Push the Red Button

 

red button-2 “Red Button—human rights protection is always at hand. Red Button protects you from abuses of power by the authorities and quickly informs your friends, relatives, and human rights organizations about what happened. √We automatically locate the police station where you were taken. √We report the incident to the friends and relatives you selected. √We inform human rights organizations about what happened to you.” Screenshot of the Red Button website.

Yekaterinburg Police Suspect Creator of App for Detainees at Protest Rallies of Buying Drugs
Takie Dela
February 23, 2020

Police in Yekaterinburg have detained Alexander Litvreev, an IT specialist, founder of the cyber security firm Vee Security, and creator of an app for people detained at protest rallies. Litvreev’s lawyer Alexei Bushmakov reported the incident to Takie Dela.

According to Bushmakov, his client was detained on February 23 at the entrance to a hotel. Litvreev had come to Yekaterinburg on a visit, but he resides in St. Petersburg, where he was scheduled to speak at a conference in the evening. When police searched Litvreev, they allegedly found less than a gram of ecstasy.

Bushmakov refrained from drawing connections between the arrest and Litvreev’s political activism, but he did stress that the police officers who questioned Litvreev at the police station were aware of his activities and knew who he was.

“Alexander had arrived at the hotel in a car-sharing car. When he and his girlfriend got out, police officers surrounded them. His girlfriend was later questioned as a witness,” Bushmakov said.

Litvreev has been charged with violating Article 228.1 of the Russian Criminal Code (illegal acquisition of drugs) and sent to a temporary detention center until February 24, when his bail hearing will be held. According to Bushmakov, since Litvreev is not registered to live in Yekaterinburg, it is likely that he will be remanded in custody, something the defense attorney would like to avoid.

Thanks to Litvreev’s app Red Button, people detained at protest rallies can inform human rights defenders of their whereabouts.

“Red Button is the first button you’ll want to push when you’ve been illegally thrown into a paddy wagon. Human rights activists will find out immediately and try to help you,” Litvreev told Takie Dela in April 2017.

Vee Security offered users a proxy for bypassing the official blocking of the Telegram messenger service in April 2018. In 2017, Roskomnadzor requested that the Interior Ministry conduct an inquiry into whether Litvreev had organized the “simulated blocking” of websites.

Translated by the Russian Reader

“He Fell on the Knife”: Moscow Jury Acquits Man Who Confessed to Involuntary Manslaughter of Gay

Moscow Jury Acquits Man Who Confessed to Involuntary Manslaughter of Gay Man
Takie Dela
February 7, 2020

A jury at Moscow’s Basmanny District Court acquitted a man accused of murdering homosexual Roman Yedalov, reports the LGBT group Stimul, whose lawyers represented the interests of the victim’s friend and mother in court. The website xgay.ru reports that the assailant’s name is Anton Berezhnoy.

The defendant admitted his guilt in part. He claimed, however, that he had not caused the death deliberately but accidentally: the victim had allegedly “[fallen] on the knife.” On February 6, when asked the question of whether Berezhnoy had caused Yedalov’s death or not, the jury said he had not, thus obviating the following question as to his guilt.

A final verdict will be handed down by the presiding judge in a few days but, according to law, the verdict cannot be a guilty one for the defendant. Stimul’s lawyers have already said they would appeal the court’s decision.

“The evidence and testimony presented in the trial convinced me that the altercation was provoked by the defendant,” said Anton Lapov, a lawyer for the injured party. “I’m convinced that it was this bloody outcome that the defendant envisaged. One person had their life taken, while another person was robbed of their health.”

The murder occurred in the early hours of June 29, 2019, at Kursk Railway Station in Moscow. Berezhnoy assaulted gay couple Roman Yedalov and Yevgeny Yefimov, who were returning to their home in the Moscow Region, and struck them with a knife.

The murder was captured on CCTV. Courtesy of Takie Dela

Yefimov’s wounds were not life-threatening and he survived, but Yedalov died on the spot. According to Yefimov, Berezhnoy shouted insults relating to their sexual orientation during the attack. Yefimov suspects that Berezhnoy followed them from a night club.

The Russian Investigative Committee launched a criminal investigation into the murder. Yefimov and the dead man’s mother were named as the injured party, while Berezhnoy was remanded in custody. During the trial, the prosecutor argued that the available evidence proved the defendant’s guilt. Yedalov’s mother told the court that she was proud of her son for defending his friend by stepping between him and the assailant.

In November 2019, Maxim Pankratov, the star of a video on the YouTube channel Real Talk in which children asked him questions about homosexuality, reported that he had been threatened. People on the street recognized him and shouted “Faggot! Pervert” as he walked past. Another group of strangers attempted to attack him at night, but he managed to escape. Pankratov underscored the fact that he had not talked with the children about sex and had not committed violent acts against them.

