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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Elite School Learns to Be Broke

IVANOVO, Central Russia -- Not too long ago, an education at the Ivanovo International School was a sign of prestige and privilege. For decades, the sons and daughters of the world's communist elite roamed the corridors of this pristine campus. Mao Zedong's son studied here, and they called him "Sergei."

But the world's supply of communist children is running short, and an education at the "Internat" has come to mean something quite different. To fill its sprawling campus, the Internat has turned to a new source of students: Russia's inexhaustible supply of refugee children.

Today, the Internat culls its students not from the ranks of the communist aristocracy, but rather from Chechnya, Ingushetia, the Chernobyl region and, as one student's address reveals, "railroad car No. 46."

For 13 years, Alevtin Kuzminsky has been the director of the Internat. He has seen enormous change, not all of it welcome. Over the course of an afternoon, he often referred to a visiting reporter as "comrade journalist," only later to excuse himself for the outdated form of address.

"Naturally, we don't get students from abroad any more, but of course we will continue to teach and finish teaching those foreign students that we have," he said. "It would be immoral to throw them out of this school."

The Internat was founded in 1931 and has operated ever since under the aegis of the Soviet, and now the Russian, Society of the Red Cross. The Red Cross has always had a hand in placing students there, so even from the outset, the Internat took children from scenes of strife.

But back then, they were scenes of a particular variety. In the 1930s, for example, the Internat saw an influx of Spanish children, refugees from the Civil War there.

"When there were events in Chile, we had a lot of Chileans," Kuzminsky said. "That's how we lived until perestroika began."

The collapse of the Soviet Union meant the collapse of the Soviet Red Cross, an event that orphaned the Internat itself for a year until the Russian Red Cross was formed. From 1991 to 1992, the Internat was in a moneyless free-fall, surviving on a meager ration of private donations.

In 1992, the Russian Red Cross picked up where its Soviet predecessor left off. But, as is the case with factories, universities, hospitals and organizations all over Russia, the money, the privileges and the atmosphere at the Internat was never the same as it once was. Mostly, though, the money is the problem.

The campus, expanded between 1984 and 1990 into 13 interconnected buildings, is deteriorating. Everything the Internat gets is shunted to the barest necessities -- school supplies and food for the cafeteria.

The teachers even surrender part of their salaries to help meet expenses. Via barter or through assistance from Red Cross agencies in Europe, the Internat will now and then get a shipment of melons, a crate of cabbage or a sack of beets.

The Russian Red Cross estimates that the Internat needs about 3 billion rubles ($633,000) a year to educate its 340 students. Last year, the Finance Ministry alloted the school 700 million rubles. This year, the school squeezed slightly more than 1 billion rubles out of the federal budget.

"We don't even have the money to feed the kids," said Nina Glybina of the Russian Red Cross's Moscow office.

The students who are graduating this year know the situation at the Internat has changed, but the school's problems fade in comparison to the problems they left behind in places like Africa and Central America.

"I'll probably go home, but I would like to stay here. I want to go to medical school and be a doctor," said 17-year-old Yadira Reyes of Honduras who has studied at the Internat since 1986.

"I will be very sad to leave, I really don't want to go. I don't know how I am going to leave my friends. We've lived our whole lives together," she said.

"I know that my father was once a communist, but now I don't really know what he does now. There aren't very good connections between Russia and Honduras. It's really hard to write," she said.

Angolan Manuel Carvalu, 17, also would like to stay in Russia, saying conditions are better here than at home.

"I'd like to stay in Russia, but it doesn't depend on me," he said. It will, in part, depend on whether he can get into an institute and find a way to pay for it. If not, he will have to find money for a plane ticket home.