Doctors at Petersburg Hospital Rebel over Coronavirus Unpreparedness

Doctors at Pokrovskaya Hospital in Petersburg Rebel over Lack of Protective Equipment, Oxygen and Drugs
Fontanka.ru
April 3, 2020

Doctors at Pokrovskaya Hospital have recorded a collective video message appealing for help. After their hospital was redesignated to treat patients with pneumonia, they do not have enough protective equipment and medications, and they claim not to have running oxygen in the wards. Management had threatened reprisals if they complained.

“We, employees of Pokrovskaya Hospital, appeal to the media for help. What prompted us to do this is that our hospital has been admitting all the pneumonia cases [in Petersburg], including pneumonia caused by the coronavirus. We have no protective equipment. What you see us wearing is no means of protection against viral infection,” begins the video message, which Fontanka.ru received on April 3.

“We are not refusing to work. We love our patients and want everyone to recover. But it is not possible to work in such unprotected conditions. No one is immune to infection. Nor does the status of doctor protect one: the virus is not selective. It spares no one: neither doctors, nor young people, nor the elderly,” the doctors said.

According to them, oxygen is required for the treatment of viral pneumonia, but there is no running supply of it to the wards at Pokrovskaya Hospital. Either this must be done urgently or oxygen tanks must be provided. The hospital does not have the necessary medications. The doctors say that management has already refused to help them, and has promised to “deal” with anyone who complains.

“But we are not afraid, because our lives and the lives of our loved ones are also dear to us. All of us have families, all of us return home after our shifts. And we want to go back to work healthy, and for the people near and dear to us to be healthy,” said the doctors.

The city’s public health committee has promised to comment on the situation later.

Thanks to Victoria Andreyeva for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Employees at Pokrovskaya Hospital recorded a video message about the lack of protective equipment. Their management says this is not true
Bumaga
April 3, 2020

Employees of the Pokrovskaya Hospital in Petersburg, which has been repurposed to treat patients with pneumonia, recorded a video message complaining about working conditions, as reported by Fontanka.ru.

In the video, employees talk about the lack of personal protective equipment, and also note that oxygen has not been supplied to the wards (to operate ventilators). Marina Bakholdina, head physician at Pokrovskaya Hospital, says that what her staff claimed was “not true.”

The city’s public health committee has commented on the appeal by the employees—they say that Pokrovskaya Hospital does not admit patients with the coronavirus. The committee explained that pneumonia is not an infectious disease, so doctors do not need anti-plague suits [sic] to work with patients.

At the same time, the committee admitted that the hospital does not have enough personal protective equipment.

Public Health Committee Press Service

In Petersburg, as in the rest of the world, there is a shortage of personal protective equipment. However, the city is increasing the volume of personal protective equipment. In the near future, the Ministry of Industry and Trade is planning to supply personal protective equipment to all regions of Russia, including Petersburg.

Earlier, the cardiology department at Pokrovskaya Hospital was closed for quarantine due to a patient with COVID-19.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Parents Demand Release of Network Defendants Due to Coronavirus

networkThe Network defendants in the courtroom in Penza. Photo by Yevgeny Malyshev. Courtesy of 7X7

Parents Demand Release of Network Defendants from Remand Prison Due to Coronavirus
Ekaterina Malysheva
7X7
April 1, 2020

Parents of the young men convicted in the Penza portion of the Network Case have demanded their children be transferred to house arrest due to the coronavirus. They have written appeals to this effect to the president of the Russian Federation, the prosecutor general, the heads of the Investigate Committee and the Federal Penitentiary Service, and the commissioner for human rights, as reported to 7X7 by Svetlana Pchelintseva, the mother of Dmitry Pchelintsev, one of the convicted men.

The parents also demanded that safety measures be put in place at detention facilities. They argue that being in remand prison during the COVID-19 outbreak is life-threatening. Of all the quarantine regulations, the parents say, only the ban on visits from relatives has been enforced at the remand prison since March 16.

