“No Future”: Popular Reactions to Putin’s Mobilization

Outside Gostiny Dvor [metro station and shopping center, in downtown Petersburg]. The police are plucking out the protesters one by one and dragging them away.

Passersby ask, “What happened?”

Most either don’t read the news or support the mobilization.

They look at us like we’re idiots.

I asked a middle-aged woman whether she had any children.

“Two sons, so what?” she answered me defiantly.

Today I thought for the first time that there is no future.

[Comments]

Natalia Vvedenskaya

Just for balance. Today, in the supermarket, I quietly eavesdropped on the conversations among the saleswomen (these were two different conversations). Irritated and indignant, these middle-aged women said that the members of parliament [who quickly passed laws enforcing Putin’s mobilization] should go to war themselves.

Source: Galina Artemenko, Facebook, 21 September 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


On the bus. A middle-aged woman in the front seat yells into the phone, not mincing her words. She says that there is a panic at work, that they have seven days to keep the guys from getting drafted. This was followed by instructions for direct action. The young fellow sitting with his back to her listened attentively, while the girls opposite him could not have cared less.

Source: Friends-only post on Facebook by a trusted source and occasional contributor to this website, identified here as “AR” for future reference. Translated by the Russian Reader


This hurts a lot. I console myself with the fact that, as in private life, the most vital and beautiful thing is the process itself, when you are initially in a hole, but you fight to make things better. But can I please go back to the time when I have to confront myself, and not a crazy autocrat with a nuclear button?

I try to shift my focus from irritation towards Russians who support the war, and the collective Europe playing along [sic], to endless love. First of all, to people who are in Russia and are not afraid to speak out against the war. I am glad that I am living at the same time as you. Of course, we are far from being Iran, where people take deadly risks for their beliefs. But we’re cool, too. We’re doing what we can. If everyone in Russia were like us, the war would have ended today. Now, when it is important to support myself, I console myself with this thought, and I advise you to do the same.

Source: Friends-only post on Facebook by a grassroots activist in Petersburg, identified here as “JA” for future reference. Translated by the Russian Reader


On the evening of September 21, in Petersburg, as in other cities, a protest was held against the mobilization of Russians for the war in Ukraine. The protest was called by the Vesna Movement. The protesters gathered at 7 p.m. on St. Isaac’s Square.

Riot police vigorously detained protesters, beat them with batons, dragged them on the ground, and put them on their knees. According to OVD Info, at least 444 people were detained in St. Petersburg.

Bumaga has put together a photo chronicle of the first popular protest in the city in the last six months.

Source: “How an anti-mobilization rally — the first mass protest in six months — took place in Petersburg,” Bumaga, 21 September 2022. There are several more photographs of the protest rally at the link, including photos from a second, separate protest the same evening outside Gostiny Dvor (as described by Galina Artemenko, above). Translated by the Russian Reader


Conscription Notice Russia. This channel was created to inform the residents of Russia about the delivery of conscription notices in our city! [sic] Write here with information about which addresses conscription notices in Russia are being sent — @maks_ge

“Prospect Mira. A conscription notice was just served to a man approximately 40-45 years of age. He was strolling with his wife and dog. Then they [the police?] went up to some young guys sitting on a bench and had a chat with them.”

“They’ve already started handing out conscription notices at the factories in the town of Gatchina in Leningrad Region.”

“The Gazpromneft filling station at Amurskaya 15A. Two men got into a scrap, and the attendant called the police. The cops came and gave them tickets. They threatened the men, saying that tomorrow, other people in uniform would come visit them at home — I think they meant the military conscription office.”

Source: Screenshot of the Telegram channel Where Draft Papers Are Being Handed Out — Russia. The channel was created on August 13, but only started posting on September 21. It already has over ten thousand subscribers. Thanks to VL for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader


Well, my prognosis was mistaken. I underestimated the regime’s vileness and meanness. As the supreme ruler declared a partial mobilization, the local military enlistment offices issued decrees concerning all reservists without exception.

This is totally fucked up. For example, “temporary residents must depart for their legal place of residence.” Accordingly, millions of unregistered men or men registered at their temporary residences in large cities must leave for their hometowns or home regions. Accordingly, all these millions of men are “lawbreakers” — they can be seized in dragnets, blackmailed with prison terms, locked up, beaten up, and anything else that our cops do with our citizens. When [the cops] are faced with passive resistance, they will indiscriminately rake in whomever they catch.

These people will certainly “engage in combat,” but that will happen later. What matters now is filling the quotas.

Source: George Losev, Facebook, 21 September 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader


Putin has announced a “partial mobilization.” Only time will tell how “partial” it is, but it is already clear that the mobilization will affect many people. What options do those whom the Kremlin wants to mobilize have?

  1. Become cannon fodder.
  2. Go to jail.
  3. Illegally flee the country. If you fail, you go to jail.
  4. Go underground. If you fail, you go to jail.
  5. Go underground and become a guerrilla. You could also go to jail.

I do not consider legal ways to avoid mobilization, since the rules of the game can change at any moment, and those who were not subject to mobilization yesterday will be subject to it tomorrow.

The choice isn’t great, but there is a choice.

Source: Ivan Astashin, Facebook, 21 September. Mr. Astashin is a former political prisoner and human rights activist who now seems to be living in exile in Berlin. Translated by the Russian Reader


In the kitchen of a communal flat:

— Soooo, you live closer to the front door, don’t open it to anyone. If they come, tell them there are no men living here.

— I’ve been dodging the draft for so long I don’t even remember how to do it anymore. I’ve had so many chronic illnesses since then. Do you think it will help?

— At my work, a friend of a friend of a friend of a colleague is offering to drive [men] to Finland for 50 thousand rubles [approx. 855 euros]. Any takers?

— He’s definitely going to Finland? That’s too cheap somehow. What if he takes you to the military enlistment office?

— My pop says that he would volunteer himself, but he’s already sixty-seven, they won’t take him. But he’s weird that way. He never goes to the welfare office, because he believes you have to have pride: he didn’t work all his life to ask the state for something in his old age! His pension is 25 thousand rubles a month [approx. 440 euros].

— Maybe he is also one of those people who have nothing, and who donates money to buy socks for soldiers?

— No, he believes that we have the strongest army and does not give them a kopeck. He says the people asking for that money are scammers.

Source: Friends-only post on Facebook by a veteran human rights activist in Petersburg, identified here as “NN” for future reference. Translated by the Russian Reader

Paranoid Android

Snipers, security cameras covered with masking tape, and disinfected snowbanks: a Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery employee talks about the unprecedented security measures for the president’s visit • Galina Artemenko • Novaya Gazeta in Petersburg • 28 January 2022

On January 27, St. Petersburg celebrated the 78th anniversary of the lifting of the Siege of Leningrad. Vladimir Putin came to the city to visit the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery. On the same day, a video was posted on the web showing how veterans who had come with flowers were not allowed to enter the cemetery. A young woman in an orange jacket explained to them, “People who have come just to lay flowers will not get in until three o’clock.”

Novaya Gazeta found the young woman: she turned out to be Piskaryovsky Memorial Complex (PMC) employee Margarita Nikolayeva. We asked here to explain why veterans were not allowed in and who was responsible for what during the president’s visit.

Vladimir Putin in a cordoned-off Piskaryovskoye Cemetery in St. Petersburg. On the roof of the pavilion there is a group of FSO (Federal Protective Service) officers and two snipers. Photo: Alexander Demyanchuk/TASS

How many days’ notification do you usually get that the president is coming to the cemetery?

Vladimir Putin has not come for the last couple of years. We knew for sure that the president would come this year on January 24. On the same day, we posted an announcement on the PMC’s official website that the memorial would be closed from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. o’clock. This information was given to us by the FSO (Federal Protective Services). Our employees shared the same information with everyone who telephoned to find out about the possibility of visiting the PMC on January 27. Several dozen people called a day.

Did you announce this on radio and TV, where it was more likely that older people who do not use the Internet would hear the news?

No, as far as I know, we didn’t.

In the comments under the video on the internet, you are accused of being the one who ordered not to let anyone in. What really happened?

It’s not my first year working for the PMC, and I know that every year there are people who come to lay flowers but have not looked at our the website, and they have to be told that it’s pointless to wait outside, especially in the cold. So I went up to the police and asked what to say to people who were expecting to be let through any minute. They pointed to the FSO officers: they said they were in charge.

