“About Your Articles about Russia”

Inkedyour articles_LIA concerned reader sent me this letter the other day. I was especially touched by the closing sentence: “When I was in Russia it appeared that common citizens were living comfortably, more-so than in USA.” The reader’s keen observations about life in Russia (about which I know next to nothing, despite having lived there for twenty-five years or so) are borne out by the article below.

Staff at Russia’s Main Cancer Center Quit En Masse, Citing Low Wages and Dire Conditions
Matthew Luxmoore
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
October 01, 2019

MOSCOW—Russia’s main cancer treatment center has been rocked by a wave of resignations amid complaints about low wages and deteriorating conditions at its wards, in the latest indication of what medical professionals say is a systemic crisis that is endangering the quality and availability of critical care in the country.

At least 10 doctors have resigned over the past two days from the N.N. Blokhin Cancer Research Center, which bills itself as the biggest oncology clinic in Europe, following the publication of a video address from 26 staff members of its childhood cancer institute calling for the institution to reform its management and improve conditions for employees.

In the clip, which was posted to YouTube on September 30, four doctors from the institute decry falling salaries and alleged intimidation on the part of management and paint a picture of a health-care center that has fallen into serious disrepair.

“For years, children with cancer have been treated in terrible conditions. There’s no ventilation, mold is eating through the walls, and the wards are overcrowded with sick patients,” they say in their video address, which had gathered almost 250,000 views by the afternoon of October 1.

According to Maksim Rykov, deputy director of the childhood cancer institute and one of the doctors who features in the video, at least 12 of his staff handed in their resignations on October 1 and dozens more are set to follow. He told RFE/RL the walkout may ultimately result in a loss of more than half of the entire cancer center’s workforce, which amounts to over 3,500 people.

Conflicts at the institution arose following the June appointment of Svetlana Varfolomeyeva as director of the childhood cancer institute. Rykov accused Varfolomeyeva, his boss, of using intimidation and manipulation to force out current staff with a view to replacing them with new people.

Staff who opposed changes Varfolomeyeva introduced were pressured to quit, Rykov said, and many were saddled with an extra administrative burden that left less time for treating patients.

“She urged everyone to leave. So we did,” Rykov said in a phone interview. “Management got what they wanted.”

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In their video address, the doctors demanded the dismissal of Varfolomeyeva and her team and a greater degree of transparency in the allocation of pay to employees.

“We reached out to all government representatives, but no one listened to us,” Rykov says in the clip.

Rykov and his colleagues have been given support from the Alliance of Doctors, a medical workers’ union backed by Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny which has helped organize dozens of protests over health care in Russia and now has branches in at least 20 regions.

In recent weeks, doctors across Russia have publicly complained about what they say are low salaries and dire work conditions, and many have quit. In Perm, medical workers are staging a mass walkout over a lack of staff and decent pay. In Nizhny Tagil, the entire team of surgeons at the city hospital quit in August, also over wages.

Anastasiya Vasilyeva, the head of the Alliance of Doctors, told RFE/RL that clinics across Russia are reaching the crisis point. In a telephone interview, she called the spate of resignations at the Blokhin Cancer Center “one part of a broken system of health care which exists across Russia” and “a link in the same chain” as the incidents in Nizhny Tagil, Perm, and elsewhere.

She said the trade union’s regional branches are helping doctors speak out and publicizing their efforts, but the various clinics and hospitals that have publicly condemned conditions for its staff are not coordinating activities. “This is all spontaneously happening across the country,” she said.

The management of the Blokhin Cancer Center has been quick to counter the allegations by Rykov and others. In comments to the press on September 30, its director Ivan Stilidi suggested that the doctors who authored the video address “had personal ambitions to take over” Varfolomeyeva’s position.

Stilidi then alleged they were being “steered” by “people outside the cancer center,” appearing to echo a narrative about foreign meddling commonly advanced among officials in Russia. He did not specify what people he was referring to.

But doctors who have quit their jobs at the institution, or claimed to have been pressured to do so, say that the current wave of resignations is likely to continue. Georgy Mentkevich, who appeared in the video address alongside Rykov, said that some may stay temporarily to offer critical care to the patients they oversee, but few plan to remain for long in the current circumstances.