“Not only is there no guarantee of protection from infection at the remand prison, but it is simply impossible,” the letter says. “Our sons are denied the right to remain alive during the global coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, the issue of safeguarding the health of people confined to detention facilities is not on the agenda today. And, of course, qualified specialized medical care, especially involving the hospitalization of inmates from remand prisons and penal colonies in civilian medical facilities, is not feasible. It is a myth.”

The parents claim that no preventive measures have been enacted at the Penza Remand Prison: disinfection and sanitation procedures have not been carried out, and employees don’t have masks. The greatest danger, according to the authors of the appeal, are the detention facility’s employees themselves, who are potential carriers of the virus. The parents note that reducing the number of inmates in the federal penitentiary system would help prevent disease.

The parents point out that Vladimir Putin said nothing about measures to protect inmates during his address to the Russian people about the coronavirus outbreak. According to the parents, none of the regulations on laboratory testing for COVID-19 defends the rights of people in detention facilities. The authors of the letter claim that inmates will not be tested or treat if they are infected.

Two of the young men convicted in the Network Case, the parents recall, have contracted tuberculosis in remand prison. This puts them at high risk during a pandemic and could be “tantamount to a death sentence.”

On March 30, the Penza regional office of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service reported that in addition to the ban on visits to inmates in the system, visitors and employees with high temperatures and everyone who had been abroad in the last fourteen days were categorically prohibited from entering their facilities.

The office’s press service reported that a set of sanitary and anti-epidemic (preventive) was being organized and implemented at its facilities. It noted that if prisoners were suspected of having the coronavirus disease, the management of the regional office would hospitalize them in health care facilities.

The lawyers of the men convicted in the Network Case continue to visit their clients at Penza Remand Prison No. 1. According to them, conditions at the detention facility make it impossible to ensure the health and safety of prisoners during the epidemic. The lawyers are not allowed to bring certain personal protection gear into the facility. For example, latex medical gloves are not on the list of permitted items.

The lawyers have seen a mask only on the prison employee who inspects people at the entrance to the facility—the other employees were not wearing masks. According to the lawyers, the parents got the runaround in response to their previous complaints and appeals.

The last letter they sent, on February 5, was a request to Russian Federal Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov to investigate all the circumstances in the Network Case and launch a criminal case based on allegations that their children had been tortured by officers in the FSB’s Penza regional office.

In a response dated March 10, the prosecutor general’s office advised the parents to appeal (during the appeals phase of the main verdict in the Network Case) the admissibility of the evidence gathered. All the defendants and their defense lawyers have filed appeals with the Military Appeals Court in Moscow.

The parents organized a solidarity group of relatives against political repression, the Parents Network in spring 2018. In early November 2019, the relatives of defendants in several high-profile cases followed their example by uniting in the movement Mothers Against Political Repression. The movement has its own website, as well as group pages on Telegram and Facebook.

On February 10, the defendants in the Penza portion of the Network Trial were sentenced to terms in prison from six to eighteen years.

Translated by the Russian Reader. If you have not been following the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case aka the Network Case, and other recent cases involving frame-ups, torture, and violent intimidation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and other arms of the Russian police state, read and share the articles I have posted on these subjects.

Five More Months in Remand Prison for Mathematician Azat Miftakhov

azatAzat Miftakhov in the cage at his first custody hearing in February 2019. Photo courtesy of BBC Russian Service

Mathematician Azat Miftakhov’s Arrest Extended for Five Months
OVD Info
March 23, 2020

The Golovino District Court in Moscow has extended for five months the remand in custody of Moscow State University mathematics graduate student Azat Miftakhov, accused of disorderly conduct, according to a post on the Telegram channel FreeAzat!

Miftakhov will thus remain under arrest until September 4. A hearing on the merits was postponed due to the absence of counsel for the injured party. The next hearing in the case has been scheduled for April 20.

