed. The charges are based on those same two violations, turned up by the Emergencies Ministry, but I do not believe that the Emergencies Ministry officer was unfamiliar with the rules in question. The third violation consisted in the fact that, according to Rospotrebnadzor, we had no right to worked with unpeeled root vegetables; this requires a separate bath or even a whole room. So we ordered peeled root vegetables, meaning we started using prepared food, which we immediately reported to the authorities. But it made no difference at all. I was summoned for interrogation on November 29, but I refused to answer the questions in order to better familiarize myself with the charge sheet. So I will be going to the Investigative Committee on Monday, December 5. While the inspections were going on, we made huge losses. We were closed for an entire week, and many of our clients even now think we are still closed. Nothing like this has ever happened to any of my colleagues, and I continue to hope for justice. We have not violated any law. We are conscientious taxpayers and entrepreneurs who are trying to run a small business, and we do no harm to anyone,” says Elizaveta Izvozchikova.

Restored historical storefront at the Café Beirut (right). Photo courtesy of Tatyana Voltskaya/RFE/RL 

Lawyer Boris Gruzd argues that criminal prosecution has not been used for its intended purpose in this case.

“I think that criminal charges are sometimes filed on insufficient grounds and used for other purposes, as a means of revenge, for dealing with undesirable persons. I think this is one of those cases. It often happens that, even when criminal law has seemingly been violated, it is extremely hard to file criminal charges. An enormous amount of effort is made to turn even obvious crimes into criminal cases. But here criminal charges have been filed out of thin air, so to speak. Because, when criminal charges are filed, aside from violation of the law, another important element is danger to the public. In this case, however, they have found fault with a telegraph pole, as the saying goes. I am sure you could find a dozen such violations in any small business and major state company. What public good has been violated that it is necessary to resort to criminal prosecution? It is a last resort that should be used very selectively and carefully, when other tools do not work. This is a classic case of ‘nightmarizing business.'”

I asked Gruzd whether there was any hope of punishing those who spin such cases out of thin air.

“It is necessary to take steps in this direction. It produces a particularly sharp contrast with the notorious case of the women who was murdered although she called the police because her [ex-]partner had threatened her. But the dispatcher, the best beat cop in the city, told her that if and when she was killed, they would come and describe her corpse. Here, the Investigative Committee, whose remit is grave and especially grave crimes, has pounced on a café. So they have the time and the energy to deal with this nonsense?” notes Gruzd.

Alexander Kobrinsky, a member of the fifth convocation of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly, says the persecution of the Café Beirut’s co-owner is not something out of the ordinary in Russia.

“Recently, everyone watched the video in which security guards tried to keep a drunk man, who turned out to be a police officer, from entering a café. A while later, the riot cops arrived and detained the security guards, who were just doing their jobs. But the situation is understandable, because law enforcement officers consider themselves a superior caste, endowed with special rights, including the right to cook up criminal cases as a means of personal revenge. It is quite widespread, since the law allows them to file criminal charges, suspend business operations, and confiscate tools, computers, whatever. Maybe the charges will be dropped a year from now, but getting a business back up on its feet after such shocks is not always possible. That is why, by the way, prohibiting the detention of people involved in commerce and seizure of their property has now been actively discussed. What point have we reached to openly admit that the vast majority of criminal charges filed against businessmen in Russia is based on mercenary motives and revenge! Clearly there are thieves and con men, but it turns out that they constitute the minority of defendants in such cases. Such is the system and such is the law. We see that a completely peculiar set of circumstances has been established in Russia. I don’t know, maybe Putin was speaking sincerely about the investment climate, but there is no longer any way of manually managing hundreds of thousands of these minor strongmen. In Russia, every police capitan, assistant investigator, and junior assistanct prosecutor is a low-level power broker. They are used to living this way: they have been living this way for a quarter of a century. And they do not want to live any other way, no matter what Putin has said,” argues Kobrinsky.

According to Kobrinsky, this mindset—that I am a landlord, and you are my slaves—is very difficult to eradicate. One has the impression that the head of state seemingly has no leverage over Russia’s law enforcement system, that it must be completely dismantled and reassembled anew.

On November 29, Elizaveta Izvozchikova was released on her own recognizance.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Beirut

Did happy looking customers know what danger they were in?
Did these happy looking customers know what danger they were in?