The FSO officers clearly replied that no one would be allowed on the grounds until three in the afternoon. I exited the perimeter and told this to the people waiting outside.

Had it ever happened before that people came on January 27, but were not allowed in?

Yes, and last year it was like that too. People would come and wait for the delegation (Beglov, the Legislative Assembly, and other dignitaries) to go through, and then they would be let in, usually around noon. I believe that on such an important day for Petersburgers, everyone should be let into the cemetery without restrictions. But this is my personal point of view. Unfortunately, I do not decide such matters.

But this year everything was complicated because of the president’s visit. It was announced that the cemetery would be closed until three. In fact, they began letting people in not at 3:00 p.m., as the FSO had said they would, but at 1:30 p.m., when the president left the memorial. But still many people stood in the cold for two hours or so. Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said people waited for ten minutes. That wasn’t so.

People were just left to stand outside at the entrance? Were they not invited inside the pavilion to warm up and drink hot tea?

No.

Photo: Alexander Demyanchuk/TASS

How is the commemorative ceremony involving high-ranking officials organized?

Usually, the Smolny’s social policy committee sends us a list of organizations: the governor, the Legislative Assembly, the Federal Assembly, and the judges of the Constitutional Court are all arranged in hierarchical order. We print their names on pieces of paper, put them on music stands, take them outside, and arrange them so that no one, for example, stands in front of the governor.

I know that the social policy committee (which is in charge of the PMC) starts making the lists around two weeks before the ceremony. [Current Petersburg governor Alexander] Beglov is included automatically. I also never noticed any special preparations before visits by [former Petersburg governor] Valentina Matviyenko. At most, her protocol staff would come to the PMC to find out the details of the ceremony.

How was this presidential visit to the cemetery different from the previous ones?

The fact that he (the president) walked completely alone, that the security cameras were covered with tape, that the wreath stand was moved away from the sculptures, and that the snow was disinfected. The harshest preparations began at 8:30 a.m. on January 27. Metal detectors were set up: this had never been done before. A metal fence was set up on the opposite side of the Avenue of the Unvanquished, and public transport stopped making stops at the cemetery in the early morning.

They covered the security cameras with tape? Why?

The ones that were next to the Motherland monument, where the wreath laying took place, were covered with ordinary masking tape. We didn’t ask why. Probably for security reasons: so that [FSO] officers could not be seen next to the president.

We have a sound engineer’s room, and the cameras that were taped up feed into this room. The sound engineer turns on the music, the metronome, and the anthem, unless a military band is playing. To turn everything at the right time, he needs to have a view of the grounds. So, after the security cameras were covered with tape, they left him a small window so that he could see only the spot to which the president walked.

A photo of snipers standing on the roof of the museum pavilion has been posted on the web. Is it a fake?

Snipers on the roof of the museum pavilion at the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery. Photo: Fontanka.ru

No, it’s not a fake. I saw them with my own eyes on the roof of the pavilion (the pavilion on the right side, if you stand with your back to the Avenue of the Unvanquished). There were also snipers in previous years. The picture was taken from inside the memorial: the snipers were aiming towards the Motherland sculpture, that is, where the laying of flowers would take place.

You mentioned that the snowdrifts were disinfected. It sounds funny, although in fact, what’s so funny about it? What did it look like? How many people were involved? Did the snow color change from this treatment? Did it smell? Was the snow treated in previous years?

I can’t say for sure. I wasn’t on site at that moment, my colleagues were there. About half an hour [before the ceremony], a special vehicle arrived: people got out, treated the snowdrifts with something, and left. The snow has never been treated before. There were other precautions: the wreath-bearers were brought from Moscow, where they were quarantined for two weeks. They were brought to the cemetery in a special vehicle and dropped off. They rehearsed with the wreath at a distance from everyone else.

All images courtesy of Novaya Gazeta. Translated by the Russian Reader

Vera Ermolaeva

Until recently, a plaque memorializing the Leningrad artist Vera Ermolaeva, executed in the Gulag during the Great Terror,  hung here. Photo: MR7.ru

Last Address Plaque for Artist Vera Ermolaeva Removed in Petersburg
Galina Artemenko
MR7.ru
December 8, 2020

The Last Address plaque memorializing artist Vera Ermolaeva has been removed in Petersburg. The news was broken by the Moscow publisher Kirill Zakharov on his social media page after visiting the city.

