Russian Handicap Access Still Lacking

Just about a decade ago there were not many choices for those confined to a wheelchair in Russia. The term ‘confined’ aptly defined the plight of individuals with limited mobility.

In more recent years the government has begun to require things like wheelchair ramps in public places. Businesses are often required to provide accommodations depending on zoning.

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Even if one were to make it up this ramp, the doorway only opens to the left and the space is too narrow for a wheelchair to enter.

At first, ramps along stairways were narrow, and in reality better suited for baby carriages. As government increased requirements for better access, the market response for practical accommodations has been, shall we say, baffling. Some would describe it as typically Russian. Just watch:

Obviously these ramps only work in a two-person operation in which someone behind the wheelchair can hold and manage the process.

One might hope that in the most common places of movement there would be easy acess for persons who face mobility challenges. However, even the country’s vaunted Metro systems have few elevators for those who cannot navigate escalators and stairs.  Imagine attempting to navigate the ramp at this busy Bank of Moscow street entrance:

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Thus, for many disabled persons, confinement is still a sad reality. At some point, shrugging it off while saying “It is Russia” will not be enough.





Referendum on Saint Isaac’s Cathedral

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In January St. Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko announced that Saint Isaac’s Cathedral would be returned to the Russian Orthodox Church via a free lease for 49 years. Given that the Communists had seized the Cathedral in the 1930s, one might naturally expect that someday it be returned.

The Soviets desecrated the Cathedral by converting it into the Museum of Atheism. Now the church would like to have it back, but some citizens are against the idea. Services are allowed on special church holidays and a small group of priests serve in a side chapel most weekdays.

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Opponents point out that it is the largest Orthodox basilica and the fourth largest cathedral in the world by capacity (14,000 persons). It is a UNESCO world heritage site visited by nearly 4 million tourists every year. Thus, they say it is important for the church to remain as a museum controlled and operated by the state.

The Russian Orthodox Church takes a different view. The Cathedral was built and financed by citizens who intended for it to serve as a house of worship and to be operated by the Orthodox Church.

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Today as a state museum, visitors pay 250-rubles (approximately $4.50) for admission. The church plans to abolish that fee, saying that no one should have to pay to enter the house of God. Opponents fear that with 4 million tourists annually, the church will not be able to handle maintenance, guest services, and upkeep of the Cathedral.

As readers might expect, the Patriarch has weighed in on the matter. Speaking to reporters, Patriarch Kirill said that after years of seizure, imprisonment and desecration during the Soviet period, “The return of these churches can become a symbol of harmony and mutual forgiveness.”

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Saint Petersburg was named Petrograd from 1914 to 1924, then Leningrad until 1991.

The governor is now proposing a city-wide referendum on the fate of the Cathedral and it is up to the city Legislative Assembly to decide if, and when, such a referendum will be held.

Russia’s most recognized symbol, the Cathedral of Saint Basil on Moscow’s Red Square, remains a museum operated by the state.

(photo credits: Creative Commons)

Terror Strikes St Petersburg Metro

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Russian investigators have confirmed that the St Petersburg Metro blast earlier today was an act of terror. At least 10 people have been killed and 43 wounded. Many of the wounded were taken to nearby hospitals in ambulances, some by medical helicopter crews.

Officials say that the original blast happened while the train was traveling between two stations in the centre of the city, traveling from the Sennaya Ploshchad to Technological Institute station (Сенная и Технологический институт).

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A second bomb was found by investigators at the Plaza of the Revolution station. That bomb failed to trigger. City officials shut down the entire Metro system in Russia’s second-largest city and the country’s “northern capital” until the entire system could be checked.

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President Putin and Prime Minister Medvedev expressed their condolences and promised that the Russian Investigative Services and the state security services would conduct a thorough investigation.