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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

1 Million Nurses, Students and Activists Rally

MTStudents watching as about 2,500 protesters rally behind metal barricades near the White House on Wednesday.
More than 1 million teachers, doctors and other state-paid workers took to the streets nationwide Wednesday to demand significantly higher salaries, and one nurse said she wished a government official would be admitted to her hospital to see firsthand the care afforded to patients.

Some 2,500 protesters gathered on Gorbaty Bridge near the White House at about 4 p.m., many waving the flags of trade unions, which organized the national rally. Hundreds of armed police officers with dogs kept a close watch on the gathering, and protesters had to go through metal detectors to reach the site of the rally.

"I would like someone from the government to stay in our hospital for just one day to see how people are treated," said Irina, a nurse who gave only her first name and would say only that she worked in a hospital outside Moscow. "But they usually stay in private clinics and don't see what we see every day."

She said she earned 1,600 rubles ($56) per month.

Among the demonstrators were activists and politicians from the Rodina, Yabloko and Communist parties.

"We have to demand not only social benefits but a change in the political course, especially since we have the money," Communist Party deputy head Ivan Melnikov told the crowd, referring to the oil riches that have boosted government revenues.

"But we have no clever heads who can correctly and rightly divide the money," he said.

Many of the protesters were students who, in addition to shouting out the names of their institutes, demanded that their stipends be raised to the level of the minimum wage, although few knew how much the minimum wage was. (It is 800 rubles per month.)

"[The stipend] my mother got in her time was enough to live on, but it is impossible to live in Moscow with what we get," said Anna Marycheva, a student from Orenburg who studies at the Moscow Technical Institute. She receives 600 rubles per month.

Teachers also complained that they barely earned enough to feed themselves, let alone survive in Moscow. Some held banners saying "Destroy education and you'll lose the future" and "No change to the legal status of educational institutes."

"You need at least $1,000 per month to live in Moscow," said Galina Yelovnikova, who teaches at the Schnittke Music Institute.

Yelovnikova said she received 6,720 rubles but had to pay 1,200 rubles for the utilities alone.

Many protesters directed their anger at the pro-Kremlin United Russia party. "United Russia: Unite with teachers and students," one banner read.

Nina, a gynecologist from a clinic outside Moscow, said she had to work a double shift just to earn 5,000 rubles per month. She refused to give her last name for fear that the clinic would see it and perhaps fire her.

"We don't only need better wages, but we also need to get more equipment. Hospitals are run down. The government should give money to at least improve our toilets," Nina said.

In the Far East cities of Vladivostok and Khabarovsk, several thousand people rallied in central squares to demand a "decent life," "a decent wage" and more respect for their work, according to news reports. Some held signs reading "Teachers -- the Last Heroes?" NTV reported.

Physics teacher Lyubov Baranova said pensions were lower than the charges for municipal services in Vladivostok. "Therefore, what will the pensioners live on?" she said in televised remarks.

Schools and kindergartens were closed on Sakhalin Island as thousands of teachers gathered in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk's central square to call for Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko to resign, Regnum reported.

"If the government does not fulfill our demands, we will get its resignation," said Nikolai Zotov, the chairman of the Sakhalin Federation of Labor Unions, the news agency reported. "In our country, the government does not work for the people and the people work for the government."

Many protesters held signs reading "Down with the defective and deaf government" and "A bureaucrat's dog could not live a single day on the wage that a teacher get."

In Smolensk, many teachers stopped working for only two hours so as to not create problems with parents, Regnum reported.

More than 9,000 teachers from 288 schools protested in the Volgograd region, Regnum said.

Doctors and teachers in Kemerovo sent telegrams and made phone calls in support of their Moscow colleagues, but they decided not to organize demonstrations, said Nikolai Trusov, a spokesman for the regional branch of the Federation of Labor Unions.

Trusov said the regional administration was close to finding a solution to the wage problems of its public sector workers.

The rally was the third such demonstration in as many years.

The government has said it will increase the wages of public sector workers by 8 percent on March 1, by an additional 4.5 percent on May 1 and by a further 6.5 percent on Sept. 1.

But the trade unions leaders said Tuesday that wages should be tripled or quadrupled to meet workers' basic needs.

The average monthly wage for young teachers is a little over $50, while senior teachers receive about $110. Young doctors get about $70, while senior doctors receive $175. Surgeons are the best paid and receive about $410.

President Vladimir Putin has promised that an additional $4 billion will be spent on social programs over the next few years. A portion of that money is to go toward salaries and new medical equipment.

Staff Writer Kevin O'Flynn contributed to this report.