“[This is] the house on whose first floor Vera Ermolaeva lived. A couple of years ago, a memorial plaque was installed here, but now it has been conveniently removed,” he wrote.

The initiator of the Last Address project, Sergei Parkhomenko, is already aware of the incident and is waiting for information from his colleagues in Petersburg.

“Sometimes it happens that [the plaques] are removed for repairs, then returned. Sometimes it’s different,” he said.

МR7.ru wrote on March 25, 2018, about the installation of a Last Address plaque in memory of Vera Ermolaeva at house no. 13 on the 10th Line of Vasilyevsky Island in Petersburg.

Ermolaeva was arrested on December 25, 1934, as part of the so-called Kirov cohort. As an “anti-Soviet element,” she was sentenced to three years in the camps and sent to Karlag in Kazakhstan. On September 20, 1937, three months before her scheduled release, an NKVD troika sentenced the 43-year-old Ermolaeva to death. She was executed on September 27, 1937 [sic]. She has no grave. We know only the place where the prisoners who died or were murdered in the camp were buried: the village of Dolinka in the Karaganda Region. Ermolaeva had no relatives, so when the 20th Party Congress was held, there was no one who could apply to have her exonerated. She was finally exonerated 1989, due to “lack of evidence of a crime.”

Now you can find everything or almost everything on the internet, including the weather report for December 25, 1934. It was a frosty and clear day in Leningrad— minus 12 degrees centigrade—and the night was cold, too. Ermolaeva’s apartment was probably heated when she left the warm house forever. She lived on the first floor, in apartment number two. She had always lived on ground floors, including at her previous apartment in Baskov Lane, which her father, a landowner and liberal publisher, had bought for her before the revolution. Ermolaeva fell off a horse as a child and could only walk on crutches, so the apartment was purchased because it was next door to her high school and on the first floor. For many years, Ermolaeva lived abroad, studying and getting medical treatment there.

Ermolaeva was a brilliant artist. A member of the Futurist group Bloodless Murder in 1915-16, she was interested in history and graduated from the Archaeological Institute. She was a pioneer of the genre now known as the artist’s book: she designed children’s books as cohesive entities. Her illustrations for the works of Daniil Kharms and Yevgeny Schwartz, and Ivan Krylov’s fables are admired and studied. The famous book written and illustrated by Ermolaeva in 1929—Dogs—has recently been published as a reprint.

The cover of Ermolaeva’s 1929 book Dogs. Courtesy of MR7.ru

Antonina Zainchkovskaya, Ermolaeva’s biographer and the author of a dissertation about her, said during the plaque installation ceremony that it was very important for Russians not to forget about the Last Address plaques. She said that when she was writing her dissertation and studying the relevant NKVD documents, she became psychologically ill. It is impossible to imagine the last three years of Ermolaeva’s life (in the camp, on crutches), nor the last six days, between her verdict and her execution.

Vera Ermolaeva’s Last Address plaque in 2018. Photo: Galina Artemenko/MR7.ru

The person who initiated the installation of the Last Address plaque on the house where Ermolaeva lieved was Ekaterina Yevseyeva, art historian, granddaughter of the collector and Great Terror victim Iosif Rybakov, and wife of the artist Alexei Gostintsev, who was a student of Vladimir Sterligov. Sterligov and Ermolaeva were part of a group of artists pursuing “pictorial and plastic realism.” It was in Ermolaeva’s apartment on Vasilevsky that they met, talked, drank tea, and organized exhibitions. Someone denounced them, and they became part of the Kirov cohort. Sterligov, a student of Malevich, was also arrested, but survived his sentence Karlag and lived until 1975. Gostintsev recalls that it was at the apartment of Sterligov and his wife, the artist Tatyana Glebova, in Peterhof, that he heard from Glebova that Anna Akhmatova had informed her about Ermolaeva’s arrest the very next day.

In mid-October, a property management company decided to remove fifteen Last Address plaques from the wall of a residential building on Rubinstein street. The plaques were found by Petersburg legislator Boris Vishnevsky at the management company’s offices. He was promised that the plaques would be reinstalled after the wall was repaired, but they were not put back in place when the wall was painted.

Thanks to Galina Artemenko for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

__________________

 

Vera Ermolaeva

1989 saw the publication of the well-known art album and anthology of articles An Avant-Garde Stopped on the Run. The book’s dustcover bore the caption “A book about how the artist Vera Ermolaeva went missing on the shores of the Aral Sea, and then the sea disappeared, too.” If Kazakhstan has been currently tackling the problem of restoring the Aral Sea, along with its salty waves, a truth that was hushed for many years has been reemerging in society, albeit little by little, a truth that should be openly accessible in the history of all countries that have gone through dictatorships and are seeking to go forward democratically, a truth, however, that should include the actual story of what happened to Ermolaeva. The truth is often not as intriguing and mysterious as the caption on a book’s dustcover.

Researchers at the Karaganda Regional Fine Arts Museum established in the same year, 1989, that Ermolaeva, a colleague and comrade of Marc Chagall and Kazimir Malevich, co-founder of UNOVIS (Champions of the New Art), and Ginkhuk faculty member, had been shot on September 26, 1937, in a labor camp in the village of Dolinka, the headquarters of the Karlag (Karaganda Corrective Labor Camp). How did Ermolaeva end up in Kazakhstan? Why was she shot?

The Karaganda Corrective Labor Camp was established in the Kazakh steppes. It was the largest camp in the NKVD’s Gulag. It was based on the Giant State Farm, and its mission was rural and industrial development. Large-scale arrests in the Soviet Union and forced deportation of whole peoples to Kazakhstan were underway. To this end, the indigenous Kazakh population was driven from their native lands, which caused a famine in 1932–1933 that killed fifty percent of the Kazakh people. Only camp staff, their families, and inmates—an unpaid labor force—lived in the camp. The first inmates were peasant families, accused of being kulaks in Russia, and clergymen. They built the first barracks and railways. They were followed by political prisoners, people convicted of “counterrevolutionary” crimes.

People were left to live in the Karlag in perpetuity, stripped of their right to move elsewhere, which was tantamount to exile, and it was they who built the first labor settlements in the Karlag. The flow of political prisoners and exiles was so overwhelming that so-called troikas—groups of three officials who decided in lieu of the courts whether prisoners would live or die—were set up nationwide.

The murder of the popular Communist Party leader Sergei Kirov, in 1934, sparked a huge wave of arrests. Artists were caught up in this wave, including Ermolaeva, who hosted exhibitions and gatherings of artists in her flat, a fact noted by the NKVD. Everything about Ermolaeva worked against her: her aristocratic pedigree, her education and free thinking, her trips to Paris and Berlin, and her links to Malevich, who had been arrested twice, jailed a year for “espionage,” and was dying of cancer. By order of the Leningrad NKVD, on December 25, 1934, Ermolaeva was denounced as a purveyor of anti-Soviet propaganda and member of a counterrevolutionary group that had tried to establish illegal communications channels with foreigners. She was charged under Articles 58-10 (“anti-Soviet agitation”) and 58-11 (“organizing anti-Soviet activity”) of the Soviet Criminal Code. Article 58 had a total of fourteen clauses, and the first of these dealt with crimes punishable by death. On March 29, 1935, Ermolaeva was convicted by an NKVD Special Council as a “socially dangerous element.” Although her exact crime was not specified, she was sentenced to three years in a labor camp and dispatched to the Karlag. Her sentence went into effect on March 27, 1935, rather than retroactively on the day she was arrested. She was arrested, convicted, and transported to Dolinka along with Vladimir Sterligov, who later founded a painterly system derived from Suprematism, and several other of Malevich’s disciples.

During interrogations, the NKVD staged one-on-one confrontations between Ermolaeva and Sterligov. When they were sent to Kazakhstan, they were assigned to the same train car. Disabled since childhood and paralyzed in both legs, Ermolaeva walked on crutches. She found the trip to Kazakhstan quite agonizing, especially when the guards ordered the convicts to lie down and get up during stops and when exiting the train in the steppes. Emaciated after his spell in prison, Sterligov would help Ermolaeva get up from the ground, scarcely able to lift the tall, stout, heavy woman.