After the video starring Pankratov was posted, the Moscow police charged the channel’s creators with “promoting homosexualism [sic] among minors,” while the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case into sexual violence against minors. Investigators claimed that the conversations with children were designed to arouse them sexually and induce them to have sexual relations. The video was deleted after the scandal erupted.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Are Homeless People in Moscow “Foreign Agents”?

nochlezhkaNochlezhka staff outside their shelter on Borovaya Street in Petersburg. Photo courtesy of Nochlezhka

“It’s Unpleasant, But It Won’t Affect Our Plans”: Nochlezhka on Calls from Begovoy Residents to Declare the Charity a “Foreign Agent”
Lida Timofeyeva
Takie Dela
November 21, 2019

Zoya Andrianova, a member of Begovoy Municipal District Council in Moscow, has requested that authorities check whether the charity Nochlezhka should be declared a “foreign agent.” She pointed out the organization received foreign funding and had “access to a socially vulnerable, dependent and manipulable segment of the population.”

“We must use all methods of fighting the enemy. Nochlezhka should now lose its appetite for Moscow. It will have to spend a long time explaining itself to Center ‘E.’ If it is closed as a result, that will teach it a lesson,” wrote Alexandra Andreyeva, a member of the Lefortovo Municipal District Council.

Takie Dela asked Nochlezhka’s directors to comment on the actions of the activists who oppose the opening of a shelter and a counseling service for homeless people in Begovoy.

______________________________

Grigory Sverdlin, director of the charity organization Nochlezhka

“Nochlezhka has been receiving foreign funding for many years: it makes up around 15% of our overall budget. The aid mainly comes from religious organizations. We appreciate this and have never hidden these donations: people can check the annual reports on our website. Nochlezhka has never been involved in politics, so the ‘foreign agent’ label does not apply to us. We are not afraid of audits: like all other charitable organizations in Russia, Nochlezhka has been audited repeatedly.

“Andrianova and the group of activists recently sent eleven complaints to federal consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor, asking them to check a homeless shelter that does not exist yet. Their attempts to kick Nochlezhka out of their neighborhood, as they put it, have continued, although district councilors from Lefortovo and activists from Savelovo are part of the effort for some reason. It’s unpleasant, of course, but it will not affect our plans in any way.”

______________________________

Darya Baybakova, director of Nochlezhka’s Moscow branch

“The opponents [of the future shelter] are few in number, but they are quite active. There are several municipal district councilors in their ranks, in particular, Alexandra Andreyeva and Zoya Andrianova. Andreyeva believes homeless people should not be helped at all, but instead should be transported beyond the 101st kilometer. Andrianova had said the campaign against Nochlezhka’s project is a personal matter for her. In her opinion, such places should not be opened in the Begovoy district.

“Last week, I was at the prosecutor’s office, answering the questions posed by the same municipal district councilors in their complaints. We also received a warning from Rospotrebnadzor [about the inadmissibility of violating health regulations] after they inspected the building where the shelter will be opened. Andrianova has now sent a complaint to the presidential administration. We have not received any letters from them yet, but we are ready to answer any and all questions when they do arrive.”

______________________________

In September, Nochlezhka announced it was planning to open a consulting service and shelter for homeless people in Moscow’s Begovoy district. The charity looked for a space for a year and a half: it needed to be within walking distance of subway and train stations, but at a distance from residential buildings. Nochlezhka conducted a survey of the district’s residents and held a meeting with them. They were unable to stave off a conflict, however: some of the people who came to the meeting refused to listen to Nochlezhka’s arguments and walked out.

In the aftermath of this wave of discontent, Nochlezhka invited the Muscovites to tour its Petersburg facilities. Petersburg officials reported to the Muscovites that no one had ever complained about Nochlezhka’s clients. Nochlezhka launched an online flash mob to support its Moscow branch: people were asked to post messages with the hashtag #ISupportNochlezhkaInMoscow. The Moscow mayor’s office turned down Nochlezhka’s request to provide it with a space for a homeless shelter.

In 2018, Nochlezhka and the Second Breath Foundation announced plans to open a laundry for homeless people in Moscow. They chose a space near the Dynamo subway station in the Savelovo district for the laundry, but were forced to give up the project after local residents protested. The residents threatened to file complaints with all the relevant authorities and set the laundry on fire.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Yegor Galkin: “You Look Out and See Everything Is Ugly”

“You Look Out and See Everything Is Ugly”: How a Barnaul Resident Took Charge of the City’s Grassroots Urban Activist Group
Alexandra Romantsova
Takie Dela
October 17, 2019

In a series of monologues entitled “Close to the Heart,” Takie Dela hands the microphone to residents of Russia’s regions whose personal involvement and willingness to act are gradually changing their local communities. The star of our second installment is Barnaul resident Yegor Galkin, head of Spire, a local grassroots group.

