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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Elderly Find a Sympathetic Ear in Dobroye Delo

MTKaryukin of Good Action giving gulag-survivor Chernomordina, 94, a medical check-up in her apartment.
Dina Chernomordina's tale is a sad, familiar one.

In 1937, as the young bride of a dashing engineer, her honeymoon was abruptly cut short when her new husband disappeared into the gulag archipelago. Nine months later, she too was sent to a camp in the Urals where she spent eight years. She never saw her husband again, although both (he posthumously) were since rehabilitated.

Now, at 94, Chernomordina suffers from many of the same ailments that plague the rest of the generation that witnessed the Soviet Union's beginning and end, hers intensified by years in prison. Her eyesight in particular is poor, and she reads her favorite newspaper, Argumenti i Fakti, slowly through thick glasses and a magnifying lens.

However, Chernomordina's tale takes an unusual turn, because as she tells it, her doctor, Eduard Karyukin, gently takes her pulse, inquires about the freshness of her vegetables and promises to return soon with new glasses.

Karyukin, a pioneer in the field of gerontology, is the director of Dobroye Delo, or Good Action, a Moscow-based nongovernmental organization created two years ago to bring medical care and social assistance to the homes of politically repressed elderly patients.

Dobroye Delo is one of a handful of NGOs that have emerged to supplement state social services for the elderly. Formerly the recipient of a Soros grant, Dobroye Delo currently receives partial funding from United Way International Moscow, the Mott Fund, and the Russian-British joint Partnership for Public Health and Social Help project.

In addition to providing equitable care, Karyukin said his organization helps strengthen civil society by scoring a small victory for Russia's non-governmental sector, which has developed from scratch since 1991.

"I believe that politics in Russia can change," Karyukin said. "The government of Russia has a history of repressing people, but NGOs can ... create more than one voice in politics, building a civil society."

In the field of care for the elderly, the growth of a Russian nonprofit sector is evident. Anna Latynova, a coordinator for the Open Society Institute, financier George Soros' philanthropic foundation, said she had received more than a thousand grant applications from charities when a Soros program to fund elder care organizations was launched three years ago.

"When we looked at our first applications, we understood that NGOs had a strong desire to work with elderly people but were very weak," she said. "After three years of the program, NGOs have become a lot stronger and some have managed to create a financial network and organize effectively."

But while NGOs are achieving some of their medical and social goals -- from the in-house treatment of elderly patients to the growth of a viable non-governmental sector to the spread of gerontological expertise -- the organizations confront the daily reality of how few people they can help.

Dobroye Delo, for instance, does not have the money to support many more than 30 patients -- an inconsequential number among Moscow's estimated 2.4 million pensioners.

Another organization working with the elderly, Sostradaniye, or Compassion, the public health arm of the human rights organization Memorial, reaches 620 people, the bulk of whom can function regularly alone and do not require considerable expense.

Getting the word out to the elderly is also difficult. Many older Muscovites are used to turning to the state for support and often do not understand how nongovernmental organizations can help. Karyukin, for instance, finds patients largely by word of mouth.

The elderly who do receive help from NGOs generally come from groups that are separated from mainstream pensioners by some distinguishing factor -- whether it be a history of political repression, religion or war veteran status.

Yelizaveta Dzhirikova, the director of Sostradaniye, whose organization focuses solely on victims of political repression, said: "This is simply our area of concentration. We cannot do more."

The city has made grant money available for NGOs through the committee for social and interregional connections. Red Cross director Vera Lebedova, whose organization has long-standing connections with the government and reaches about 4,500 pensioners, credited the city committee for granting up to 300,000 rubles to each recipient, and boosting the number of city charities to around 15,000.

However, Karyukin said this initiative is effectively ignored in practice -- especially for organizations dealing with the elderly.

"It is difficult to find grants from the government because working with the elderly is not very popular," Karyukin said. "It's hard to say why, but I think it is probably discrimination against old people."

Meanwhile, in the city's streets and metro stations, the pervasive presence of homeless elderly indicates the size of existing need.

Galina Ivanova, 83, tells a very different story from Chernomordina's, although hers too is sad and familiar. When her alcoholic son seized her apartment last year, Semonovna became homeless, and she now spends her days begging in Moscow's metro stations to collect enough money for food and nightly housing.

She was incredulous when asked about seeking help through governmental or nongovernmental organizations. "I don't know about anyone who can help me," she said simply.

For more information about Dobroye Delo visit www.dobroedelo.ru or call 437-2920; to reach the Moscow Red Cross, call 201-4009; for information about Sostradaniye, call 928-6967.