A mathematics graduate student at Moscow University and an anarchist, Miftakhov was arrested in connection with an alleged case of disorderly conduct by a group of people, punishable under Article 213.2 of the Russian Criminal Code. According to investigators, on January 30, 2018, Miftakhov, Andrei Yeikin, Yelena Gorban, Alexei Kobaidze, and Svyatoslav Rechkalov broke a window at a United Russian party office in Moscow’s Khovrino District and threw a smoke bomb into it.

The mathematician was detained on February 1, 2019. He later told his lawyer he had been tortured with a screwdriver. Over the following eleven days, his term in police custody was extended under various pretexts. OVD Info has written in detail about aspects of Miftakhov’s detention and published a chronicle of developments in the case of the broken window at the United Russia party office. Miftakhov has been in remand prison for over a year.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Please read my earlier posts on the Khovrino vandalism case and the Russian police state’s relentless persecution of Azat Miftakhov.

 

COVIDarity in Petersburg

COVIDarity
In self-isolation, Petersburgers read stories to children over the phone, hang out in online bars, and deliver free food to the elderly
Tatyana Likhanova
Novaya Gazeta
March 25, 2020

There are only penguins about, and they all look the same! You wouldn’t be able to pick out your own mom. And the snow is blinding, your beak is frozen, and your fins are tired. If you think you have problems it’s just because you’ve never been a little penguin in icy Antarctica. He lucked out in the end, however. He found a wise walrus who showed him how to find meaning and a source of strength in everything, to see beauty and come to the understanding that everyone has hard days, but no one can live our lives better than we can. Jory John’s Penguin Problems is one of the books that librarians in Petersburg’s Frunze District now read over the phone to housebound kids.

And not only children—there was a case when a depressed 25-year-old man asked the librarians to cheer him up with a story, and they did. The ten minutes when he became a child again, feeling warm and safe and protected, were the best medicine.

The project has a backstory. Fifteen years ago or so, one of the current on-duty storytellers, Marina, got a call on her home phone from a girl who was bored and dialing numbers at random. Marina read her a story, and the girl began calling every day to listen to one.

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Library storytellers Marina, Veronika, and Serafima. Photo courtesy of social media and Novaya Gazeta

When we were children, there was such a service—Stories by Phone—but it was a paid service and involved no choice or live communication. The voice on the other end of the phone was a recording.

Today’s Telephone Tales are read for free, but the storyteller’s most important duty is to help children feel that they are not alone, they are fun to be with, and the questions occupying them are important. The actual reading of a story usually takes around ten minutes, but a single call can last as long as forty minutes, as happened when Marina read a poem to an inquisitive child who kept having questions. Marina had to tell the child who legionnaires, musketeers, and cowboys were.

Children usually let the storytellers choose books for them. You cannot worry about the outcome with such excellent pilots in the world of children’s literature. Some children hear Ekaterina Panfilova’s The Ashones: A Tale from the Branch of a Rowan Bush, a glorious story of elves who bring comfort, the smell of buns spread with rowan berry jam, and a sense of security to a home. Others are treated to Karel Čapek’s stories of his wire fox terrier puppy Dashenka, poems by Mikhail Yasnov and Artur Givargizov, or something from the works of Roald Dahl or Nina Dashevskaya.

The three library storytellers—Marina Terekhova, Veronika Makarova, and Serafima Andreyeva—read only on weekdays:

  • Marina reads from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; call +7 (921) 595-1596.
  • Veronika reads from 12 to 3 p.m.; call +7 (911) 937-9849.
  • Serafima reads from 3 to 6 p.m.; call +7 (931) 357-5041.

Adults Only
While children are listening to stories read over the phone, adults now have the chance to drink and chat with a motley band of people without leaving home. In Petersburg, a fictional street featuring a dozen virtual drinking establishments could become an alternative to the “restaurant street” on Rubinstein. You can visit the online bar, the brainchild of Mikhail Shishkin, the director of a creative agency, at this link. When you click on one of the neon signs, you end up in a particular group video chat. Depending on the joint’s “capacity,” your screen will be divided into several windows (from four to twelve, depending to number of participants). It’s BYOB, as they say, with everyone drinking what they pour in their own non-virtual kitchens.

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The main page of the virtual Stay the Fuck Home Bar

The idea was a good one: the Petersburg online bar has been gaining popularity in different Russian cities and abroad. A week after it opened, it has not been so easy to find a free spot. As for the patrons, it’s the luck of the draw. There are interesting interlocutors, but you can run into a boorish jerk, just as in real life.

We Are Responsible for Those We Have Fed
Spouses Alexandra Sinyak and Yevgeny Gershevich are owners of Dobrodomik, a cafe that had been providing free daily lunches to as many as three hundred elderly people. Due to the coronavirus, it had to stop its Grateful Lunches for Pensioners campaign.

“But with their miserly pensions, our elderly patrons have grown accustomed to not spending money on groceries to make lunch, and so we can’t stop helping them overnight. Therefore, all the pensioners who visited Dobrodomik can call Alexandra, and we will be happy to bring them food,” the owners announced on the cafe’s social media pages.

Thanks to support from their partners at AgroInvest, Dobrodomik (“Good House”) was able to give away one ton of fruits and vegetables during the campaign’s first week.

The help arrives quickly. On March 20, 83-year-old Nina Zakatova wrote that she was running rather low on food, and it was hard for her to go out. On March 21, she found a full box of produce on her doorstep, including potatoes, onions, cabbage, apple, tomatoes, and tangerines.

In addition to distributing fruits and vegetables, the campaign delivered one hundred food parcels in its first week. Each parcel contained bread, milk, chicken, vegetable oil, pasta, rice, buckwheat, canned peas, and cucumbers.

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An elderly woman with a food delivery from Dobrodomik. Photo courtesy of social media and Novaya Gazeta

“An elderly person comes downstairs, you give them food, and in return you get a look that cannot be described in words,” the instructions continue. “You send a photo of the receipt and, preferably, a photo of a happy elderly person to Dobrodomik, and we will reimburse you.”

Of course, you can buy and deliver food without being reimbursed, if you have the means. Or you can donate money to Dobrodomik using the details on their website.  Or you can help with deliveries. You can also help clean the apartments of elderly people who live alone and cannot manage themselves, or you can help with repairs (Dobrodomik also offers this service), either by buying building materials or taking part in the repairs if you’re handy. Finally, you can donate unwanted clothes, shoes, and appliances.

Helping Is Easy—Easy Peasy
Meanwhile, a whole big family of other equally good houses has come under attack by the evil coronavirus—the ceramic houses produced by Petersburg in Miniature, a project run by the charity space Easy Peasy (Legko-Legko). The houses were made by disabled people in Easy Peasy’s studio on Bolshaya Pushkarskaya, but now the workers cannot get to the studio.

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A replica of the ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska’s mansion on the Petrograd Side in Petersburg, as produced by Easy Peasy’s disable craftspeople. Image courtesy of Petersburg in Miniature

Easy Peasy’s Tatyana Nayko made the following suggestion to people on the Facebook group page Petrograd Diaspora:

“I have an idea. Would historians, art scholars, tour guides, and journalists help us write the stories of buildings on the Petrograd Side? We will post the texts on our website and on social networks. During the quarantine, we will design new miniatures to go with your texts. Write to us about the houses where you live or about buildings that mean something to you, that are dear to your heart. People who are staying at home can entertain themselves while benefiting our project. We have to share our love of Petersburg with everyone now. Let’s write and then read the stories we have written about the houses we live in and the people who have lived in them.”

The same group page, Petrograd Diaspora, also published an announcement that Konstantin Sholmov’s Wonders and Adventures Creative Workshop would be releasing a series of entertaining video lectures on crafts for children. The first lecture (about the properties of different types of wood and ways of working and experimenting with them) has already been posted on YouTube.

Another area in which new grassroots campaigns have emerged is support for small and medium-sized businesses. Groups urging people to buy, order, and eat in their neighborhoods have been proliferating on social media.

The owners of a cafeteria on Aptekarsky Prospect have suggested that neighborhood residents organize themselves through the chat groups of residential buildings and office space renters in the same office buildings to avoid overpaying for orders when they are delivered by third parties. The cafeteria owners are willing to pay for delivery of bulk orders made by these groups.

Heads-Up
Together with the volunteer movement COVIDarity, Novaya Gazeta has launched the COVID Infobot on Telegram. This chatbot allows people to get prompt consultations on questions regarding the spread of the coronavirus in Russia. You can use the bot to see the latest infection statistics and read quick guides about symptoms and prevention. You can also use it to get help, for example, with buying or ordering groceries for someone in self-isolation, consulting with a psychologist, and finding out where to buy protective equipment. Your requests will be forwarded to the volunteers at COVIDarity.

Translated by the Russian Reader

#FreeAzat

free azat
Alexander Zamyatin
Facebook
March 21, 2020

Today is the birthday of Azat Miftakhov, a mathematics graduate student at Moscow State University. Since February of last year, the authorities have been terrorizing Azat by holding him in remand prison while trying to prove he was involved in an episode of vandalism by anarchists against a United Russia party office in Khovrino in 2018. The court recently extended his remand in custody for the eighth time. There are no victims in the case (except for the window of a goddamned party of billionaire usurpers), but there has been torture and endless secret witnesses. A huge number of people have been campaigning in support of Azat all this time.

This shameful repressive show trial alone is enough to warrant saying that there is no justice in the Russian Federation, and that the most dangerous people to any citizen currently are those who have privatized the judicial and law enforcement agencies, using them for their personal interests.

I would remind you that, this past summer, men in masks and no identifying marks on their uniforms beat up people by the hundreds in downtown Moscow. Some received fractures, other got bruises, but no criminal charges were filed against the men.

Unfortunately, very few people in Russia know about this. Today, activists involved in the solidarity campaigns for Azat and other political prisoners have focused their efforts on telling as many people as possible about the case. And I have joined them. Repost this message or post any link about Azat’s case with the hashtag #FreeAzat.

Alexander Zamyatin is a mathematics teacher and a member of the Zyuzino Municipal District Council in Moscow. Translated by the Russian Reader

Russia Year Zero

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Lev Ponomaryov took part in the protest outside the FSB building. Photo by Valery Sharifulin. Courtesy of TASS and BBC Russian Service

Dozens of Activists Detained at Pickets Outside FSB Building on Lubyanka Square; Human Rights Activist Lev Ponomaryov Injured
BBC Russian Service
March 14, 2020

Lev Ponomaryov, leader of the movement For Human Rights, was taken to hospital from a police station after being detained during a protest outside the FSB building on Lubyanka Square in Moscow.

According to the 78-year-old Ponomaryov, police officers did not beat him, but treated him quite harshly.

“It would be more correct to say they roughed me up. I don’t remember the actual blow, but I do have a cut on my face. They grabbed me hard and dragged me,” he told the BBC Russian Service.

Earlier, news agency Interfax reported that, according to Ponomaryov, a detained activist who was next to him was beaten at the Tagansky police station.

“Me and another young me were dragged from the cell. I lost my hearing aid along the way. The kid got it worse, he was young. Maybe they were bashful about beating me,” the news agency quoted Ponomaryov as saying.

According to Ponomaryov, the police officers began acting roughly when all of the eleven detained activists, delivered to the Tagansky police station in the same paddy wagon, refused to enter the station one by one.

The activists joined hands. It was then, according to Ponomaryov, that the police began dragging the detainees forcibly into the station.

pono-2Police detained over forty activists during the protest on Lubyanka Square. Photo by Valery Sharifulin. Courtesy of TASS and BBC Russian Service

According to the human rights activist, the station commander watched it happened.

Ponomaryov said that he would probably petition the court to redress the needlessly harsh actions of the police and the beating of detainees.

A spokesperson for the Tagansky police station told the BBC Russian Service that they did not wish to comment on the situation with Lev Ponomaryov, since they had nothing to do with “what happened on the street.”