How do I want my city to look? How can I change the space in which I live? Five years ago, a schoolboy from Barnaul sought answers to these questions, learned about the work of Spire, and became interested in urban planning.

galkinYegor Galkin. Photo courtesy of Mr. Galkin and Takie Dela

Spire, a grassroots group, emerged in 2013 amid the popularization of urban planning in Russia. Its founder, Sergei Ustinov, is a well-known big data expert: he created a nation-wide map of road accidents in Russia. In 2013, the group established its presence on social networks and started doing walks in the city and making photographs. I joined the project in 2014, which was when we launched a map of grassroots proposals in Barnaul. This has been our group’s main focus.

We developed a large interactive map of Barnaul where any resident could leave his or her proposal for beautifying and improving the city. Any user could vote these proposals up or down. Based on the results of the voting, we would send requests to the authorities. We wanted to interact directly with Barnaul city hall and the government of the Altai Territory, but we were ignored. We had over 500 proposals, for which 3,000 votes were cast on our website. Those were huge numbers for Barnaul. After a while, some of the proposals were implemented. This was due to our written requests, but also because some of them were too obvious to ignore.

We still are not in a direct dialogue with officials. Instead, we have learned how to work through the media: they hear us and react. If we have found an irregularity, they try to fix it. For example, the city had a contract for erecting fences, but they were not erected, although they existed on paper. After we wrote about this, the fences went up the next day. I am against fences, but an irregularity is an irregularity.

Our work can be divided into several categories: planning (like the map of grassroots proposals), fighting for green areas, work on the city’s master plan, and daily work by experts, including environmentalists and urban activists. They find irregularities in the city’s improvement and road repair projects, check them against the official paperwork, and publish their findings. This is all done for free: we have no funding. Our desire to change the city and our initiative drive everything we do.

When urbanism first came to Russia,  people didn’t know what it was and how it could improve their lives. When they went to Europe, people sensed things could be different in Russia. We quickly found a common language with people like this. We would tell them what we could do in Barnaul to make life more comfortable, such as introducing dedicated bus and bike lanes and improving public transport.

At first, many people had a hostile reaction to these ideas. They said we needed to expand roads to accommodate more cars. Every group that tackles urban problems is confronted with this reaction. When we started talking about public spaces, however, we found lots of new allies.

Everything always begins with the individual: how would I like to see the city? Personal comfort is important. That was why it captivated me. I began studying the subject, reading a lot and looking at different proposals and projects. Now it is a scholarly interest because I am studying political science. Urban planning and urban reform are impossible without politics. I am curious about the evolution of cities, demographic processes, and gentrification’s impact on urban development. I’m a grassroots urban activist and I want the city to be better.

We have been fighting for Barnaul’s green areas. In 2015, we did our first big project about city parks, which dealt with their current state. While everyone in Moscow knew what was happening in the city’s parks, people in Barnaul didn’t know anything. In 2016, we did the project again, this time in cooperation with a local news website and professional photographers. We made a video using quadcopters. And we spelled out the problem: nobody was taking care of the parks. Some of them had been subjected to deforestation, while others were so badly neglected it was dangerous to go there.

Barnaul has a population of 700,000, and there used to be six city parks. Now there is one official park that is still open. The other parks lost their official status and no one has been managing them. This is a big problem for Barnaul. We are surrounded by old-growth forests, but there are few green spaces in the city itself.

The bulk of the people who subscribe to our group’s social media pages signed on when we raised these issues. People voiced their support and willingness to engage in joint action. Half of Emerald Park was logged, sparking a lively protest over the fact that the city’s green areas were neglected. Whereas there had been no reaction from the authorities in 2015–2016, the issue has finally been raised at the regional level in 2019. Recently, we had a round table at the Altai Territory Legislative Assembly on the topic of green areas in the city.

We raise the hot-button issues in Barnaul. If they are written about, people know about them, and city officials have to react. Our experts are so good that when city hall officials hear their names they freak out. All of the publications posted on our social media pages are read by the prosecutor’s office and the investigative agencies. If there are irregularities, they conduct inquiries.

We have now been trying to establish relations with the district councils. We are getting ready to present our draft project for a park area, a project we did in keeping with all the canons of urban planning. We did surveys of the area in summer, autumn, winter, and spring, as well as research on how people navigate parks. The project for this park will soon be open to feedback from any and all residents of Barnaul. I think it will be interesting and beneficial. I don’t recall that a grassroots undertaking like this has ever been implemented in the regions.

Judging by polls, people want to see quality. The canons of urbanism and notions of proper improvements to amenities can be captured in the phrase “quality infrastructure,” meaning infrastructure that is sound, convenient, comfortable, and safe. People have the same idea: they want to live in a safe and pleasant green space. There is popular demand for quality urban improvements.

An important thought for all grassroots groups is that you need to do what you do and do it well. If you see a problem you need to make sense of it and talk about it. You have to recruit experts and not be afraid of communicating with the authorities, of building a dialogue with regional parliamentarians, city councilors, and district councilors so everyone has a stake in solving the problem. You have to voice your proposals and, most importantly, spark the interest of groups that can impact decision-making. Merchants, authorities, city councilors, political parties: you need to interact with everyone. An urban activist is a person who thrives on interaction and dialogue.

