The pandemic devastated the Russian economy and plunged families into crisis | World
She still has her dreams: to raise a doctor, an engineer, a military general and an athlete. But as the coronavirus pandemic swept across Russia, bankrupting businesses and families, Yekaterina Gorbunova, her husband, Alexander, and their four children lost almost everything.
In her darkest moments, she cried. In moments of hope, she wrote to President Vladimir Putin and the Moscow mayor’s office asking for help in securing an apartment. But no help came in time.
“We feel completely abandoned. It’s like you’re in a boat and it’s sinking and no one will come and rescue you,” she said after her husband lost his job and the family lost their lives. been evicted from their apartment. “No one is paying attention to people in need,” she said. “Instead of doing good, nobody cares.”
The pandemic has sent economies tumbling as the world faces its worst collective slowdown since the Great Depression. Russia has been particularly affected by the double blow of the coronavirus and the collapse in oil prices. Russia depends on taxes from the oil and gas sector for 40% of its budget.
Since March, Russian charities and nonprofits have seen an increase in the type of clients they had never had before: families who had never experienced a financial crisis, but are now desperate. Some of them were unable to even buy food. Some found themselves homeless.
According to the Russian federal statistics agency Rosstat, around 4.5 million people were unemployed at the end of May. The country’s economy is expected to shrink 5.5% this year.
Thousands of small businesses have gone bankrupt in Russia’s economic crisis caused by the pandemic and collapsing oil prices. The government has been slow to respond and belated and uneven action has left millions of people adrift.
“You are alone,” said Ivan Molchanov, a welder who spent 20 nights on the streets after his employer suspended his activities and stopped paying his monthly salary of 75,000 rubles (about $ 1,070) and taking in charge of his accommodation in a cheap youth hostel. .
“I slept in a public toilet,” he said. “I slept in the hallways of buildings. You follow the people who live there or you watch as they enter the code and memorize it.”
Dom Druzei (Maison des Amis), an aid organization that normally only provides medical assistance to the homeless, has established six shelters in Moscow since April 22 and has started general distributions of food packages.
“The number of people asking for help has doubled or tripled overnight,” said Dmitry Aleshkovsky, founder of Nuzhna Pomosh, a foundation that raises funds and supports charities and non-governmental organizations across Russia. “Millions, literally millions, of people lost their jobs in an instant.”
“I met a guy who was getting 200,000 rubles a month,” he said, an amount equivalent to $ 2,857. “In a second he was down to zero. He had no money to pay the rent, so he became homeless in a second.”
Lana Zhurkina, founder of Dom Druzei, was struck by the case of a young Moscow beautician who had an 18-month-old toddler and an “above average” salary. She had a mortgage on an apartment, which was being renovated, and was renting another apartment while the work was being done. Then the pandemic temporarily closed the show.
“She came to see us and asked for help with food because the time had come when she just didn’t have any food in the house,” Zhurkina said. “We brought her some food and she burst into tears because she didn’t understand how she got into this situation.”
“There are a lot of stories like this,” said Olga Lim, founder of the Chuzykh Detei Ne Byvayet (They are not someone else’s children) foundation for orphans and families in crisis at Khabarovsk in the Far East, citing the story of a young chef with two young children whose cafe has temporarily closed.
“There was a young mother with two small children. She was in a terrible situation when I arrived with food packages. She only had a packet of cereal, nothing else.
As Russia eased its period of isolation, some people returned to work, including the beautician and the chef. But many small businesses have closed and many jobs have been lost.
Alexander Gorbunov, 42, husband of Yekaterina, also 42, with the four children aged 10 to 16, worked for years as a customer manager in a trucking company. It closed in March. Now he rents a car and drives for a rideshare company, leaving early in the morning and returning around 2 a.m.
The family lived in two small rooms in a shared apartment and had been on a waiting list for accommodation in Moscow since 2011. They moved last year and rented a larger space. In March, they barely concocted the rent.
“It was very difficult. But we couldn’t find the money for April and May,” Gorbunova said. “We were hoping the landlady would let us stay. She said, ‘I don’t care about your problems. The landlady said, “If you can’t pay, I don’t want you. “
She added: “We couldn’t pay because we didn’t have money. I was panicking. I was so confused and lost. When the crisis happened, the state did not help us.”
The couple had to borrow 300,000 rubles ($ 4,285) from two banks to cover their expenses. The Mercy Foundation of the Russian Orthodox Church paid rent for April and May, allowing the children to complete the school year.
The couple’s 16-year-old daughter is taking additional medical education. Their 14-year-old son is taking additional advanced math lessons. Their 12-year-old son’s ambition is to become a military general, and their 10-year-old is a good athlete. Now they are temporarily living in Gorbunova’s mother-in-law’s summer cottage outside Moscow, with no idea where they will go when the school year starts in September.
Families needing help
Putin has often promised to support families with many children, but many feel abandoned. During the crisis, families received payments of 10,000 rubles ($ 142) per month for each child under 16, but Gorbunova said the payment does not cover a week of expenses even without rent.
“All families with many children feel this,” she said. “President Putin is a nice person. But as so often happens, a fortress is broken inside. There are worms digging inside the fortress.”
The number of Russians who filed for bankruptcy in the first quarter rose 68% from the same period last year, according to RBC News, with at least 1 million Russians expected to file for bankruptcy within months. to come. (In the United States, Chapter 11 business bankruptcies increased by 18% in March compared to March 2019, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute, but many more bankruptcies in the United States were filed in the months that followed. .)
But even though many middle-class and small business families struggle, it’s harder for vulnerable families, the homeless and low-income people, many of whom work informally in the ‘gray economy’. , a category excluded from government assistance.
Early in the morning, homeless people sleeping on the benches in Moscow’s gardens wake up after the arrival of the first dog walkers. They know the network: the Burger King where they can count on workers to distribute unused food, the church charities that distribute food and clothing, the soup kitchens in inns and train stations.
“The situation has worsened,” said Nikolai Rubanovskii of Nochlezhka, who distributes food to the needy and offers legal aid to the homeless. “In our St. Petersburg project, we have a bus that distributes food. Before the pandemic, 60 to 80 people were in line. Now there are 140 in line.”
In late April, police raided a soup kitchen in a park near Kursky station in Moscow. Police told Tass News Agency that the facility broke rules banning mass gatherings.
Earlier this month, other volunteers distributing food at the train station were arrested. Aleshkovsky believes that there is no point in waiting for the Russian state to come to the aid of those in need. “It’s a big, rich country,” he said, “and we don’t understand why we are living so poorly.”
Natasha Abbakumova of the Washington Post contributed to this report.