After arriving in Dolinka in April, Ermolaeva was immediately assigned to work as an artist in the Karlag’s agitprop and cultural education unit. Ermolaeva worked a great deal, designed posters, and showed her work at exhibitions in the camp. Her pieces were even sent to a show in Moscow. In Dolinka, she lived among the exiles at 56 First Street. She was noted for her politeness, discipline, and ability to get things done. She attended political education classes, was generally enthusiastic about everything and interested in everything, and was involved in clubs, amateur art activities, and theatrical productions, which she staged along with Sterligov and fellow avant-gardist Pyotr Sokolov, productions in which other convicts performed. She worked overtime, earning the title of “shock worker,” which meant that more workdays were added to her record and, consequently, were supposed to lead to her early release.

The reasons why Ermolaeva was shot and the circumstances of her final days in the camp have been ascertained. On September 14, 1937, Ermolaeva was issued a release warrant, but on the evening of the same day she was indicted under Criminal Code Articles 58-10 and 58-11. She was interrogated, searched, and accused of associating with four counterrevolutionaries, members of anti-Soviet political parties who were convicts in the camp. She had, allegedly, allowed them to use her apartment for secret meetings and sent illegal letters to other sections of the Karlag. Ermolaeva made a huge mistake by pleading partly guilty to the charges, claiming she was merely acquainted with the convicts in question and had conversed with them only about literature, art, and their families. Although her partial conviction was sufficient, eyewitness testimony was also included in the case against her. Thus, on September 17, 1937, Ermolaeva was indicted along with eight other people.

On September 18, due to a bureaucratic mix-up, Ermolaeva was told her release papers were being drafted, and she would be sent under armed escort to Karabas, where her case file (No. 3744/37) was being processed. On September 20, Ermolaeva successfully applied for release from Dolinka and left for Karabas. The very same day, she was retried in absentia by a NKVD troika and sentenced to death. Meanwhile, her case file did not turn up in Karabas, and her name was not on the lists of convicts scheduled for release. Ermolaeva was held in a remand prison in Karabas until September 25, when she was sent back to Dolinka. Upon arrival, she submitted a written explanation of where she had been the past several days. The next day, September 26, 1937, she was shot.

Ermolaeva was exonerated posthumously, due to a lack of evidence, by the Karaganda Regional Prosecutor on November 21, 1989.

Ermolaeva’s life came to a tragic end during the height of the Great Terror of 1937–1938. During this period, Stalin’s totalitarian regime destroyed the pride of the Soviet people, mainly members of the intelligentsia—scholars, educators, artists, and cultural workers—sparing neither women nor children.

Excerpted from Aigul Omarova, “The Tragic Lives of the Artists in Karlag,” Bread & Roses: Four Generations of Kazakh Women Artists (Berlin: Momentum, 2018), pp. 34-43. Translated by Thomas H. Campbell. Photo of Vera Ermolaeva courtesy of MR7.ru

Facebook Is Not Your Friend

mr7-block

“This message violates our community standards on spam.” Screenshot of a message from Facebook informing Petersburg news website MR7.ru that the world’s mightiest social network was blocking the public’s access to the website’s articles on the city’s battle with the coronavirus—and the battle of Petersburg doctors and other healthcare workers with a corrupt, mendacious regime. Courtesy of Vit New and Galina Artemenko

Galina Artemenko
Facebook
May 27, 2020

Friends, please share this information as widely as possible and don’t rule out the possibility that my account and the accounts of my colleagues MR7.ru editor-in-chief Sergei Kvalchenko and MR7.ru journalist Anastasia Gavrielova may also be blocked in the near future, unfortunately.

What happened was that the Facebook page of our publication and all our texts were allegedly blocked “due to numerous complaints.”

The social network has blocked our articles about the coronavirus in Petersburg after receiving multiple complaints about “distributing spam.” There was no spam, however, only numerous articles about how Petersburg doctors do not have enough PPE, how doctors are not paid extra for working with Covid-19 patients, how hospitals have become overcrowded, and how health workers have been quitting or getting sick on the job.

Facebook has started blocking our posts containing texts about the fight against the coronavirus in Petersburg. The social network’s messages state that the posts “violate community rules” and have been blocked due to spam complaints. It is likely that the page was blocked after someone sent them numerous complaints about spam and offensive posts.

During the pandemic, MR7.ru has been constantly covering current hot-button issues in a timely manner. Now, however, Facebook has closed access to articles by Galina Artemenko and Anastasia Gavrielova. These correspondents have told readers about how doctors have been looking for PPE for their employees and face a shortage of specialists (“As in a shop, the head doctor looks for PPE for his people”), about how medical workers in Petersburg have not received promised bonuses or have been paid kopecks for risky work with coronavirus patients (“We were paid not for the risk, but for hours and minutes”), and about how doctors have been infected while saving people (“Covid brought Alexandra to Moscow”).

In addition, MR7.ru has been covering the situation in Lenexpo [a trade show center in Petersburg where a temporary coronavirus hospital has been set up], telling the stories of people who have been forced to go there, and in psychoneurological resident treatment facilities, which house thousands of patients with disabilities and which have also been compromised by the coronavirus. There are many examples of such publications, but they can no longer be read on [Facebook].

Editor-in-chief Sergei Kovalchenko has written to Facebook, refuting the allegations that MR7.ru has been spreading spam, but has not yet received a reply.

Translated by the Russian Reader

And Now We Have to Prove We Got Sick on the Job

pni-no 10Psychoneurological Resident Treatment Facility (PRTF) No. 10 in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of City Walls

And Now We Have to Prove We Got Sick on the Job
Galina Artemenko
MR7.ru (Moy Rayon)
May 18, 2020

The first case of COVID-19 at Psychoneurological Resident Treatment Facility (PRTF) No. 10 in Petersburg was at the very beginning of April. All efforts were made to hush up the story, but they failed. MR7.ru reported that the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection and three other relevant agencies had recommended that the regions remove the most severely disabled people from PRTFs. The ministry had also recommended that  social welfare facilities switch their employees to long live-in rotations while raising their salaries. Finally, the chief public health physician in the Petersburg office of Rospotrebnadzor had issued an order permitting volunteers to work at PRTFs.

The virus spreads most quickly in closed places such as hospitals, barracks, and residential treatment facilities. And we have heard the sad stories of infection at the nursing home in Vyazma, and the deaths of elderly people in nursing homes in Italy and Sweden. I hope that, after the pandemic, the conclusions will be clear. PRTFs are factories of misery, and facilities housing over a thousand patients should not exist.

On condition of anonymity, Nastya (her name has been changed), a young attendant at PTRF No. 10 told us about her experiences during this time. PTRF No. 10 houses more than a thousand people living with severe disabilities, who are cared for by approximately 400 staff members. According to official reports, more than 400 people at the facility have been infected, and two disabled girls who lived there have died.

At the beginning of April, we all got phone calls: they were asking people whether they were willing to volunteer for long rotations. We were told everyone would be under observation to make sure covid did not get into the residential treatment facility and to keep the patients from getting ill. But the director said there would be no long rotations, because there was no money, and we were supposed to get extra pay for that. But he was unable to pay bonuses to the staff. So we were not shut down and kept working as normal. As during an ordinary quarantine, access to the residents was closed to their parents. But we kept coming in for our shifts as usual—until April 8, when our residents started going off to hospital with pneumonia, while the first case of covid was confirmed on April 10. The same day, the tenth, people from the district office of Rospotrebnadzor came to the facility. There was a meeting, where we were told the decision had been made to shut us down. So we began working on long rotations. Right now, while I’m in hospital, only two wards [at the PRTF] are on watch. They’re under quarantine, while all the rest are clean.

So when they had called and assembled all us volunteers, all of us were locked up in the facility. Hermetically sealed.

We had been promised the ward would be divided into a red zone and a clean zone, but that had not been done. We made the zones ourselves. Well, what I mean is that we assigned the residents to one of two stations so, at least, they wouldn’t be going back and forth. We had two stations on the ward, connected by corridors.

Yes, we have one doctor on duty on the ward, but he or she is a psychiatrist, not an infectious disease specialist.

We did not have any PPE, only gloves, which have always been issued in the residential treatment facility, and the cotton-gauze bandages that we sewed ourselves. The first week was more or less okay. We worked. And then everyone began to get sick—both residents and staff. Everyone’s temperature started to rise. At first, everyone on the ward tried to treat themselves with Antigrippine. We had smears taken on April 13. There were still smears that came back negative, but on April 22, everyone’s smears came back positive, so I think that of the sixty people or so whose smears had come back negative [on April 13], they were false negatives, meaning that the entire facility was sick. Staff who had mild cases went home, while those with more severe cases went to hospital. And the residents also went to hospital.

I was also taken to hospital. When I got there, we were heavily fed malaria pills. I had almost no fever, but I had a cough and was gasping for breath. I have been in hospital since April 20.

The money? I don’t know whether they will pay us—they didn’t even pay all the wages they had promised. We didn’t sign anything about agreeing to work with covid. We took our management’s word for it. Now we have to prove that we worked with covid and got sick at work.

I know that [Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov] came to the facility, and he and the director agreed that not only the doctors would get paid, but also the nurses, and the attendants, and the cafeteria workers, because everyone had worked directly with covid.

The residents didn’t understand what was happening. And we didn’t understand at first either, we didn’t know what the condition was until we got sick ourselves.

No, I wasn’t scared, I just wanted to go home. Well, it was scary when the young male residents on the ward started having disorders, and the psychiatric hospital wouldn’t accept them because our facility was under quarantine.

Residents who were ill with covid were taken to regular hospitals without being given psychiatric medication. That’s rough. I ended up at the same hospital as an old woman from our facility. I saw how the hospital nurses could not cope with her—they simply could not put her diapers on. Until she was transferred to the psychosomatic ward, I took care of her. Ordinary nurses and attendants don’t have the skills to interact with such people. They don’t know how to dress them, how to feed them, how to give them medicine. I think it was very wrong on the part of the municipal health committee or whoever was involved in this, that such people were sent to ordinary hospitals. This is intolerable. They pissed and shat themselves, and they yelled, and some of them smashed everything up and behaved badly. The staff at ordinary hospitals do not encounter this [ordinarily]. And they were without psychiatric medication. Later, they learned how to tie them down.

What will happen next? As long as we all sit on our asses waiting for something to happen, there is no hope that everyone who was cheated will be paid properly. But we are afraid that if we start this commotion, it will bounce back on us quite hard. So far I have started alone, but one soldier does not make a battle. They will take it out on me and my family. I will be fired and fired with cause, and then I will not be able to get a job anywhere.

PRTF No. 10 in Petersburg had previously been closed for quarantine due to the coronavirus. A patient at the facility had recently returned from treatment for other ailments at another facility, where he contracted the coronavirus. Ivan Veryovkin, the head of PRTF No. 10, then suddenly removed his facility’s intensive care unit from infection surveillance and suggested that volunteers come in the morning and leave in the evening.

As MR7.ru has argued recently, the epidemic has shown that PRTFs are “factories of misery,” and it is time to shut them down.

Translated by the Russian Reader. In case you were wondering who, exactly, was housed in Psychoneurological Residential Treatment Facility No. 10 in Petersburg, the Russian version of Wikipedia has the depressing answer. (The only other language in which there is an article on the subject is French, but the French article merely explains what PRTFs are in Russia.)

By the end of the twentieth century, there were 442 official PRTFs in the Russian Federation, but by the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, their number was 505. According to data for 2019, there are about 650 PRTFS in the Russian Federation, housing 155,157 patients. Most of these patients (112,157) are officially incapacitated.

According to the data for 2003, more than half of all patients in PRTFS (68.9%) were people with reduced intelligence: people who had been diagnosed with mental retardation and various types of dementia. At the same time, intellectual disabilities in persons transferred from orphanages are often associated not so much with a real decrease in intellectual capabilities, as with pedagogical neglect [sic], lack of proper training and education, insufficient rehabilitation programs, and lack of rehabilitation centers for post-orphanage training.

According to information for 2013, during the year, about a thousand people were admitted to PRTFs in Moscow; in total, 10,500 patients lived in PRTFs in the city (of which 8,245 were men aged 18-58 years). About 5,000 were admitted to PRTFs from orphanages without undergoing psychiatric re-examination.