“People see whom they’re being forced to work with, and they see what’s happened with the cancer center over the past two years under this new management,” Mentkevich told the online news site Podyom on September 30. “Today people are giving notice. And they will leave.”

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Oleg Volin: How Capitalism Kills in Nizhny Tagil

уралвагонFront entrance of the famous Uralvagonzavod Factory in Nizhny Tagil. Courtesy of Vasily Shaposhnikov and Kommersant

Oleg Volin
Facebook
February 20, 2019

Capitalism kills. Overwork, wage cuts, nasty managers, and the lack of a clear future drive workers to kill themselves.

On the morning of February 19, 2019, in Nizhny Tagil, Sergei Chernykh, a young worker, left his boss’s office, put a noose around his neck, and jumped off a raised area, damaging his spine and suffocating in mere seconds. Arriving on the scene, an ambulance crew (who, to top it all off, were not immediately let into the factory) were powerless to save his life.

The situation in Nizhny Tagil is not merely rough but bloody. Chernykh’s suicide was the fifth suicide in the past year by a worker at the Uralvagonzavod plant.

There have been several dozen similar incidents, but Chernykh’s death stands out from them in that he committed suicide at his workplace.

Chernykh could not bear life’s hardships and so he parted with it right on the spot. Whether he meant it or not, he thus focused the public’s attention on the outrageous working conditions endured by Uralvagonzavod workers.

The plant’s press service has not yet commented on the case, but it is obvious the increasing incidents of suicide have been caused by deterioration of socio-economic conditions and the lack of prospects.

Over the last twenty-eight years, Nizhny Tagil’s population has steadily declined, dropping from 440,000 residents to 350,000 residents. It would be strange not to see this as a telltale sign of what has been happening in the city.

Chernykh’s friends and acquaintances mainly say he was “driven” to kill himself. Many residents of Nizhny Tagil could find themselves in similar circumstances, especially if they work at Uralvagonzavod.

A female worker in Forging Shop No. 170, where Chernykh was employed, said the 27-year-old man’s suicide occurred after he attended a meeting of plant managers that he was not supposed to have attended. The employee asked she not be named since, she claimed, everyone in the shop was afraid, everyone needed a job, and she did not want any extra problems.

“Sergei was a rank-and-file worker, a cutter, but since our section foreman and section manager were on sick leave, Sergei was temporarily appointed foreman. And since there was no manager in our section, Sergei was sent to that meeting,” the woman claims. “It’s at these morning meetings that the shop foreman tells everyone what section has to do what and how much they have to do during a shift.”

“There are emergencies, and the shop foreman forces people to hurry up. He could not care less whether are enough workers to do the job or not, whether they have the tools they need or not. All that matters is that the work be done quickly. If you don’t have any workers, you go do the job yourself,” she says.

Marina Pogrebnykh, a distant relative of Chernykh’s, does not know the particulars of his death, but she likewise has no doubt plant management was to blame.

“I’m certain management are to blame for it. I don’t believe he would just take his own life like that, especially since this was not the first such incident,” says Pogrebnykh.

The anonymous female worker at Uralvagonzavod confirmed Chernykh was the third plant employee to have killed himself in the past three months. On the social networks, there has been talk there may have been more such incidents.

“We are under extreme pressure at work. You can make good wages, but you have to live on the shop floor to make the good money.

“Our section foreman killed himself. Yes, of course, it was a personal situation, but I can say that if he hadn’t drunk he would be alive. But when he was foreman in another shop he never drank, although the workload was huge. So, it’s a little hard to believe in coincidences.

“Our current section foreman, a woman, quite often comes back from meetings with management completely stressed out. She’s already getting up there in terms of age, but they yell at her like they yell at everyone else,” says the late Chernykh’s female coworker.

Two weeks ago, twenty-five Uralvagonzavod workers filed suit against their employer over new rules for calculating wages. According to the workers, the new rules have cut their pay in half while their workload has increased. Although these rules came into force in 2018, the workers have only now decided to file suit.

“Management tells us the the plant has been modernized. Due to this modernization, our workload has decreased, allegedly, meaning we should produce more. It’s on paper that things look good to them. On the contrary, we haven’t noticed any changes,” say the workers by way of explaining why they have sued olant management.

“On the contrary, we now have additional functions, but our wages have been halved.  This happened despite the fact that previously we had one of the highest pay grades at the plant due to occupational hazards and the heavy physical workload,” they say.

Nizhny Tagil’s Dzerzhinsky District Court has not yet made a ruling in the case.

Founded in 1936, Uralvagonzavod manufactures military equipment, railroad cars, and road construction equipment. In 2016, the company was merged with the Russian state corporation Rostec.

Poverty and overwork have led workers to hang themselves. It is all quite sad. Workers must realize they need to fight together to improve their condition. They must organize themselves, go on strike, and take other actions.

The nooses should be reserved for other heads.

This text is based on media reports.

Thanks to Tom Rowley for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Hot Water

A Female Pensioner in the Nizhny Tagil Area Invited Neighbors to Tell a National TV Channel about Their Village’s Problems: Now She Will Be Tried for Holding an Unauthorized Protest Rally
Mezhdu strok
22 August 2018

A 63-year-old resident of the village of Pokrovskoye in the Gornouralsky Urban District warned neighbors a TV news crew would be coming to cover utilities problems in the village. She now faces a court hearing, charged with holding a public event without the consent of the authorities.

ms-72790-8Irina Kutsenok. Photo courtesy of Mezhdu strok

Due to a hot water outage in the village that had lasted two months, pensioner Irina Kutsenok turned to the news program Vesti Ural for help. When she found out a news crew would be coming to the village on August 1, she posted announcements about their visit in the entryways of residential buildings, asking villagers to come and speak to the news crew. Subsequently, the head of the village council filed a complaint against Kutsenok with the prosecutor’s office, accusing her of “organizing a public event  without filing a notification in the prescribed manner,” a violation of Article 20.2 Part 2 of the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code.

“The water was turned off on June 1. The council said it would be off for a mere two weeks, but two months had passed since then. I then contacted Vesti Ural. They had helped us last year with garbage removal. After a segment aired on their program, the council started picking up the garbage. The people at Vesti Ural said they would send a news crew on August 1, and on July 31 I posted flyers in the entryways of residential buildings saying regional reporters were coming to cover the hot water outage so residents would know about it. At the bottom of the flyer, I wrote, ‘Residents should meet outside the club.’ But the editors at Vesti Ural told me the crew would not be coming, because the council had promised them that on August 3 our hot water would be turned on,” Kutsenok told Mezhdu strok.

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Irina Kutsenok’s flyer, announcing an upcoming visit by a news crew from the program Vesti Ural and asking village residents to gather outside the village club at twelve noon on August 1 to speak with the reporters about ongoing problems with the village’s hot water supply. Courtesy of Mezhdu strok

According to Kutsenok, the flyers were taken down almost immediately, on August 1. They were replaced with leaflets claiming water pressure tests would be conducted in the village on August 3.

Nevertheless, Kutsenok went to the village club on August 1 in case residents of Pokrovskoye had questions about the hot water outage. She was met there by Marina Selskaya, head of the Pokrovskoye village council, and Alla Semyonova, a member of the Gornouralsky City Duma.

“They yelled at me, accusing me of holding an unauthorized meeting. Later, it transpired Selskaya had also filed charges against me with the prosecutor’s office, accusing me of organizing and holding  a public event without notifying the council, of organizing protest rallies. Subsequently, the neighborhood beat cop came to my house and informed me I had to go to court. But I hadn’t made any speeches anywhere, nor had the TV reporters shown up. This means I am going to court for turning to the media, to a TV news program for help. What, now we don’t have the right to turn to the media, either, and we should be fined if we do turn to them? I just wanted to give our council a little nudge. I cannot get them to do anything about the water, preventive medical exams or metering devices for utilities. How much can a person take?” asked an outraged Kutsenok.

The magistrate of Sverdlovsk Region’s Suburban District will hear the charges against Kutsenok on August 30. Article 20.2 Part 2 of the Administrative Offenses Codes stipulates a fine of up to 30,000 rubles [approx. 380 euros] or up to fifty hours of community service.

UPDATE. After this article was published, the press service of the Sverdlovsk Region Prosecutor’s Office informed Mezhdu strok the charges against Kutsenok had not been filed with them, but with the police.

Thanks to OVD Info for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader