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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Red Cross Asks Rich Russians for Help

The Red Cross, fearing a harsh winter, is asking wealthy Russians and businesses to pitch in to help feed and clothe a million of the poorest people across the former Soviet Union, many of them in Russia's frigid and impoverished provinces.

The winter emergency appeal, announced Tuesday, seeks to raise 22 million Swiss francs ($16 million) for victims of poverty and economic upheaval in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova, where a total of 73 million people live below official poverty levels, Red Cross officials said Tuesday.

There were launch events in Moscow, Minsk, Kiev and Chisinau -- the capitals of the four former Soviet republics -- and in Geneva, where the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has its headquarters.

The Moscow launch, at the Radisson Slavjanskaya hotel, marked a turning point for the Russian Red Cross, which for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union is seeking large amounts of money not only from foreign donors, but from newly prosperous Russian individuals and businesses at home and abroad.

"Western donors are getting tired of pouring money into Russia, and we're trying to ask for funds locally," said Michael Schulz, head of the Moscow delegation of the Red Cross federation, predicting that 10 to 25 percent of the $10 million budgeted for Russia could be raised within the country.

"If we succeed, it will be a turning point in Russian fund-raising," Schulz said.

He said he had great faith in Russians' generosity.

"Russia has a long history of philanthropy and humanity," he said.

Nikita Mikhalkov, the celebrated film director, has pledged his support, he said, and the Russian Red Cross hopes to receive contributions from banks and other large corporations over the next few weeks.

Russians are having to relearn the habits of private charity, which was well-established in tsarist Russia but banned during the Soviet era. The Red Cross, which was founded in the 19th century and enjoyed patronage by the emperors, survived as a government organization during Communist rule.

"It's difficult to sustain an effective and economical charitable organization in Russia," said Irina Khakamada, a State Duma deputy who attended the conference. "We need to change our attitudes toward minority groups like the handicapped, the blind, pensioners and others."Red Cross officials cited the threats of severe winter weather from the El Nino weather system and the aftereffects of the Soviet collapse. Hyperinflation has wiped out savings for many, and the old health and welfare structures have collapsed before new ones could take their places.

"The changeover is particularly hard for those on fixed incomes, such as the elderly and disabled," officials said in a statement, "but its effects extend to families with several children, the unemployed, single parents, low-income families, pregnant women and young mothers."

"This is a very silent disaster," said Caroline Hurford, Moscow information delegate of the Red Cross federation. "It isn't headline news, like an earthquake or a famine. It is a constantly deteriorating situation in which people are suffering in silence."

Of the million worst-off individuals, 777,000 live in Russia, said the Red Cross, with 30,000 in Belarus, 20,000 in Moldova, and 230,000 in Ukraine.

Red Cross teams visited hard-hit areas in each country last month and selected several in each. The Russian target zones are the Penza, Mordovia, Chuvashia and Mary El regions in the Volga area; the republics of Khakassia, Tuva and Buryatia in Eastern Siberia; and the Ivanovo and Kostroma regions in central Russia.

"The situation is catastrophic," said Lyudmila Potravnova, chairwoman of the central committee of the Russian Red Cross, cited by Reuters.

"In Khakassia, children are being given livestock feed because there is not enough mothers' milk. In Buratiya, people are holed up in dugouts in the forest for lack of proper housing," she said.

The money will be used to distribute second-hand clothes and shoes; blankets and bed linen; diapers; hot meals; anti-parasite shampoo for people in institutions; food parcels; and seeds and tools.

The clothes will be given out early in the winter while it gets cold; the food will spread out over December, February and April so that some arrives when privately grown stocks from the summer may have been used up.

***Those wishing to donate may call the Moscow delegation of the Red Cross federation at 126-7751 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.***