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Feature Story January 22, 2003
Bleak House
By Jake Rudnitsky Browse author Email
Page 7 of 7
And while Western journalists and Moscow's nouveaux riches cheer the daily opening of new boutiques and shopping malls within the MKAD, the situation for Russia's abandoned children throughout Russia is decaying at a depressing, inhuman rate. True, Solnyshko now receives more money than it did a few years ago. But the flow of kids into the system continues unabated. As Tishenko said, the answer is not in building more priyuts or better financing. "The government needs to pay attention to its citizens," he said. "The example of Germany amazes me - that there aren't poor people, that the government actually helps people in need." He notes with bitter irony that American and Israeli organizations provide more material help to the priyut than local Russian companies. Highly profitable companies that make a killing stripping gold and timber from the taiga don't give back a kopek. The priyut collects more stuff from simple Russians - pensioners, saleswomen in the markets, and non-drinking families who earn a few hundred dollars a month - than from local industry.

It seems that no one, from local biznesmeni all the way to Moscow, gives a shit. From out here in the far-off regions, it's disgustingly comical to watch politicians on TV talk about Russia integrating with Europe, when the real issue is how to stop the whole country from dying of cirrhosis. What European country would tolerate the Solnyshko, or the situation that allowed for it to be created? The sad fact is that the USSR was far closer to providing a European-level safety net; at least it offered some form of social security. And while people in the Soviet Union were no teetotalers, drunkenness has skyrocketed since 1991. The explosion in the number of abandoned children, the soaring murder rate and declining life expectancy can all be linked directly to the phenomenal rise in drinking. Not coincidentally, it was Russia's highest-ranking drunk, Yeltsin, who ushered in an era of vodka-packed kiosks offering cheap vodka to help the masses dull the pain of shock therapy.

The kids of the Solnyshko are not the only victims of this terrible era. Some estimate that up to a million children in Russia are homeless, and nobody knows how many more live unreported in villages, not going to school and drinking every day with their parents. Tishenko admits that it is usually just luck when they stumble upon kids living in such conditions. These poor, stunted kids are the real face of modern Russia, the Russia outside of Moscow's MKAD and IKEA hypermarkets. They are living symptoms of a national tragedy.

For donations:

676266 Amurskaya obl., Tyndinsky rayon P. Chilchi, ul. Lenina, 5, Sotialny detsky priyut Solnyshko. Tel: ask the operator to contact Chilchi, Amur. obl. and dial 2-23. Or contact to find out how to donate money

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