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|Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Updated at 22 April 2008 1:51 Moscow
|The Moscow Times »
Issue 3888 » Frontpage Top |
Igor Tabakov/MTTo cope
with life in Moscow, including getting up and down the city's
many staircases, wheelchair users often have to rely on the
kindness of strangers.
Moscow's Disabled Stuck in a Separate World22 April 2008By Svetlana
Osadchuk / Staff WriterEvery morning, Vadim Voyevodin
performed the same ritual: Bending over almost parallel to the
ground, he lifted the baby onto his back, slung a towel around his
son and knotted the edges around his chest. The little boy remained
pressed close to his father's body throughout the day as he cleaned
the house or cooked.
"I always dreamed of having a child,
but I never imagined that this dream would come true at a time when
I was single and handicapped," says Voyevodin, 59, who lives in a
one-room apartment in northern Moscow with his son, now 16, who is
also named Vadim.
Voyevodin has not left the apartment in
more than 10 years. Many disabled Muscovites, especially those with
spinal problems, are effectively locked within the four walls of
their homes -- doorways and elevators are rarely big enough for
wheelchairs, and the Moscow metro and bus systems are not designed
for people with disabilities.
Voyevodin used to have a
wheelchair, but it was broken several years ago. Now he moves around
his apartment in an ordinary office chair equipped with
"There are too many bureaucratic procedures to endure
to get a new one for free. I have no courage to do it," he
Under new rules introduced in 2006, all disabled people
applying for federal benefits must have their disabilities verified
by the state. Even amputees, paraplegics and those with genetic
disorders must go through a lengthy process to confirm their
disability and define the extent of it. They must obtain
documentation from a variety of doctors as well as from their local
department of social services, department of residential services,
bureau of medical and social analysis and social security office.
And naturally, visiting all these agencies requires standing in long
The process takes two to four months, and while the
application is in process, the applicant has no right to any
allowances or other privileges. Receiving the document that
certifies the disability is only a temporary victory, however. The
certification is only valid for a year, and then the process starts
all over again.
"They must think that my leg will grow next
year while I secretly enjoy the privilege of moving around in a free
wheelchair," said Mikhail Ruchnov, 42, who has been certified as
belonging to the category of people with the most severe
In his annual report on the disabled in Russia,
human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin noted that the number of
complaints about bureaucracy had increased in recent years. The
report also points out that those who are certified as disabled
often qualify for equipment that they are unable to use.
Some, but not all, Moscow apartment buildings have ramps
designed for strollers, but these ramps are useless for wheelchairs.
Additionally, many buildings have steps leading from the entrance to
the elevator, and an October 2007 report from the social commission
of the Vostochnoye Degunino district, where Voyevodin lives, notes
that many buildings in that region have a gap of up to 4 centimeters
between the elevator and the floor, making it impossible for a
wheelchair to enter without being lifted, even if the elevator is
Voyevodin posing with his son
in central Moscow near Red Square in 1991.
"My electric wheelchair
weighs 110 kilograms. Who will lift it for me?" said Igor Lapin, 35,
who lives alone.
Lapin's comments are echoed by people all
over Russia who post questions for President Vladimir Putin on the
web site www.president.yandex.ru.
"My son's wheelchair
cannot fit through the doorway of our bathroom, so he cannot wash
himself there," wrote Natalia from Murmansk. She added that her
son's disabilities made it impossible for her to leave him alone and
therefore she was unable to work. As the parent of a disabled child,
she receives a monthly allowance from the state of 120 rubles
($5.13). The amount has not increased in 10 years.
hand my son over to the state, one month of caring for him in a
group home would cost the state 15,000 rubles. It seems like the
authorities are financially urging us to abandon our sick children,"
Vadim Voyevodin says it was very hard to raise
his son, who is now 16. At times, they only had bread and kefir to
eat. Friends collected second-hand clothes and shoes for them. But
family friend Vera Marushkina says Vadim was a great father,
devoting himself completely to his son. Today, their one-room
apartment looks like a control room, full of cords and monitors. The
room serves as both a bedroom and the office of the Foundation for
the Defense of the Rights of Disabled People, which Voyevodin
founded in 1991.
