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.

Another Russian Opposition Leader Murdered

As I expressed earlier today in a comment in The Moscow Times, it is curious how those who run afoul of the Moscow Kremlin seem to have the nasty habit of stumbling into the path of stray bullets. I was echoing the sentiments of journalist Mike Novak who more aptly remarked on Twitter that, “He tripped and fell into the bullet. Nothing to see here, move along now.”

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Of course the murder could be related to something different than the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, but some assumptions fit far too easily based on experience. The investigation into this morning’s street shooting of former Russian parliament deputy Denis Voronenkov (Денис Вороненков) is still in process. One of the two shooters was wounded by Voronenkov’s bodyguard and taken to a local hospital.

Voronenkov was killed at 11:25 in the morning as he exited the Premier Palace Hotel in Kyiv (Kiev) on his way to meet with another former Russian minister of parliament, Ilya Ponomaryov. Both men have been outspoken critics of Russian president Vladimir Putin. Both fled Russia for reasons of safety, and Voronenkov and his wife had been granted Ukrainian citizenship.

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Voronenkov had recently been testifying in Ukrainian parliament hearings against former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. Only hours after the murder both the Ukrainian Security Services and president Petro Poroshenko publicly pointed fingers in Moscow’s direction.

Whether it be Paul Klebnikov, Sergei Yushenkov, Anna Politkovskaya, Stanislav Markelov, Anastasia Baburova, Natalia Estemirova, Alexander Litvinenko, Boris Berezovsky, Mikhail Lesin, Denis Voronenkov, Pavel Sheremet or Boris Nemtsov, it might easily appear to many observers as if the (contract) hits just keep on coming.

The Lost German Girl

War is its own special kind of hell. This is the story of the “Lost German Girl” parts of which were later incorporated in a Steven Spielberg film. While the Spielberg movie was historical fiction, there is naked reality here as filmed by US Army Air Force cameraman Oren Haglund in 1945, just one day after the surrender of Nazi Germany to the Allies.

At 3:23 in the video, the girl appears. Later she would be identified as Lore Bauer, a young German girl who had been assigned to operate anti-aircraft guns as Germany was experiencing massive losses of male soldiers. Stationed in Czechoslovakia when the war ended, she and her other female companions were brutally beaten and raped by angry Czechs who had suffered at the hands of the SS.

When she ran into an American unit on the road, you can see her bury her face into a small notebook. It turns out that she had hidden about 100 Czech crowns (currency) which she did not realize was worthless at the end of the conflict. She flashed the currency to bribe the soldiers into allowing her to pass.

To let her know that the unit was American, cameraman Haglund handed her a US penny. Over time she made her way back to Germany and eventually married after the war. She gave birth to two daughters, and it was a granddaughter, Emi, who would eventually visit Haglund’s grave in San Bernardino, California and leave a penny–the very same penny given to her grandmother in 1945–on his headstone.

In that time of war, was she guilty? How far and how deep is God’s forgiveness? Far be it for me to judge her, but I cling to the line of the poem spoken in the background by the Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva that imparts this immortal promise, “my unavoidable faults and trespasses will be forgiven me.”

Patriarch Kirill on Predatory Loans

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Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill is calling on the Russian Duma (parliament) to curb the growth of predatory micro-credit consumer loans. Speaking yesterday (26 January) to assembled participants at the 5th annual Christmas parliamentary meetings, His Holiness observed that the unchecked onerous loan practices of many consumer loan operators have crippled low-income families and individuals across Russia.

Many micro-credit loan operators have targeted the elderly and young adults who are either underemployed or unemployed. Loan applications of some lenders require the listing of extended family members and if the loan recipient fails to repay, current law is often ignored and lenders seek repayment from others who were not signatories to the loan.

Noting that many of these loans are rapacious usury in its manifestation, the Patriarch called on the state Duma to address the practice of high interest rates that are often impossible to repay for those on small and fixed incomes. As some debtors have lost their homes in the process, the Patriarch described the current situation as robbery, and said that such operations must be stopped by force of law.

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In 2010 the Duma passed Federal Law No. 151-FZ on Microfinance and Microfinance Institutions. While attempting to provide oversight, it also led to explosive growth of so-called “pay day” style loan operators along with legitimate small business micro loans.

Patriarch Kirill recounted his personal experience in India where micro-credit banks were helpful, offering small loans to individuals at low interest in order to start business, etc. He described such low interest micro-banks as supporting the poor.

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Saint Tatiana Day, Татьянин день

25 January is a special day for students. It is the end of the winter semester and signals a two-week break until the spring semester begins, similar to “spring break” in the West. The holiday is celebrated for Saint Tatiana, considered to be the patron saint of students in Eastern nations such as Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.  It is also known as “Students Day” (день студента) and is a public holiday.

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Saint Tatiana was a deaconess of the early Christian church who as martyred in the 3rd century after refusing to renounce her faith during the rule of Roman Emperor Alexander Severus. She was a young woman when arrested and authorities demanded that she make a pagan sacrifice to Apollo. Refusing, she prayed to God for strength and a sudden earthquake destroyed the statue of Apollo and much of the pagan temple.

Her prosecutor was the Roman regent Ulpian, a man responsible for killing many Christians. She was blinded and then two days later thrown to a hungry lion in the circus. However, the lion laid at her feet instead of attacking. Upon regent Ulpian’s orders, Roman soldiers then beheaded her.

It was January 25, 1755 (January 12 old calendar) that Lomonosov Moscow State University (Московский государственный университет имени М. В. Ломоносова or МГУ) was founded after two men, Ivan Shuvalov and Mikhail Lomonosov, approached Russian Empress Elizabeth with the idea of establishing a grand University in Moscow. Today, Moscow State University is the most prestigious school in Russia.

Many university students attend the Church of the Holy Martyr Tatiana, opened in 1830 near the original site of Moscow State University. The chapel was a reconstructed theatre inside an old Moscow mansion. It features an elegant chapel in a semi-circular shape and overlooks the corner of Bolshaya Nikitskaya and Mokhovaya Streets.

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The Soviets banned the holiday because of the religious overtones, but in the waning days of the Soviet Union, University president/rector Viktor Sadovnichy gained approval to return Saint Tatiana’s Day to students.

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Students in Crimea visit a local chapel to learn more about Saint Tatiana.

Moscow students traditionally gather at the skating rink near the GUM Mall on Red Square to enjoy not only skating, but concerts by Russian pop-stars. This marks the end of the outdoor skating rink on Red Square until the next year’s holiday season.

Был белый снег, шёл первый день каникул,
Целый день вдвоём бродили мы с тобой.
И было всё вокруг торжественно и тихо,
И белый-белый снег над белою землёй.

Но вдруг зима дохнула вешним ветром,
Когда я на снегу у дома твоего
Два слова начертил обломанною веткой:
“Татьяна плюс Сергей”, и больше ничего.

Была земля белым-бела, мела метель,
Татьянин день, Татьянин день.
А для меня цвела весна, звенел апрель,
Татьянин день, Татьянин день, Татьянин день.

Вновь шли снега, и было их немало,
Но тот Татьянин день забыть я не могу.
Судьба нас не свела, но мне всегда казалось,
“Татьяна плюс Сергей” пишу я на снегу.

Пройдут снега, на мокром тротуаре
Для девочки другой начертит кто-то вновь
Те вечные слова, что мы не дописали,
“Татьяна плюс Сергей равняется любовь”.

Была земля белым-бела, мела метель,
Татьянин день, Татьянин день.
А для меня цвела весна, звенел апрель,
Татьянин день, Татьянин день, Татьянин день.

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