When It’s More Dangerous in Petersburg than in Lebanon
Denis Korotkov
Fontanka.ru
November 29, 2016

The police came to the home of the woman who owns the Café Beirut at seven in the morning with a search warrant. The grounds for the search were serious: the cafe lacked a germicidal lamp. Thus ended the three-month confrontation between the businesswoman and the Investigative Committee.

All the might of the Central District’s law enforcement and regulatory authorities came crashing down on Café Beirut, which serves Middle Eastern cuisine on Stremyannaya Street. To our knowledge, no one has complained about the service or quality of the food, but the Investigative Committee, police, fire inspectors, and consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor are extremely concerned for the consumer’s safety at this eating establishment.

The Beirut is a small Middle Eastern café on Stremyannaya Street. Since early September 2016, it has been a battlefield between entrepreneur Liza Izvozchikova and regulators.

The first shot was fired on September 7, when Ivan Lyalitsky, an investigator in the Investigative Committee’s Central District office, visited the café, accompanied by police officers, Rospotrebnadzor inspectors, and Emergencies Ministry officials. Lyalitsky drew up a document of some sort and left. According to café employees who were present, he did not let them read the document. During this first visit, nothing but the cash register report was confiscated.

Izvozchikova says that on Sunday, September 18, Lyalitsky contacted her by phone and demanded she immediately report to his office. Otherwise, “criminal charges would be filed.”

Izvozchikova refused to go to the informal meeting. She went to see the investigator on a weekday, accompanied by a lawyer. They were presented with a long list of alleged violations. Izvozchikov says some of the alleged defects were simply not true. For example, the list stated the café lacked a fire alarm (it had one), that the café’s inventory was not labeled (it was), and that there were no employee health books at the café, although no one had bothered to check them.

Izvozchikova admits certain violations, for example, the lack of a chart showing the evacuation plan for the premises. These shortcomings were fixed, and a corresponding registered letter with notification of delivery was sent to the Investigative Committee. The letter was refused, and the notification returned.

Lyalitsky made a second visit to the Beirut on September 23. On this occasion, the café did not get off with an inspection, but had its cash register, computers, charter documents, contracts with suppliers, and other papers confiscated. Employees who were present say they were not provided with a list of the confiscated items. The café was paralyzed for a week, until it purchased and licensed a new cash register, and obtained copies of the documents.

Izvozchikova’s complaints to the prosecutor’s office and the Central Investigative Department of the Russian Investigative Committee’s Petersburg office were reviewed, but the confiscated cash register and computers were not returned to her, and Lyalitsky’s actions were deemed appropriate. On the other hand, the Beirut was left in peace for a month.

The break in the investigation lasted for all of October.

On November 9, the Beirut was once again visited by law enforcement officers, whose order of cognac, two coffees, and a salad turned out to be test purchases. No violations were found during the sample purchases, but they were followed by another inspection, led this time by investigator Ludmila Stepanova. A whopping five violations were found: no sink for washing hands in the kitchen, no germicidal lamp, the toilet door opened onto the kitchen, no second exit, and the width of the evacuation passages was narrower than necessary.

Izvozchikova installed a sink and germicidal lamp, and reported that the requirements for a second exit and wider corridors should not be apply to her café in accordance with the regulations, since it is small and located on the first floor.

It was no use. At seven in the morning on November 29, the investigator came to Izvozchikova’s apartment with a search warrant. From the warrant, Izvozchikova learned that a criminal case had been opened under Criminal Code Article 238.1 (“Production, storage, transport or sale of goods and products, works or services that do not meet safety requirements”), and that “relevant items and documents” might be located in her apartment. No one knew what this meant. The only item investigators confiscated was a Beirut LLC stamp, which no one had hidden.

Surprised by the investigation’s intransigence, Fontanka.ru contacted investigator Ludmila Stepanova and asked her to comment on the need for a morningtime search of an apartment in a case dealing with the lack of a sink and an emergency exit in a café. The investigator refused to comment, citing service regulations, and asked us to contact the Investigative Committee’s press service.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade KV for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of vk.com

Sorry, We Have No Medicine

Unlike life-saving prescription drugs, hashish and other narcotics are easy to come by in Russia. Photo by the Russian Reader
Unlike life-saving prescription drugs, hashish and other narcotics are easy to come by in Russia. Photo by the Russian Reader

Sorry, We Have No Medicine
Alfia Maksutova
Takie Dela
November 24, 2016

What doctors and officials do to avoid giving patients the free drugs they have coming to them

“You’re not ill.”