Translated by the Russian Reader

We Wouldn’t Mind If You Died of AIDS

nutter

HIV Prevention Organization in Altai Territory Closes Due to Inability to Pay Court Fine
Takie Dela
December 4, 2018

Choice (Vybor), a non-profit HIV service organization, has been forced to close its office in Biysk, Altai Territory, due to its inability to pay a court-imposed fine, reports Kommersant. The NGO had been found guilty of refusing to acknowledge it was a “foreign agent.”

The Altai Territorial Court upheld the ruling of the Biysk City Court, which had fined Choice 150,000 rubles [approx. €2,000] for failing to recognize itself as a “foreign agent” and voluntarily place itself on the registry of “foreign agents.”

According to Maxim Olenichev, a lawyer from Attorneys for Equal Rights who represented Choice in court, on November 30, the organization was forced to close its office and cancel its HIV prevention programs in the region, including programs for intravenous drug users and other risk groups.

“HIV-service NGOS have access to ‘closed’ groups of people who are unwilling to turn to state institutions for help,” Olenichev said in an interview with reporters. “Attacking such NGOS reflects a policy of ‘traditional values,’ a policy focused on criminalizing the actions of people who do not comply with these values or ignore them. By using the law on ‘foreign agents’ to destroy NGOs, the state promotes the growth of HIV-infected people, although by joining forces with NGOs the state could halt the epidemic’s growth.”

The court ruled that several of Choice’s campaigns, during which the NGO handed out HIV express tests (41 people tested positive — TD), over 100,000 clean syringes, and 20,000 condoms for free, were “political” in nature. Choice employees noted they worked with the primary vulnerable groups as defined by the Russian state, using the same methods as specified in the official rules for HIV prevention. The court chose to ignore these arguments.

The court also agreed with the Russian Justice Ministry’s claim that Choice had received foreign funding in 2014 and 2016. Choice received 147,000 rubles from ESVERO, a non-profit partnership, and 272,000 rubles from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

Olenichev pointed out that ESVERO had been implementing a project of the Global Fund for Fighting AIDs, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which receives funding from the Russian government, in thirty-four Russian regions. The NGO was thus using grants to put the money back into the Russian economy. As for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which sponsored Choice with funding in rubles, Olenichev claimed there was no evidence in the case file that the organization was foreign. Nevertheless, the court refused to reverse the fine.

According to the latest data from the Russian Health Ministry, in 2017, 53.5% of new cases of HIV infection were caused by sexual intercourse, while 43.6% of new infections were caused by the use of intravenous drugs. According to official statistics, the number of HIV-infected people in Russia is 998,525. Eighty-one percent of them know they are infected.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized Russia as leading Europe in new cases of HIV infections at 71.1 cases per every 100,000 people. The virus is primarily transmitted through heterosexual sex (59%) and intravenous drug use (30%). The Russian Health Ministry has called these figures “extremely inaccurate.”

In late October, the Saratov Regional Organization of Chronic Diabetes Sufferers announced its closure: a court had also fined it 300,000 rubles for violating the law on “foreign agents.” The expert employed by the prosecutor’s office to audit the organization concluded it had “shape[d] preconditions for discrediting the authorities” and “report[ed] about the region’s so-called sore points to [its] foreign partners.”

Thanks to Alexander Feldberg for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Cabbies Left While the Cossacks Stayed: Rostov-on-Don on the Eve of the World Cup

rostov arena-2Rostov Arena. Photo courtesy of ftbl.ru

The Cabbies Left, The Cossacks Stayed
Gleb Golod
Takie Dela
June 8, 2018

The banks of the Don River in Rostov were always quite different. The right bank was landscaped, featuring bars and restaurants suited to every taste, singing fountains, and amusements. The left bank featured a wild beach chockablock with sand and trees. It was a favorite spot for picnickers and outdoor shish kebab cookouts. People used to swim there until the Don was completely polluted.

The new Rostov Arena has been built on the the left bank. Nine months and 913 million rubles [approx. 123 million euros] turned the wild beach into a landscaped park and river embankment. All that is left of the levberdon, as Rostovians call it, is a pier that extends nearly to the middle of the mighty river.  Over the long years it has been there, it has rusted, and there are holes in its covering here and there. The locals loved it, however. In the evenings, you would always find a couple in love, a photographer and his model, a small group of friends, and an old fisherman who had good luck catching herring in the middle of the Don.

Since May 1, when the park on the left bank officially opened, it has been standing room only on the pier. Locals stroll there with their children, joined by the foreigners who have arrived earlier in Rostov-on-Don. Someone worried about safety decided to limit the number of people on the pier and welded an iron grille to the entrance, but this has not stopped the flood of visitors. Cyclists toss their bikes over it, men help their female companions climb over it, and parents ferry their children from one side of the grille to the other.

Every half hour, an improvised river taxi docks alongside the pier. It charges adults 500 rubles for a ride. Children sail for free.

