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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Homeless Officers March on Moscow

MTMarchers from the Armed Forces and Law Enforcement Officers' Union walking in double file through Odintsovo on Tuesday.
ODINTSOVO, Moscow Region -- In an attempt to attract public and government attention to the plight of homeless officers, about 50 military and law enforcement officers prepared to end their 400-kilometer march from Smolensk to Moscow by holding a rally in the Moscow region town of Odintsovo on Tuesday.

In the morning cold and rain, several dozen officers, escorted by a single police car and greeted by around 100 mostly elderly citizens, marched at Odintsovo sports stadium to the sounds of a military band. They carried placards that read, "I served long and hard, and I have nothing to show for it."

The march kicked off Oct. 8 in the World War II "Hero City" of Smolensk, 400 kilometers east of Moscow.

It reached Odintsovo after passing through a series of towns "where blood was shed by soldiers defending their motherland," said Andrei Oleynik, a member of the Moscow Region Armed Forces and Law Enforcement Officers' Trade Union, which helped organize the event. The marchers covered more than 20 kilometers a day and slept mostly in tents.

The officers are due to enter Moscow on Friday, and plan to lay wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and at the war memorial on Poklonnaya Gora before joining a three-day forum on officers' housing problems.

But Oleynik said the administration of Moscow's southern district, responsible for Poklonnaya Gora, has banned the participants from commemorating war heroes, while the marchers are still waiting for authorization to lay wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The forum's organizers expect State Duma deputies, presidential administration officials and delegates from legislatures and administrations of at least 60 Russian regions to attend.

Those marching represent around 174,000 officers' families, who, according to official statistics, are without a permanent home. The officers' trade union says the figure is around double official estimates.

One of the homeless officers marching is Sergei Pochernin, 39, a retired air force major who is now living in Moscow in a friend's garage.

"I served in the military, defending my motherland for 16 years," he said. "When I retired from the military in 1997, I returned the garrison apartment in Ulan-Ude in which I was living to the state. But I didn't get any housing as the law prescribes."

Pochernin said he and his wife then moved to Moscow, "because you can only find a job in the capital." He spent the next few years working as a real estate agent, and was forced to rent a flat because the state failed to provide him with a place to live. "We went through some hard times -- we had no registration, no permanent housing, and my wife left me for another Muscovite," Pochernin said bitterly.

In August Pochernin lost all his money and documents in a robbery and has been living in the garage ever since. "There is no one who I could turn to. That's what we are trying to convey with our march," he said.

Vladimir Vakhaniya, the head of the officers' trade union, said, "All too often this procedure [of waiting for housing] drags on for seven years or more."