“You don’t have that.”

“You don’t need that drug.”

“You need that drug, but a cheaper substitute will also do.”

“You need the drug, but we’re out of it, so you’ll have to wait.”

This is how doctors and officials respond to thousands of people who, by law, are supposed to receive subsidized medicines. They trick them. They know these people are ill, and they know what drugs they need. According to rough estimates, however, the state now lacks 45 billion rubles for providing drugs to the populace. In certain regions, only 10% of applicants can be supplied with subsidized medicines. Officials and doctors turn down patients in such a way that it is as difficult as possible to prove they have broken the law. The Health Ministry and the health care regulator Rosdravnadzor regularly report that things are stable when it comes to preferential drug provision in Russia. The figures underpinning the reports bear no relation to reality. The true scale and brutality of the war between patients and the state is striking.

***

“Every time, they say, ‘Sorry, we have no medicine. There is nothing we can do about it.’ But by law I am supposed to get them. If they are out of them today, the state should purchase them tomorrow. Isn’t that right?”

Veronika has repeated the question over and over, but her voice still sounds surprised. When she speaks, her hands, with their long, elegant fingers, tremble slightly, as if they too are incapable of coping with the surprise. She has used hormonal inhalers for fifteen years. Without them, she cannot breathe. She has asthma, a host of related ailments, and official status as a disabled person. She is entitled to get the necessary dose at the pharmacy for free, but the medicine has not been issued for a year and a half now.

“It was always given out intermittently,” says Veronika. “You had to find out ahead of time the day when the drug would show up and run to the clinic when it opened to be in time to get it. If you were late, they would tell you they had run out, and it was your problem. But it was only last year I had to deal with the medicine not being available for months at a time.”

Then, after waiting six months, Veronika first turned to the Moscow Health Department for help. It was enough to file an application and the inhaler, which the pharmacy did not have in stock in the morning, turned up in the evening. But the magical effect of phoning the health department did not last long. A couple of months later, the drug was once again no longer available. When Veronika called the health department this time, she was told the situation was complicated. She could file an application, but no one knew when the drugs would arrive. The same day, the pharmacy called her and said her request was pointless: the drugs would not be available. Currently, relatives have been paying for her inhalers to the tune of several thousand rubles a month. According to Veronika, many of the people queued up to see the pulmonologist could not afford to pay this amount. The phrase “we are out of drugs” is tantamount a death sentence to them.

Veronika’s case is one of thousands. It suffices to peruse the regional press for the past month to read a dozen such stories. In Mordovia, the pharmacies not only have no prednisolone for patients entitled to the free drugs benefits, but no iodine or bandages, either. In Oryol Region, a woman suffering from lymphoma managed to get medicine only after local media wrote about her case. In Khakassia, the Audit Chamber will be investigating the problems with subsidized medicines due to the large numbers of complaints by patients. Organizations involved in protecting patients’ rights talk constantly about the growing number of pleas for help. The Movement against Cancer, for example, has noted an uptick. In September of this year, there had been so many cases of cancer patients turned down for subsidized drugs that the Prosecutor General’s Office investigated legal violations in a number of regions. According to online monitoring data for September 2016, done by Alexander Saversky, head of the League of Patients, over 80% of those surveyed had trouble obtaining subsidized drugs. Only 35% of those people had managed to get a prescription for the drugs in question without problems. Similar figures were adduced in a survey done last year by the Russian People’s Front: half of the patients surveyed were not issued the medicines they requested on time.

A 2016 government report stated the subsidized drugs provision program was suffering a shortfall of 45 billion rubles [approx. 660 million euros]. This was no surprise. The standard cost per person receiving free drugs has dropped from 849 rubles a month, in 2011, to 758 rubles, in 2016. According to Rosstat, however, the price of drugs has increased this year by 24%. In 2015, the government allocated an additional 16 billion rubles to alleviate the situation, but, unexpectedly, they were not used. The Health Ministry has said that all necessary drugs have been purchased. Roszdravnadzor regularly monitors the supply of drugs nationwide and has remained satisfied with its results. According to the reports issued by these agencies, around 98% of beneficiaries in Moscow Region, for example, receive their drugs, and the situation in other regions is stable. The Health Ministry’s ability to force public health officials to bend reality for reporting purposes has amazed even the president. Continue reading “Sorry, We Have No Medicine”

They Jump on Anything That Moves

podgorkov-queue-for-beer-1970s
Sergei Podgorkov, Queue for Beer, 1970s. Courtesy of oldsp.ru

Government Proposes Banning Individual Entrepreneurs from Selling Beer 
Anton Obrezchikov
RBC
November 22, 2016

Rosalkogolregulirovanie (Russian Federal Service for Regulating the Alcohol Market) plans to prohibit the sale of beer and cider at outlets registered to individual entrepreneurs. Producers argue the decision will be a blow to small business.

Several sources in the alcohol business have told RBC that Rosalkogolregulirovanie plans to ban the sale of alcohol at outlets registered to individual entrepreneurs. According to one of our interlocutors, the law “On State Regulation of the Production and Sales of Ethyl Alcohol, Alcohol, and Alcohol Products, and On the Limitation of Consumption (Drinking) of Alcohol Products” will be amended to reflect the move.

Rosalkogolregulirovanie did not respond to RBC’s request for comments.

Kommersant‘s sources reported on the draft bill on Tuesday, November 22. According to the draft document, which the newspaper had seen, restrictions would be introduced nationwide on July 1, 2017, with the exception of Crimea and Sevastopol. The ban would be postponed in these regions until January 1, 2018.

Currently, individual entrepreneurs can engage in retail sales of beer, beer drinks, and various sorts of cider and mead. In addition, a separate category of entrepreneurs, those who have the status of agricultural producers, can sell wine. So far, however, such entrepreneurs do not officially exist in Russia. At the moment, only three applications for the relevant commerical license have been filed, and none of them has been approved yet.

As Kirill Bolmatov, corporate affairs director for Heineken, told RBC, Rosalkoregulirovanie’s main beef with individual entrepreneurs is that they are “insufficiently disciplined when filling out the mandatory paper financial  reporting statements.”

“Yet EGAIS [Unified State Automated Information System] completely tracks the movement of all alcoholic beverages in real time, and there is no point in filling out the statements,” said Bolmatov.

He called the pressure on businessmen “harmful,” since “beer is a large share of the turnover for small shops.” Adoption of the amendments would entail closing a large number of small shops.

“It’s a blow to small business,” he told RBC.

Individual entrepreneurs account for at least 37% of all retail outlets selling SAN InBev’s products, Oraz Durdyyev, the beer company’s legal and corporate relations director, told RBC.

“Prohibiting individual entrepreneurs from selling beer would deal a serious blow to legal small businesses, because beer is one of the high-margin products they have in stock, which helps keep prices down on goods purchased by the underprivileged,” argued Durdyyev. “Given the current economic realities, a ban like this is out of place and harmful, and could lead to increased social tensions.”

Entrepreneurs and beer companies have already faced significant restrictions on sales venues. As a spokeperson for Baltica brewing company reminded us, restrictions on beer sales at kiosks were introduced on January 1, 2013. According to the company, kiosks accounted for 20% of all beer sold. Since then, the number of retail outlets selling beer has decreased by 50,000. Over 30,000 of these outlets were kiosks and pavilions. During the period, the number of kiosks has fallen by 75%, from 30,000 to 8,600, and the number of pavilions by 24%, from 45,00 to 35,000. Baltica beer is sold at approximately 100,000 outlets registered to individual entrepreneurs, the company told us.

Translated by the Russian Reader

________

The Soft Boys, “Leppo And The Jooves”

Crabwise
Over the Andalusian extensions of the life and loves of Noddy
Through the windows of disgust
The teeth of Leppo and his managers awry
No time to cry

Sunrise
A lamp of no position in the loss of all existence
To the vultures without bibles and
The preachers without leaves that pass it by
No time to sigh

All them pretty women
Planted in a row
You see them in the newspapers
But you can’t have ’em – no!
No no no no no no no no! Oh ho ho!

They get Lep-Lep-Leppo and the J-J-J-J-J-Jooves
They jump on anything that m-m-m-m-m-moves
On taxis, coffin-lids, Americans, piano-heads and roofs
Leppo…

Likewise
A farmer and his diary might conspire to freeze a widow
So I went to rob the lizard
Of his skin, his coat, his money and his earth
All that he’s worth

Someday
You realize that everything you do or see or think of
If it interferes with nothing
Might as well dissolve in arrows or in tears
Nobody hears

All them famous people
Washed off in the rain
Leave not even a puddle, baby
All you leave is your name
Huh-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!Your name!

I got a name, baby
It’s Lep-Lep-Leppo and the J-J-J-J-J-Jooves
Oh ho ho!
They jump on anything that m-m-m-m-m-moves
Ah ha ha! Ah ha ha.
On taxis, coffin-lids, Americans, piano-heads and roofs
Leppo…

Listen
And you can hear the dripping of the clocks, the reaping of the sun
The vengeance of the hammer and
The squeamish tight explosion of the liar
Burn in the fire

Gazing
With unforeseeing eyes into the smoke, the lungs of war
And all the endless formulations of unusable beginnings that
Have grown from hungry rivers into trees
Nobody sees

All them hungry people
They don’t look so good
But I don’t let it bother you
I don’t see why it should
No no no no no no!
Oh oh ho!
Oh ho ho!

Lep-Lep-Leppo and the J-J-J-J-J-Jooves
They jump on anything that m-m-m-m-m-moves
On taxis, coffin-lids, Americans, piano-heads and roofs
Leppo…

Source: Oldie Lyrics

Rospotrebnadzor Axes “Public Refrigerator” in Petersburg

“A Project like This Is Impossible in Russia”: Why the Public Refrigerator Has Closed Forever
The organizer of the first public refrigerator in Russia explains why European know-how did not catch on here
Julia Galkina
The Village
November 16, 2016

Public Refrigerator on Vasilyevsky Island. Photo courtesy of The Village and Svetlana Kholyavchuk/TASS

The first public refrigerator opened on Sunday, November 13, in Petersburg, outside the Thank You! charity shop on Vasilyevsky Island. The organizers had hoped that all comers would put unwanted food in the refrigerator and freely taked it. The refrigerator operated for exactly one day. (Read Greenpeace’s report about what that looked like.) On Monday, November 14, state consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor sealed the refrigerator, explaining, “We welcome charity, but the present case concerns not items for the poor, but food products. With all due respect to the organizers, if food poisoning happens and someone gets hurts, Petersburgers will blame us.” On Tuesday, November 15, the organizers abandoned the idea and removed the refrigerator, remarking that “the project is not compatible with Russian legislation.” Now they “are looking for other forms of foodsharing offline.”

Such public refrigerators exist in Czech Republic, Spain, Germany, Poland, and other countries. Why can Europeans manage it, but we cannot? We talked about this with Alexandra Lyogkaya, founder of the project Foodsharing: I Give Away Food for Free.

“As far as I know, the public refrigerators in European countries also work on the person-to-person system, the same way we wanted to organize it. The authorities there do not interfere with the work of such projects. In Russia, on the contrary, it didn’t take off, unfortunately.

“Thank You! was the only team in the city who agreed to try out the public refrigerator project with us. They made their porch available. We did all the prep work together, printing stickers and distributing adverts. It was a completely joint project. We did not vet anything with officials. We thought about it, but probably we counted on the good experience in western countries.

Queue at the public refrigerator on Vasilyevsky Island. Photo courtesy of Greenpeace
Queue at the public refrigerator on Vasilyevsky Island. Photo courtesy of Greenpeace

“People brought a lot of products—sweets, fruits, and so on—right at opening time. The refrigerator opened at twelve noon on Sunday, and Rospotrebnadzor sealed it on Monday around one-thirty in the afternoon. Even afterwards people came to pick up and bring food. As far as I know, they keep coming even now. They just leave it outside, and someone has picked it up a few minutes later.

“We had no restrictions. Anyone at all could bring and pick up food. Of course, many old women and old men came to get food. By the way, originally, the idea had been that the refrigerator would be used by people who could not get food through our group page on Vkontakte. Yet many old ladies said they were also willing to bring food themselves.

“I was ready for anything. That the refrigerator would be stolen, that it would break down, that the police and regulatory authorities would come. Rosprotrebnadzor’s visit upset me, of course, but I cannot say I was in shock or didn’t expect it. I tried to be mentally prepared for any outcome.

“Rospotrebnadzor told us that a public refrigerator was impossible in Russia. We could organize a cart to feed all comers or a public cafeteria, but not something in which anyone can donate products. So each volunteer would have to have the relevant papers. If you put pasties or jam in the refrigerator, show us your certificates listing the ingredients and how it was made, stored, and transported.

“Because our project is purely nonprofit (no money is involved), we would not be able to organize something big-scale like a cafeteria. For now, unfortunately, we have nopt come up with a way of doing an offline foodsharing project that would be legal and just as simple as the public refrigerator.

“I really liked the way people reacted well to the refrigerator. I think that matters more than what happened later. If the authorities had allowed us to put it there, but people had not understood the idea and been against it, it would have been much worse.  So we just need to find the right form. People both young and old are ready for such a project.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Hit-and-Miss Approach to HIV Prevention in Russia

“#testforthefuture. HIV-infection risk group. A topic that affects everyone. Take an HIV test free and anonymously. Humanitarian Action Foundation.” Public service ad in central Petersburg, October 29, 2016. Photo by the Russian Reader. Typically, the ad is plastered with flyers offering the services of prostitutes.

Health Ministry Did Not Include HIV Test in Compulsory Medical Exam
Polina Zvezdina
RBC
November 21, 2016

Optional and Anonymous

The Health Ministry has changed its annual medical exam program for adults, judging by the amendments posted on the Federal Website for Draft Regulations. Free HIV testing was not included in the document. In September 2016, Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova had promised testing would be included in the annual wellness examination program beginning in 2017.

If the amendments are adopted, beginning next year, general practitioners will be obliged to inform everyone between the ages of 21 and 49 who is undergoing a physical exam that they can take an anonymous HIV test at specialized medical clinics. Physicians should provide patients with a list of the clinics where the test is performed.

The Health Ministry had planned to receive funds to expand the program by eliminating ineffective research. Our sources at the ministry did not explain to us why the HIV test had been turned down for inclusion in the compulsory program.

MPs Fedot Tumusov and Alexandrev Petrov, who sit on the State Duma’s Healthcare Committee, believe the ministry rejected the HIV test as part of its physical exam program due to a lack of funds. Andrei Skvortsov, coordinator of the Patient Monitoring movement, agrees with them.

This is not the first time the government has been unable to find funds in the federal budget to fight HIV. Thus, on November 15, due to a lack of financing, a special interdepartmental commission decided not to add new drugs for suppressing HIV to the list of essential drugs. Elena Maximkina, director of the Health Ministry’s Department for Drug Provision, said that 20.8 billion rubles had been spent in 2016 on purchasing anti-HIV drugs. Yet in the three-year federal draft budget, 17.8 billion rubles have been slated for prevention and treatment of HIV and hepatitis B and C in 2017, 17.5 billion rubles in 2018, and 17.1 billion rubles in 2019.


Mandatory and Unethical

Another reason the free test could not be included in the medical exam program is legal. At present, the test is only administered voluntarily, explained Tumusov. Testing as part of the standard medical examination should be obligatory, believes Tumusov, A Just Russia party MP, but first you must explain to the public why it is necessary. We can already observe positive outcomes in Yekaterinburg, where reports of an unofficial [sic] HIV epidemic sparked widespread testing for the infection, said Tumusov.

Skvortsov argues that testing could be included in the medical check-up program if doctors in district clinics and non-specialized hospitals were better informed about the specifics of HIV and the means of its dissemination.

“Medical personnel often refuse to give HIV-infected patients necessary medical treatment, and such patients face other forms of discrimination,” he noted.

Doctors at ordinary clinics are also often not able to carry out the pre-test and post-test consultations that would be required if obligatory testing were included in the medical examination program, said Skvortsov.

Another factor is that patients are now often reluctant to be tested under the voluntary health insurance program, argues Igor Pchelin, chair of the Steps Regional Public Charity Foundation to Fight AIDs. This is due to the fact that physicians may not comply with medical confidentiality and reveal test results to colleagues, neighbors, and friends of infected patients.

Provided there is sufficient financing in 2020, the government plans to test 35% of the public for HIV annually, according to the strategic plan for combating the spread of the infection. From the draft of the plan, which RBC has seen, it follows that financing should amount to an additional 3.2 billion rubles per year. This amount is needed to test an additional 20 million people at a cost of 150 rubles per test. It is currently not known whether the funds will be allocated or not. In 2015, HIV testing covered around 30 million people or 19.3% of the population.

Translated by the Russian Reader. If you found this article fascinating and depressing, you should definitely read Daria Litvinova, “Russia Wishes Away Its HIV Epidemic,” The Moscow Times, November 18, 2018.