“Business? What business? The main thing we sell are emotions. River cruises are soothing. Adults can relax while the kids doze,” a man in a sailor’s hat and striped shirt advertises a short cruise on the Don while docking at the pier.

“Business has been good, of course, since so many people started coming here,” he admits. “I would give the embankment a ‘C’ for now. There is not much in the way of infrastructure or development. We’ll see how it looks a year from now.”

The boat pilot does not waste any time. He has struck up a conversation with a young boy, whom he has given a tennis ball. The boy persuades his parents to go for a ride on the boat. They quickly give in. The vessel weighs anchor and speeds off toward the other shore.

The Stadium and the Park
The boat pilot gave the new park a “C,” but the locals like the new sports facilities and playgrounds, and the fact the park is well maintained. But it lacks trees, many of which were cut down during the beautification.

“There is a lot of exercise equipment, and the air is fresh, but I probably won’t be coming here in the summer. There are few trees and little shade. But you know what the heat is like here in July. You could kick the bucket,” says a young woman in workout gear.

The local are not imagining things. There really are many fewer trees. The park was built without consideration of the place’s specific features. Consequently, the “city’s green shield” was left with huge gaps in it, says Alexander Vodyanik, environmentalist and assistant secretary of the Russian Public Chamber.

The “wild” green area on the left bank, which stretched all the way to Bataysk, a suburb of Rostov-on-Don, moistened the winds sweeping in from the Kalmyk steppes, winds that are especially palpable in the spring. It was the primary source of fresh air, supplying it just as ably as a forest, says Vodyanik. The place had to be beautified, but a completely different park should have been built, a wetlands park.

“Historically, this place functioned as a city beach, and it should have been turned into a city beach. People swim at a beach, but the Don has been so badly polluted for so long that swimming was definitely off limits in this part. In that case, swimming pools could have been set up while simultaneously purifying the water. This has been done in Germany on the Rhine, which is much dirtier than the Don, and the project has been a success,” says Vodyankik. “But a park was built here instead. An instant lawn, which has already gone bad, was rolled out. Eighty percent of the poplars were cut down. We had problems with our woodlands as it was, but they were damaged even further.”

The so-called Tourist Police are identified as such on the armbands they wear. A female student from Namibia leads a tour for her friends, who have arrived to enroll at the Don State Technical University. A young man named Aman hopes to get a ticket to the match between Brazil and Switzerland. If it does not work out, however, he will just go for a stroll around the city.

“I really like it here. The city is pretty and has an interesting history. Things are good, the park is good. Everything is terrific and cozy,” he says in English. “By the way, could you tell me where the stadium is? All the signs are in Russian, which I don’t actually understand.”

Rostov Arena was built at a distance from residential areas, so loud fans will not bother locals even on match days. The stadium is accessible by bus and taxi. True, fans will have to walk the last 500 meters to the turnstiles. This decision was made for security reasons.

Cabbies Leave the Fan Zone
Specially accredited taxi drivers will ferry fans from the left bank to the right bank and the fan zone on Theater Square. The most popular taxi services in Rostov-on-Don, Uber and Leader, accessible on the Rutaxi app, will not be working during the World Cup because they are not officially registered as commercial transport services.

Among the major cab companies, Yandex Taxi and Taxi 306 have been accredited to work during the World Cup. Roman Glushchenko, executive director of Taxi 306, told us  a total of 500 cars had been accredited in Rostov-on-Don, but he refused to discuss whether that would be enough cars to handle all comers.

According to gypsy cab driver Leonid, around 150 drivers of the ten thousand drivers affiliated with the company 2-306-306 have been accredited. Cabbies like Leonid mainly work for themselves rather than licensed carriers, which are practically nonexistent in the city, he explains. The gypsy cabbies use Yandex, Uber, Gett, and Leader as dispatchers, either directly or through small intermediary firms. So, when the issue of accreditation for the World Cup arose, it was a problem for drivers, who had to obtain permits, sign a contract with a licensed carrier, and paint their cars yellow or white. The Rostov Regional Transport Ministry issued the full list of requirements for accreditation.

“I’m not going to lift a finger to get accreditation,” Leonid admits. “Why should I give myself a headache by getting permits that would mean I would start making a loss? Licensed cars must be stickered with the taxi company’s ID tag. I don’t want to have this for a number of reasons. I would also have to register as an independent entrepreneur, get a license from the Transport Ministry, which was free until this year, and insure my cab, although premiums are higher than usual. And that’s over and above the 25% cut I give to Yandex. I know lots of gypsy cabbies. Not a single one of them has bothered to get accreditation. It’s just bad business for them.”

To prevent the few accredited taxis from jacking up rates for Rostovians and fans, the Transport Ministry has established a single rate for the entire World Cup.

Leonid plans to spend the World Cup in Sochi. He says the transport system there is better, applying for a license is easier, and the city is generally better prepared after hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics.

“Who wants to sit in traffic jams driving back and forth to the stadium?” he grumbles.