According to Ponomaryov, despite the fact that he demanded to see his lawyer, Vasily Kushnir, he was allowed to see him only an hour after arriving at the police department.

After the lawyer arrived, an ambulance was called for the human rights activist. The attending physicians decided to take him to hospital.

Later on Saturday, Ponomaryov told Interfax that he was not found to have a concussion.

“I was checked out at First City Hospital. They did a CT scan and said that everything was more or less normal, no brain damage occurred,” said Ponomaryov.

The human rights defender plans to document his injuries and file a lawsuit in connection with the beating, Interfax reports.

Marina Litvinovich, a member of the Public Monitoring Commission, told Interfax that police officers had violated the rights of both detained activists and public figures.

“Everything is bad here [at the Tagansky police department]. The police don’t let the laywers in, and they even used force, including against Ponomaryov, ” she told Interfax .

pono-3According to Lev Ponomaryov, police roughed up protesters when detaining them. Photo by Valery Sharifulin. Courtesy of TASS and BBC Russian Service

Alexei Melnikov, executive secretary of the Public Monitoring Commission, told Interfax that police at the Tverskoy District precinct also took a long time in allowing both lawyers and commission members to see detainees.

According to Melnikov, police officers refused to allow commission members to enter the building because, allegedly, they were not holding any detainees.

Ponomaryov was detained during solo pickets against political crackdowns. The protest took place outside the FSB building on Lubyanka Square. Police detained over forty protesters.

Among those detained were opposition activists Leonid Razvozzhayev and Sergei Udaltsov. According to OVD Info, a minor who had been filming the proceedings was also detained. Police did not specify the reason for the minor’s arrest. According to OVD Info, he suffered an asthma attack in the paddy wagon.

According to Telegram channel Avtozak-LIVE, police broke journalist Fyodor Khudokormov’s equipment while detaining him.

Moscow city hall had refused to sanction a rally in the city center against political crackdowns. Instead, they suggested to rally organizers that they hold the rally in the Lyublino District, in the city’s far southeast, but the activists turned the offer down.

 

89358473_3562858360397706_4381898323129270272_oA photo of Lev Ponomaryov after his “rough handling” by police in Moscow on March 14, 2020. The photo was widely disseminated on Russian social media. Courtesy of Julia Aug

Yan Shenkman
Facebook
March 14, 2020

I was at Lubyanka today during the rout of the pickets—pickets that hadn’t really started yet. First, police grabbed the people holding placards, but they quickly ran out, so then they grabbed people who were just standing there.

Everyone has been writing that it was a protest against “political crackdowns.” This is not quite true. I want to remind you that people came out under the slogan “We Are All in the Net(work).” The root cause and the reason people came was the Network Case in Penza and Petersburg. This is what causes such a brutal reaction among people in uniform. This was the reason why they got tough with Ponomaryov, nor was it the first time. When you sympathize with Ponomaryov, but say “there must be something” to the latest dirt about the Network, just put two and two together.

But the Network get clobbered every day. With the back of the hand. In the same way that people are beaten up in paddy wagons.

A month ago, I noticed this sneering expression on the faces of Russian National Guardsmen. It seemed to say, “You won’t do anything to us. Things will be our way. We do what we like.” The dogs have been given the command to attack.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Making Women Visible: Russian Language Classes for Immigrants and Refugees in Petersburg

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Darya Apahonchich with students during class. Photo by Anna Shevardina. Courtesy of Radio Svoboda

“Making Women Visible”: Why Female Immigrants Stay at Home for Seven Years
Karina Merkurieva
Sever.Realii (Radio Svoboda)
March 7, 2020

“My husband and children and I came to Russia from Afghanistan over eight years ago. At first, I had no time to learn the language: I had to help the children and work at home, and then I was unable to find suitable courses. So this is only my second year studying Russian,” says Suraya.

Since she is shy about speaking Russian, she agrees only to a written interview. She has been studying Russian for a second year at courses for female immigrants and refugees in Petersburg. Classes are held at Open Space, a co-working space for social activists, and at two libraries. Groups are divided into several levels according to how well the students speak Russian.

In February, project organizer Darya Apahonchich announced the launch of a new group for beginners. According to her, she saw the need for such courses in 2018, when she worked for a similar project run by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

“There were classes for children and adults. I taught Russian as a foreign language. The only problem was that only those who had official immigrant or refugee status could attend. In Russia, not everyone obtains this status. Another thing was that the course was limited in time. Not everyone was able to get the necessary minimum of Russian under their belt in this time,” Apahonchich says.

The group she led mostly consisted of women over the age of thirty.

“Young women who come to Russia at an earlier age and go to university have one set of opportunities. As soon as a woman becomes a mother, her set of opportunities decreases dramatically,” Apahonchich adds.

At one of the classes, a new student from Syria decided to join the group. In order for the students to get acquainted, Apahonchich suggested that everyone introduce themselves by telling what country they had come from, how long they had lived in Russia, and how long they had been studying Russian. It transpired that nearly all the women in the class had lived in Russia around seven years, but had only begun to study the language. According to them, they had no opportunity to study Russian before: they had to raise children. Working outside the home was not the custom in their native countries, so their husbands had not allowed them to take language classes.

apa-2A lesson in Darya Apahonchich’s group. Photo by Anna Shevardina. Courtesy of Radio Svoboda

“I was very shocked at the time. These women’s children have basically grown up in Russia: they know Russia on the level of native speakers, and make jokes more easily in Russian than in their native languages. The women have found themselves linguistically and culturally isolated, however. They stayed at home all those years. They didn’t even have a place to learn the language,” says Apahonchich.

When the Red Cross courses were coming to an end, Apahonchich suggested to the women that they should not quit their studies, but continue studying Russian elsewhere. They leapt at the suggestion.

“I realized that those woman would go back to their families, and that would be the end of their introduction to the Russian language. I didn’t want to let that happen,” she recalls.

Other groups and new teachers have subsequently emerged. The project currently encompasses four groups at different levels of proficiency. Classes are taught by eight volunteer teachers. Some of them, like Apahonchich, majored in Russian language pedagogy at university, while others are native Russian speakers with humanities backgrounds and experience teaching history or Spanish, for example.

“I wanted to create a horizontal structure in which each teacher could organize their own groups and take responsibility for the learning process,” says Apahonchich.

As a result, the teachers work autonomously: they find venues for holding classes on their own, and decide with their groups what topics would be interesting to discuss in class.

In her group, for example, Apahonchich focuses not only on teaching the Russian language, but also on the legal aspects of life as an immigrant in Russia. During classes, her students read brochures on how to behave if you are faced with aggression from the police, how to get a job, and how to rent an apartment without falling victim to fraud.

“Our all-female collective discusses issues related to health and doctor visits,” says Apahonchich.

According to Suraya from Afghanistan, this is one of her favorite topics.

“I also like to read texts about Russia and Petersburg, and discuss the weather and family. I really need this vocabulary when I pick up my daughter from kindergarten or go to the clinic. In the clinic, however, I often encounter aggression. The people at reception shout at me if I don’t immediately know what to say,” Suraya explains.

While the courses are more aimed at teaching Russian, the instructors sometimes also talk to the female immigrants about women’s rights.

“Right now, the easiest way, I think, to get women out of linguistic and cultural isolation is to get them into the world of work. That way they could learn Russian more quickly, adapt socially, and make new friends. At the same time, we have before our very eyes the example of women from Central Asia who come to Russia to work and eventually find themselves separated from their families. That is the other extreme. For the time being, I just want these women to stop being invisible. Currently, the majority of the Russian populace doesn’t even suspect how many female immigrants live in cultural isolation in their country,” says Apahonchich.

According to the UNHCR, about 220,000 refugees and persons with temporary asylum status were registered in Russia in 2019. Most of those people came from Afghanistan, Ukraine, Syria, and Yemen.

Thanks to Darya Apahonchich for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader