Russia: Bureaucracy and LJ Activism in St. Petersburg

Global Voices Online
Sunday, November 2, 2008

This story (RUS) of bureaucracy, human suffering and online activism in St. Petersburg began when LJ user lassi_'s mother hurt her leg in February 2006:

[...] She was taken by an ambulance to [City Hospital #26 on Kostyushko St.], where she spent all the time in the hallway. A room cost 2,500 rubles a day [roughly $100] then. Almost all hallways were packed with people. [...]

By March 2008, LJ user lassi_'s mother was bedridden - and in need of a costly surgery.

[...] As of now, there's a two-year waiting list for this surgery. The only chance for a pensioner is to get a "quota" from the state. [...]

But obtaining this much-needed piece of paper from the state turned out to be not an easy task:

[...] Quotas are currently being issued in St. Petersburg and Leningrad region on Wednesdays, in the courtyard at 24 Rudnev St., from 10 AM till noon, at the Orthopedics and Traumatology Medical Center. My mother had made four attempts at getting through there, before she turned to me, because she "was afraid to disturb me." She just tried to do it by herself. And failed. Here's why - people in wheelchairs and on crutches, as well as their relatives and friends, start coming to that courtyard to secure their place in the waiting line from 2:30 AM. [...]

Needless to say, LJ user lassi_ decided to get involved and help her mother get the surgery certificate. Here's how it went:

[...] At 5 AM, dressed in my winter jacket, I didn't even make it into the first 30. People stood in darkness on crutches, in wheelchairs, everyone recognized each other [...]. Cars were parked everywhere. People were helping each other, as if during the [Siege of Leningrad], letting strangers sit in their relatives' cars to get warm [...]. Cold, dark, no toilets, people could barely keep standing. [...]

Mama replaced me at 8:30 AM. I was freezing to death by that time. Miraculously, she got her paper at 11:50 AM, ten minutes before the place closed. The fifth attempt was a success. [...]

This ordeal has prompted LJ user lassi_ to get others, including the media, involved in drawing attention to the outrageous treatment of the disabled elderly people - all via her blog:

[...] Tell me - are there any medical professionals here who can give me links to relevant sites where I can write about it, or any journalists who can join me next Wednesday to do a story on this mess.

Yes, my mama has obtained the certificate she needed, but I'm aware of what it's like for other people to be standing there, those who were behind us... Flash mobs in LJ have always been a good thing. But maybe we could help for real, not just do it for fun? I'll go there on the night of Tuesday to Wednesday, and will at least take hot tea for these people.


UP. 1 Mama said that coffee and tea won't help. People are afraid to drink them, because they are spending 8-9 hours before the office opens, in the freezing cold and without toilets, with nowhere to go. [...]

The post quoted above appeared on Oct. 10. Five days later, on Oct. 15, LJ users nisovsky and lassi_ collaborated on a photo report from the Orthopedics and Traumatology Medical Center in St. Petersburg, posting it on LJ user nisovsky's blog on Oct. 19. The post (RUS) - titled "On Self-Respect" - has made it into the Top 30 at Yandex Blogs portal; below is a tiny part of the text accompanying the 16 photos of people waiting outside and inside the medical center:

[...] [photo of an elderly woman wiping her nose with a handkerchief]

Yershova Tamara Grigorievna. [...] A surgeon with 40 years of work experience, 15 of them in ER. She is suffering from arthrose/arthritis of knees and spine. This is her third time in the waiting line. [She says]: "I've come at 10-15 minutes to 8 today. I'm somewhere in the fourties [on the waiting list] now. When I came here the first time, it was a bit too late and I decided against waiting; when I came the second time, they stopped seeing people when it was my turn - the surgeon closed the door right in front of my nose. After that I was forced to take a break - I got sick. It's insulting for me to be standing here. I worked in the Soviet times and couldn't imagine that anything like this was possible. Even during the [Siege of Leningrad] - and I am [a Siege survivor] - we were warm when we stood in line for bread: they were at least letting us inside the store. But I was 14 then - and life seemed more fun in general then." [...]

The story got picked up by a number of local media outlets. LJ user anonim_from_rus was one of the reporters who showed up at the medical center on Oct. 15, along with LJ users nisovsky and lassi_, and here's what he wrote (RUS) about the outcome of the publicity campaign:

[...] After a series of reports, the Center's administrators have kindly agreed to extend reception hours and even see patients twice a week, not once, as it used to be. [...]

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