"The elder Vadim is a very forthcoming
person, although life was cruel to him," said Vitaly Troyanovsky, a
producer with the state television channel Kultura who included
Voyevodin's story in one of his documentaries on pre-perestroika
A native of Moscow, Voyevodin moved to Karshi,
Uzbekistan, in 1980 to work as a producer at a youth music club and
theater. Voyevodin said his success in that position earned him the
envy of the local Communist Party boss' son, Davron Gaipov, who
considered himself the key figure in the local music scene. Shortly
after a serious disagreement between the two, Voyevodin was arrested
on suspicion of abuse of office and appropriation of club property.
"They were false accusations. All the property was available
in the club's storage. But Gaipov was a kind of god in the city,"
The case never went to court, but Voyevodin
was held in a detention facility for almost four years. It was there
on Aug. 25, 1985, that Interior Ministry soldiers beat him,
fracturing his back. He returned to Moscow on a stretcher. No one
was ever punished for the assault.
It would be an
overstatement to say the disabled lived well during Soviet era, but
they did have some benefits, such as some free medication and an
annual vacation at a sanatorium. This system of privileges continued
until 2004, when a controversial law was passed that replaced these
benefits with monthly cash payments. The law went into effect on
Jan. 1, 2005.
Another benefit involved a special car known as
the Oka, an upgrade of a Soviet-era vehicle that was produced
especially for the disabled. Certain categories of disabled people,
including veterans and victims of Chernobyl, could receive an Oka
for free, and all those who qualified for a wheelchair had the right
to purchase an Oka at a 60 percent discount. This benefit was
eliminated in 2005.
Tatyana Morozova said she felt lucky to
have an Oka, which gives her the opportunity to reach some small
shops that are located beside the road.
igor tabakov /
Voyevodin's one room apartment
serves as headquarters for his foundation.
"They sell stuff through
the window. I drive really close to them and buy things like at a
drive-through," she said.
Tatyana Kozyreva, another
wheelchair user who is also Voyevodin's friend, usually travels by
"I bring my wheelchair close to the stairs and wait
for someone to help take me down," Kozyreva said. Sometimes she
waits more than half an hour for someone to help her. She uses the
same method to get out of the metro.
Last year, the Moscow
Department of Transportation introduced 30 special
handicap-accessible buses, but this does not amount to much for a
city with close to 1.5 million disabled citizens. Even if a
wheelchair user manages to find one of the specially equipped buses,
he will face more challenges once he reaches his destination. Curbs
on most Moscow streets do not have gaps for wheelchairs, and few of
the city's stores, hospitals, restaurants, theaters and museums have
Mayor Yury Luzhkov called the center of
Moscow a wilderness for the disabled because of its lack of
accessibility, ITAR-Tass reported.
Voyevodin has always
fought to improve life for the disabled and has become even more
committed since establishing his foundation. Through the foundation,
he pressed for the installation of banisters at the entrance to
Morozova's apartment building in northeastern Moscow.
in wheelchairs are rarely able to defend their rights in court
simply because they cannot get there. Laws oblige court officials to
visit disabled people with pending cases, but usually they try the
cases in absentia. In 2005, Voyevodin filed a lawsuit seeking 32,000
rubles he claimed he was overcharged for electricity, but in his
absence, the Timiryazevsky District Court in Moscow ruled in favor
of the utilities provider, Mosenergo.
While Voyevodin has
solved problems for many of his friends, he has been unable to win
any of these small victories for himself. His apartment features
none of the special equipment for disabled people that can be found
in Western countries. Vladimir Doronin, an engineer with Tekhma, a
company that specializes in installing equipment for disabled
people, said measurements were taken to install a special lift for
the tub in Voyevodin's apartment, but the addition has not been
"We can do it, but somebody has to pay for this. It
would cost about 50,000 rubles to equip his apartment with
everything he needs," Doronin said.
Even if the state has
verified an individual's disability and determined what kind of
technical aids may be needed, these aids, such as the kind of lift
Doronin wants to install for Voyevodin, are not included in the
state program for aid to the disabled, said Lin Nguen, a lawyer with
the nongovernmental organization Perspektiva.
younger Vadim tries to help his father as much as he can. They enjoy
each other's company and avoid talking about Vadim's mother, who was
a nurse at one of Moscow's rehabilitation hospitals and disappeared
from their lives when he was an infant. Voyevodin likes to talk
about his passion for music and the theater and the artist friends
he used to have. Many of his old friends tried to keep in touch
after he became disabled, but most of them have fallen away over the
In Russia, the disabled simply live in a world apart.
EUR/RUR - 37.1