“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.”

Navalny Support
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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Sixty Percent of Russian Doctors Make Less than 360 Euros a Month

IMG-20161117-WA0025It’s hard to say why these alleged Russian doctors are so happy, since sixty percent of them make less than 360 euros a month. Maybe they’re not real doctors, but paid actors.

Survey: Sixty Percent of Doctors Make Less than 25,000 Rubles a Month
Takie Dela
December 11, 2017

Over half of Russian doctors earn less than 25,000 rubles [approx. 360 euros] a month. Only 8.4% of them earn the nationwide average monthly salary of over 50,000 rubles a month.

RBC reports on a survey conducted by the Russian People’s Front and Zrodovye, a health services monitoring foundation, according to which 59.4% of doctors earned less than 25,000 rubles a month. 21.4% of respondents noted that their income from one salary [Russian doctors often work at more than one clinic or hospital to make ends meet—TRR] was less than 15,000 rubles a month. 21.7% of them reported they made between 15,000 and 20,000 rubles a month, while 16.3% reported a monthly income between 20,000 and 25,000 rubles.

13% of doctors reported that their salary varied between 35,000 and 50,000 rubles a month; 11%, between 25,000 and 30,000 rubles a month; and 8.5%, between 30,000 and 35,000 rubles a month. Only 8.4% made more than 50,000 rubles [approx. 720 euros] a month.

According to Rosstat, the current average salary for doctors is 53,100 rubles a month. Eduard Gavrilov, staff member at the Russian People’s Front and director of the Zdorovye Foundation, argues that the difference between reality and statistics has to do with the high amount of moonlighting among physicians. Due to low salaries, doctors are forced to work two jobs or a part-time job in addition to their full-time job.

Among medical support staff—nurses, midwives, paramedics, and others—nearly 80% of employees earn 25,000 rubles a month. Only two percent earn more 50,000 rubles a month.

According to President Putin’s May 2012 decrees, doctors would be receiving double the average monthly salary in their regions by 2018. Achieving this goal would require spending 266 billion rubles [approx. 3.85 billion euros], but officials do not know where to find the money.

In March, analysts at the Academy of Labor and Social Relations found that, as of the end of 2016, the average monthly salary of doctors at their main jobs was 21,700 rubles a month. When part-time jobs were figured in, doctors made 28,500 rubles a month on average.

Over the last four years, less than a third of medical workers have experienced pay growth, and only four percent have seen significant pay rises. A third of respondents said they had felt a drop in incomes, while a fifth of them reported a significant drop in wages.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Smolensk State Medical University

P.S. When you read an article like the one above, you naturally imagine the incumbent president would have a hard time persuading voters to re-elect him to what amounts to a fifth term, given his pathetic record when it comes to improving people’s lives, including the incomes of highly educated professionals such as doctors.

But if you imagined that, you’d be forgetting a few things.

First of all, the fix is in, so Putin will be “re-elected” in March 2018 no matter how many promises he has broken during his first four terms or “decrees” he has failed to implement.

Second, despite the new school of unthought that argues Putin is not omnipotent, and we (whoever “we” are) should not be so afraid of him, attributing powers to him that he does not have even on the homefront, the problem here has nothing to do with the old “good tsar vs. bad boyars” paradigm.

It’s much simpler than that. Putin and his cronies are gangsters, concerned only with enrichening themselves and increasing what they regard as political power. For them, political power has nothing to do with making good things happen for as many people as possible or addressing more specific, urgent. They see political power as a means of disempowering ordinary people and all possible constituencies other than their own clique so they have a free hand to do with the country what they will.

To that end, Putin’s so-called May (2012) decrees were so much sand kicked in the face of Russians to blind them to the basic facts of life in their country, of which they could hardly be unaware.

At nearly the exact same time, the so-called Bolotnaya Square Case was launched to show the whole country what the Putin mob did to people who did not like having sand kicked in their face all the time.

As luck would have it, a week ago, I had to have an emergency eye exam at a fairly swishy private medical clinic on the Nevsky. Since I know quite a few Russian doctors personally and have blogged a lot on this website about the rotten state of healthcare in Russia, including pay and working conditions for Russian doctors, and nascent attempts by doctors in Moscow and elsewhere to organize militant trade unions and stop rampant hospital closures and mergers, I dared to ask my new (terrific) ophtalmologist how she liked the swishy clinic and whether she was well paid.

She avoided the second question entirely, confessing only that she liked the good working relationships at the private clinic, where she had worked three years.

The takeaway message is that Vladimir Putin is a very powerful man indeed, perhaps the most powerful man in the world. But that will remain the case only until Russians decide they have had enough of the degradation to which Putin and his mob have subjected them and their country for seventeen years and do something about putting an end to it collectively. TRR