Although the World Cup lasts only four weeks, Theater Square, which will house a fan zone that can accommodate 22,000 fans, was closed to car traffic and public transport on May 13 and will remain closed until July 21. In the mornings and evenings, buses are already stuck in traffic on Sholokhov Avenue. When the World Cup kicks off, share taxis (marshrutki) will be removed from Red Army Street. Officials have promised they will be replaced with new buses.

There are plans to show all the matches on giant screens, organize entertainment for fans, and open food courts on Theater Square. The fan zone is a few hundred meters from the ruins of an entire residential neighborhood, destroyed by fire last year.

The square itself is home of the Gorky Drama Theater, hence the square’s name. It is one of two Russian buildings whose models are exhibited in the Museum of Architecture in London. (The other is St. Basil’s Cathedral.) The late constructivist landmark resembles a stylized caterpillar tractor. Corbusier called it a “gem of Soviet architecture.” Unfortunately, the fan will not be able to see it. The theater could not be cleaned up in time for the World Cup and has been draped with several banners.

Rostov-on-Don-Maxim-Gorky-Drama-TheatreThe Maxim Gorky Drama Theater in Rostov-on-Don. Postcard image courtesy of Colnect

Painted Residents Greet Cossacks
The authorities promised to repair and reconstruct many historic buildings and entire streets in preparation for the 2018 World Cup, but with a few weeks left before the championship, it was clear they would run out time.

Residents of Stanislavsky Street, in the downtown, recount how workers have been laboring outside their houses round the clock, trying to finish their work not by June 1, as city officials had promised, but at least by June 14, when the World Cup kicks off. When you are in a hurry, mistakes are inevitable: a female pensioner was unable to exit her building because the door was blocked by paving slabs. Other houses wound up a meter lower than the newly beautified street, and residents have had to jury-rig stairways to the pavements.

Around fifty buildings in Rostov-on-Don’s historic center have been hung with giant photographs of the buildings or World Cup banners because they could not be repaired in time. Among them is the famous house of Baron Wrangel, where the leader of the Whites during the Russian Civil War spent his childhood and youth. The house is a neoclassical architectural landmark. The mansion was nationalized during the Soviet period and turned into a kindergarten. The kindergarten shut down in the nineties, and the building was abandoned. Over the years, it has become quite dilapidated and has been repeatedly vandalized, so it looks hideous.

But when only a few months remained until the World Cup, no one had any brighter idea than to drape the landmark with a picture.

2010_04_24_domvrangelyaThe Wrangel House in Rostov-on-Don. Photo courtesy of RostovNews.Net

The Rostov branch of the Russian Society for the Protection of Historical and Cultural Landmarks (VOOPIK) tried to persuade city officials a dilapidated Wrangel House would look better than a picture emblazoned on a tarp. They circulated a petition and sent a letter to Governor Vasily Golubev, all to no avail.

“We got a reply less than half a page long. It acknowledged receipt of our letter, but there had been an onsite meeting of a commission chaired by Deputy Governor Sergei Sidash. On the basis of arguments made by commission members, they had decided to drape it in banners,” says Alexander Kozhin, head of VOOPIK’s Rostov branch.

800px-Гостиница__Московская_The Moscow Hotel, in downtown Rostov-on-Don, before the 2007 fire. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The same plight befell the Moscow Hotel, a nineteenth-century eclecticist building. In 2007, it was badly damaged in a fire and has been awaiting reconstruction ever since. The dilapidated Gorky Library (originally the Sagiyev Family Tenement House, an Art Nouveau landmark) is covered in scaffolding. It has been decided to demolish the Pavlenkova Tenement House, on long-suffering Stanislavsky Street, altogether.

sar-htosThe Sagiyev Family Tenement House aka the Gorky Library, in downtown Rostov-on-Don. Photo courtesy of voopiik-don.ru

 

1526621588_pavlenkovoyThe ruins of the Pavlenkova Tenement House, in downtown Rostov-on-Don. Photo courtesy of Rostov.ru

A few weeks before the start of the World Cup, images of a building on Sholokhov Avenue appeared in the news and social media. Happy residents peered from the windows: a fiddler holding his instrument, an artist at an easel, a girl blowing soap bubbles, a football fan wearing a Spartak FC scarf, and patriots with the Russian tricolor draped on their backs. The balconies are adorned with balloons and potted plants.

All of them were painted images on yet another banner covering up unfinished repairs.

The upcoming championship has not changed the life of Rostov-on-Don’s real residents all that much. Schoolchildren and university students started and finished their final exams earlier, so schools and universities would be closed when the World Cup kicked off. The old airport was shut down, replaced by the new Platov Airport outside the city. All political rallies and marches have been prohibited during the World Cup.

The police will not be alone in enforcing this and other prohibitions. In early May, Don Cossacks in Rostov announced that three hundred Cossacks, included mounted Cossacks, would be keeping the peace on the streets as “volunteers.” They have assured the public that, at their own behest, they would not engage in violence and would leave their whips at home. If the police, however, are breaking up a fight, the Cossacks will back them up. The volunteers in papakha hats will pay particular attention to LGBT fans.

TASS_1044980_673“Cossacks.” Photo courtesy of Russia Beyond

“If two men kiss at the World Cup, we will tell the police to check them out,” they said.

The first World Cup match in Rostov-on-Don kicks off on June 17. A total of five matches will be played on the left bank of the Don: four matches in the group stage and one match in the round of sixteen.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Harmacy

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Back to the World of Me-Too Drugs: How Anti-Sanctions Will Deal a Blow to the Mental Health of Russians
Takie Dela
May 2, 2018

The ban on the import of drugs from the United States and other “unfriendly” western countries, tabled by MPs in the Russian State Duma, will worsen the mental health of Russians. Two psychiatrists discussed the consequences facing people with mental illnesses if brand-name drugs are replaced by domestic lookalikes.

The Big Picture
In early April, State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin announced the imminent expansion of countersanctions by Russia towards the US and other western countries opposed to the Russian Federation’s foreign policies. In particular, there are plans to introduce a ban on the import of drugs from the countries on the sanctions lists, but only on those drugs for which there are domestic counterparts. However, many foreign-manufactured psychotropic drugs have domestic counterparts, and they will be banned, therefore.

Russia is not a happy country in terms of psychiatry. Every fourth Russian suffers from mental illness at some point in his or her life, and between three and six percent of the populace needs to take medications regularly.

Due to severe conditions such as epilepsy, schizophrenia, clinical depression, and bipolar disorder, hundreds of thousands of Russians lose the capacity to work and are unable to adapt to society. Many of them commit suicide. Modern drugs are effective enough to let most patients lead full lives. Their well-being depends on drugs, which they must take for many years and, sometimes, their whole lives.

The drugs in question are antidepressants, antipsychotics, tranquillizers (sedatives), and normotics (mood stabilizers). Nearly all the brand-name drugs in the field are produced in Western Europe and the US. If theban is adopted, they will vanish from Russian pharmacies, since nearly all these drugs have counterparts (i.e., generics), with the same active ingredients, that are produced in Russian and Eastern Europe.

When discussing the possbile stop list, experts named two popular antidepressants: Paxil (France) and Cymbalta (USA). Many other drugs popular in Russia, including the antipsychotics Zyprexa (Eli Lilly, UK) and Seroquel (AstraZeneca, UK/Sweden), and the antidepressant Zoloft (Pfizer, USA), could be included in the ban. What would be the consequences for millions of patients?

Increasingly Ineffective Treatment
Mental equilibrium is a delicate matter, and selecting drugs to treat psychiatric conditions can much more complicated than selecting drugs to treat somatic illnesses. The optimal outcome is for the individual not merely to stop experiencing severe symptoms like obsessive suicidal tendencies and hallucinations, but also to remain capable of working and leading a social life, rather than turning into a lifeless vegetable.

People with clinical depression, which can last for years, know well the laborious process of choosing the right drug and the right dosage that will finally let them live a normal life. The process can take weeks and months.

Matters are even more complicated with bipolar disorder. The disease’s two opposite phases require different medications, and an unsuitable drug can even worse the outcome of the illness. Schizophrenia presents such a variety of symptoms that a veritable cocktail of drugs is sometimes needed, and attending physicians have to make sure the side effects do not outweigh the benefits of treatment.

“Current guidelines for pharmacotherapy recommend prescribing the brand-name drug and not substituting a generic without good reason,” says Maria Gantman, a psychiatrist at the Mental Health Center.

Dr. Gantman prescribes her patient brand-name drugs, which have undergone high-quality trials on thousands of patients and have a proven effect. Generics also undergo trials when they are licensed, trials that prove their similarity to brand-name drugs, but the evidentiary base is filled with too many gaps, she notes.

“Generics are usually less expensive, and we start off with them if the patient cannot afford the brand-name drug. The abrupt replacement of one generic with another can produce a change in the effect. Due to the peculiarities of their ingredients, generics may be absorbed at a greater or lesser rate and generate a different concentration of the active ingredient in the blood. The people who suffer most are those forced to switch from a brand-name drug they have been taking for years and that was laboriously selected for them to a generic,” explains Dr. Gantman.

She fears the Russian authorities will approach the issue in a perfunctory manner.

“For example, there is a drug that is effective in treating schizophrenia, Rispolept. There are Russian lookalikes, sold under the generic name risperidone. But if the brand-name drug is banned, it hard to imagine what lies in store for people who survive by taking Rispolept Consta (Belgium), which does not exist in this form as a generic in Russia,” says Dr. Gantman.

“The problem is that theRussian pharmaceutical industry hopelessly lags behind the western pharmaceutical industry. There are certain types of drugs Russia just cannot produce, because it does not have the resources, the equipment or the research,” continues Anatoly Shepenyov, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist. “Say, the antidepressant Cipralex (Denmark) cannot be synthesized in Russia. Folic acid is an indispensable drug, too. In Russia, it cannot be produced in the form needed for the synthesis of serotonin, that is, in the form needed for maintaining normal brain function.”

Side Effects
The side effects of psychotropic drugs are numerous and varied. Mental impairment, convulsions, fainting, anemia, and fever are only some of them. Predicting them ahead of them is impossible: they are the individual body’s reactions. A drug that simultaneously provides relief while not producing agonizing side effects is a valuable find for many patients.

Dr. Shepenyov illustrates the circumstances by mentioning the antidepressant Paxil (France). It has generics, for example, Rexetin (Hungary). Rexetin works, but its therapeutic effectiveness is lower. To get the same effect she would get from 20 mg of Paxil, thae patient would need to take at least 30 mg of Rexetin. As dosages increase, so do the side effects.

“The main difficult is not synthesizing the right substance, but isolating it in pure form. I’ll give you an example. The antidepressant must fit the receptor in the brain the way a key fits a lock. When generics are synthesized, a whole slew of impurities emerge, extra ‘keys,’ if you like. If you use this ‘dirty’ molecule, you won’t open the lock, but there will be something jammed in it,” notes Dr. Shepenyov.

The use of generics thus introduces the risk there will be a lack of therapeutic effect coupled with a slew of side effects that would never be produced by brand-name drugs. The liver also suffers more from the constant intake of “dirty” drugs.

“Take the most popular Russian-made antidepressant, Fluoxetine (a generic version of the US-produced Prozac). It is terrible in terms of side effects. Although its benefits are weak, patients suffer from phenomenal absentmindedness,” explains Dr. Shepenyov.

Withdrawal Syndrome
If western-produced drugs one day vanish from Russian pharmacies, thousands of patients will undergo withdrawal syndrome, the body’s physiological reaction to the absence of a substance to which it is accustomed.

“I felt terribly sick within a few days. I had a terrible chill, severe dizziness, nausea, weakness, and insomnia,” a female patient described her withdrawal from Paxil.

It is necessary to gradually reduce the dosage to avoid this effect, which means having a good supply of the drug and then just as gradually increasing the dosage of the new drug. This means weeks of enduring shaky health.

The Anti-Placebo Effect
“The anti-placebo effect is no less frequent and severe than the placebo effect. The patient knows she has taken another drug. This exacerbates her anxiety and could ultimately destabilize her condition. So, if an individual has taken the same drug for years and feels fine, there is no need to give her another drug. It’s risky,” says Dr. Gantman.

Both doctors are agreed that patient health should not be a geopolitical bargaining chip. According to Dr. Gantman, medical issues should be left out of the political games countries play, and she calls the State Duma’s plans to ban the imports of foreign-made drugs “profoundly unethical.”

“If Russian MPs adopt such a law, we should oblige them to be treated solely with Russian-made drugs, drive Russian-made cars, and use Russian-made telephones and computers. Those would be excellent sanctions that would finally force them to use their brains before making radical decisions without having the foggiest notion about either medicine or how the body functions,” concludes Dr. Shepenyov.

Translated by the Russian Reader

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Anastasia Plyuto
VK
May 12, 2018

A group picket was held on Saturday, May 12, 2018, in Petersburg’s Ovsyannikov Garden, to protest the Russian State Duma’s tabling of a bill that would ban the purchase of drugs abroad. Yes, we have heard that legislators have suggested removing the word “drugs” from the wording, but we know much freighted the phrase “and other goods” can be.

To increase the chances city authorities would authorize the picket, activists applied for several venues at once. The authorities waited until the last possible moment to render a decision, and so there was no time to inform the public about the planned protest. Around a dozen people were in attendance, including a diabetic who depends on imported insulin, and several people outraged by the politics and statements of our MPs.

One of the placards featured a toy pyramid for little children, which MP Iosif Kobzon gave to a teenaged cancer patient while visiting a hospital in Simferopol in 2015. In our view, the incident reflects the lack of understanding displayed by our bigwigs when it comes to the needs of patients.

There were few visitors in the garden, and nearly none of them had heard of the law bill, but no one, from schoolgirls to a seventy-year-old female pensioner, was left unmoved by the subject. They reacted with surprise, indignation, and complete support for the picketers.

meds-1“You want to ban imported drugs? Start with yourselves. Treat your ailments with oak bark!”

meds-2.jpg“Insulin addict. Bring it on! Deprive us of our doses, assholes. ‘Life in Russia is no picnic: you can survive without insulin.’ Insulin or formaldehyde? Neuroleptics or belladonna? You choose, Russia!”

meds-3“State Duma! By banning the import of drugs, you are killing people!”

meds-4“Ban yourselves from driving Geländewagens! Hands off the drugs!”

meds-5jpg“Viva asymmetrical responses! (Genocide)”

Photos by Mikhail Ryzhov and Anastasia Plyuto. Thanks to Victoria Andreyeva for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader