We have to share one important decision with you. After 2.5 years we decided to deactivate the project aimed at collecting money for the outreach bus. We will use the same money to support our daily outreach work with drug users, buy prevention materials and print information. The reason for our decision is that while initially the campaign was very energetic and it helped us to reach to wide audience with not only fundraising but also drug policy message, in 2.5 years we have only achieved 30% of the set target – 20K out of 60.000USD needed to buy a minibus. At the same time, the Russian economy is going through a period of destabilization and falling of the ruble – just in couple last month the ruble price compare to dollar has fallen by over 25% http://online.wsj.com/articles/russian-ruble-hits-fresh-low-against-dollar-1412592163
Since we receive all your donations from the GlobalGiving in roubles, and this money sits on our bank account, as we cannot spend it before we reach the 60K target, the value of your donation is rapidly falling. That is why we decided to close the bus project, use the money for syringes, condoms, ointments and other prevention materials and start a new project with more flexible target (we will be collecting for prevention materials only and with the condition that we will be able to use the money on the monthly basis, unlike now). All the re-curring donations will be transferred to the new project.
The bus idea was beautiful, but at the moment it looks not too realistic. We have also written to Volkswagen in Germany, asking for in-kind donation, but didn't hear anyting back. If you have great ideas how we can get this bus, please let us know!
Meanwhile, all your donations will be well placed and will help us to carry out daily work with drug users in Moscow. I attach a short report on the first year of our great new initiative - Integrating legal aid into the core of our health work
With warm regards and heartily thanks for your support!
The pilot Street Lawyers project proved to be a very important and successful initiative, which helped us to bring our street, work with people who use drugs and are vulnerable to or living with HIV to a new level. The concept of our Street Lawyers project is to add on to our health harm reduction activities with the component of legal aid to our participants. In this, we aim at minimizing involvement of professional lawyers but rather at training outreach workers and project participants (drug users, affected by injustice) to gain understanding of legal issues and skills of legal representation.
Just in one year our case managers and outreach workers gained significant experience in several areas: interviewing people and identifying legal problems; representing people and helping them to represent themselves before all level of authority – from head doctors of medical institutions to judges in courts. To achieve that we organized training for outreach workers to gain legal skills and to be able to help participants represent their interests and also enable participants to defend their rights. By now we are fully convinced that legal representation should be a core part of harm reduction activities – as important as health – as injustice, over-incarceration, violations of human rights and human dignity are great harms of the War on drugs that ruin peoples lives, health, dignity and integrity.
From July 1st to September 31, 2014 we have continued to carry out daily outreach visits to the streets of Moscow to meet with people who use drugs. By the end of the project we had a team of street workers consisting of 16 outreach workers, two case managers (one of them focuses specifically on women), two medical workers and 4 lawyers (all came into the team as volunteers and continue to support the legal aspect of work) and one lawyer from Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network who helps the legal team and provided several trainings for the outreach team. The outreach coordinators compiles weekly schedule depending on availability of the outreach members who select evenings of the week that are convenient for them and work in pairs. Also sometimes unpaid volunteers and journalists join the pairs. The visits last about 1-2 hours or as long as it takes to give out all the materials that the outreachers can carry in their backpacks.
In total from July 1, 2013 to Sept 31, 2014 we had 3042 outreach contacts with drug users of them 807 contacts with women. We encountered 1325 new project participants (375 women) and provided prevention materials (98178 needles and syringes, condoms, alco-swaps, ointments, bandages, vitamins, 2585 ampules of Naloxone to prevent overdose deaths – and since June, 2014 we have received 227 reports of lifes saved by Naloxone!) carried out testing and counselling for HIV and hepatitis C on demand and provided 890 street consultations: 31 consultations on legal issues; 261 consultations on post-injection complications; 115 consultations and referrals on HIV and hepatitis testing and counselling; 377 on overdose prevention and management; 137 on drug addiction treatment; as well as referral to medical and social services in Moscow. The prevention materials are purchased from co-funding.
Some people asked for more specific assistance and our case managers worked to help them on their issues. As we started implementation of the legal aid component, our outreach consultations and case management started to concentrate more and more on legal issues encountered by the participants and utilize more and more legal tools and instruments.
In addition to street work we also carried out trainings and seminars – both for the team members as we had to learn a lot of new information on legal matters and advocacy, and new members needed to learn on health issues as well.
The usual format of the seminars for participants is mini – trainings for up to 10 people (usually 6-7). Since we don't have a regular space, we organize these mini trainings at participants’ homes or at small cafes in the localities where we do outreach. We have organized several separate seminars for women, focusing on women issues. We have carried out 27 seminars (using LSF and co-funding money). 9 of them were on legal issues. In total 151 people were trained. We have organized three large trainings for the team focused specifically on legal issues and led by our partner from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. We have also organized several seminars for legal specialists (in legal clinics) and one seminar on HIV for police in one of the localities of our outreach work (Marjino).
On top of legal counselling and case management we empower participants by the means of providing information: we have printed a brochure “Law and drugs” and 4 issues of our Newspaper for drug users “Shlyapa i bayan” which has a strong focus on legal issues and legal empowerment. We also regularly publish reports on our work and success stories on our social networks which are frequented by drug users from Moscow and other cities.
The pilot phase of the project clearly showed that despite of individual approach to support specific cases, street lawyers practice tends to spread to a wider audience through people, which cases have followed. On the one hand, clients share their experience and recommend street lawyers. On the other - knowledge and skills that clients obtained through this interaction are transmitted within the community, to other drug users. Thus, the project gradually covers a fairly large audience, developing trust and understanding of the fact that drug users are worthy of respect and justice, are able to act independently and to help each other. The success of this project has also inspired people from other regions and education on Street Lawyers modality has been included as part of the national proposal to the Global Fund. We have invited a sociologist Alexandra Dmitrieva from St. Petersburg State University who have studied and evaluated the pilot project. The evaluation report is expected by the end of November 2014 and it will be widely distributed to our partners and other harm reduction and human rights organizations in Russia and EECA region.
Plans for future: We will continue to provide legal help for most disadvantages people who use drugs and continue practice oriented training for our outreach workers and volunteers in order to provide them with more legal instruments, skills and knowledge. We also plan to share our experience with harm reduction services in other regions of Russia which will be supported by the Global Fund Program in Russia for 2015-2017. We also plan to continue cooperation with police and health authorities by way of providing police officers of district police detachments with basic knowledge of HIV prevention and human rights of people who use drugs. We already had one of such an experience.
If we tell other people stories we usually tell stories of our drug using participants. But today we decided to share a story of our medical volunteer Pavel. For me this story was really moving - sometimes we just take the greatness of our team members for granted and we dont notice how we change as we do our work - how we change our attitude, how we become wiser and kinder, how we grow together. Sometimes people are sceptical about our work - even the medical professionals. They think that drug users should only be listened to when they come to a clinic - while they rarely do, for obvious reasons - people are too scared, to stigmatised, to untrustful. They dont often face support and understanding in the medical institutions, especially in Russia they dont. Pavels story shows how he learnt the importance of going out to the street and meeting people where they are. How this experience contributed to his personal and professional growth. We are really lucky to have such a great friend and colleague working with us and we are happy and proud to share his story with you. Maybe you can also pass it on to your friends who are doctors, nurses and medical workers and they can learn something new from their colleague! Maybe they will also want to support our work with a small donation or a kind word of solidarity!
WIth love, Anya and ARF outreach team
People who made me wiser
I’ve heard about Andrey Rylkov Foundation for the first time in June, 2011. My ex-professor from Sechenov Moscow Medical Academy called me and said: “Pasha, I’ve met at a conference some people who worked with street drugs users and they invited me to join them during several outreaches. As a clinician I was interested and could not resist, but as a woman I am a bit scared. I know you will not leave me alone, you are too gentle and professional for that, aren’t you?”. The question have been asked in a right manner, so I had no chance to refuse.
At that time I have already graduated from medical college and academy with honorary diploma of advanced practice nurse, worked in forensic psychiatry hospital and as a flight nurse and was continuing my medical education on the II course of MD program. But professor’s call made me thinking of what do I actually know about street drugs users when they are outside of the hospital? What are their routine problems, how can they handle medical issues outside of medical facilities, how should I talk to them being without white coat and so forth. My medical schools taught me how to treat patients, but not how to deal with people from streets.
First outreach was anxious, but run smoothly and was full of discoveries. A huge group of people, living in the same city with me, but at the same time living in a parallel universe since being excluded from our society. People who live, make friends, find their love, brake up, get ill, due – on the street, sometimes work, sometimes steal to survive – back there on the street. Problems with police, healthcare, social care – all of that was absolutely new for me. Guys who are limited with medical care only because they have problems with documents. Foreigners from ex-USSR who are blocked out from medical services. Pregnant girls who cannot get medical care in hospital because of unavoidable abstinence caused by absence of officially banned substitution therapy – that was a shocking reality which I faced. Why I never saw it before? A parallel universe indeed.
ARF itself was a separate discovery. Clinicians, social workers, psychologists, journalists, car technicians, philologists, ex drug users, street drug users, students, - enthusiastic people of different education, income, social, religious and political viewpoints working and spending time on the street, supporting project participants in hospitals, prisons, abroad. No old-fashioned management, no hierarchy, absolute financial transparence.
I really enjoyed my new friends, lifestyle and helping projects participants and members. I did my best to share with ARF team and participants with medical, hygiene and social information and skills I could. But in fact I myself learned much more from my new friends both from the street and ARF. In order to get more of up-to-date skills and info I’ve applied on behalf of ARF and won in 2012 course of Integrated Treatment and Care of Injecting Drug Users at Open Medical Institute & Open Society Foundations (Salzburg, Austria).
Now I have also became a source of information for my medical colleagues who worked in hospitals, city ambulance service, outpatient clinics. Having my myths being broken, I became a myth breaker for others. Not only clinicians, even some members of my family were strictly against of that kind of my activity. I am glad that ARF taught me how to open one’s eyes on situation with drugs in Russia and make other people understand the problems.
Addiction is not a sentence, and good family and social well-being have lifetime warranty not for everyone. So many stories of people who are dead or who are still fighting for their live, health, families, children, beloved ones – they make me feel older and wiser.
Through Andrey Rylkov Foundation I received access to new epidemiological data, new guidelines and recommendations for treatment and monitoring for TB, HIV, HCV, HBV and other related infections. Thanks to ARF I have attended in 2013 INTEGRATED APPROACHES IN TREATMENT OF HIV AND RELATED CO-INFECTIONS (TB/HCV) seminar hosted by The European AIDS Treatment Group (EATG) in Saint-Petersburg.
Now I am at the VI course, MD is 1.5 years away. But life with Andrey Rylkov Foundation also helped me to find myself in Medicine – I would like to specialize myself in Infections Diseases after I get my MD diploma. ARF can do much more, and I hope that those who support ARF – our partners and donors – will keep doing that. This is a good karma.
Pavel E. ZAYTSEV
Today we decided to share with you a report on a recent Subbotnik - when ARF and our friends and participants drug users decided to help clean the city from the used needles and syringes. One of the greatest problems for our work is that there is no recycling system for used syringes - and we decided to look for the solutions to help clean the city. This article was written by a friendly journalist who attended the Subbotnik.
Activists of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation for Health and Social Justice and participants of the Harm Reduction Moscow project finished the last step of a used syringe collection campaign in several areas of Moscow. On Tuesday April 29 Maxim Malyshev, the campaign coordinator, brought the collected syringes to the Central Scientific Institute of Epidemiology of the Russian Federal Service for Consumer Surveillance to Protect Consumer Rights (Rospotrebnadzor) that promised to dispose of those syringes.
The Foundation’s employees explained why they were collecting needles on Moscow streets and how difficult it was to get the authorities to assist in the disposal process. Saturday evening, employees of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation (ARF) gathered close to the subway station Maryino. They explained this choice thus: “This pharmacy sells Tropicamide freely. Drug users often inject the stuff here.” Tropicamide is the name of a brand of eyedrops; it is a pharmaceutical drug used by drug users. It must be sold on prescription, and pharmacies must document sales. At the appointed time an elderly man with a bundle came up to ARF’s employees. It was Sasha, a drug user and a long-time friend of the Foundation. “Here’s what I’ve collected - about 40 needles, not one less,” he said proudly, giving them his bundle. In response he got medicines, clean syringes, and condoms.
“In principle, this is how a harm reduction program should work; those programs are banned in our country. In other countries drug users can freely exchange their syringes for new ones, which helps reduce risks – for example, HIV. Nevertheless, here this practice is prohibited,” said Timur Madatov, ARF’s lawyer. ARF’s campaign called Snowdrop was assisted by two volunteers – 38-year old Rita and a 32-year old man in sagging jeans and large sneakers; he introduced himself as Ilya the Streetcar. Both have been using drugs for several years. Ilya, whose parents live close to the subway station, showed us where there most of the syringes could be found. Used “thorns”, as Rita calls them, are scattered around apartment buildings, along pedestrian walkways, on the lawn. Asya, an employee of ARF, handed out rubber gloves. She had long metal tweezers and a 1.3 gallon water bottle used to store needles. Ilya took everyone to his building, saying hello to his neighbours on the way. ARF’s employees got to the 10th floor and went to the stairs where the cleaning operation was to take place. They saw used syringes everywhere: on the floor, hidden inside radiators and walls. “Rita, don’t you touch the needle,” Asya asked. She was watching the volunteer remove a syringe from a hole in the wall with her bare hands. Rita objected and continued. “But there are different types of hepatitis,” Asya insisted.
The activists kept finding used syringes virtually at every stairwell. On the second floor, a sign was spray-painted on the wall: “This place isn’t for junkies.” Timur Madatov, ARF’s lawyer, explains: “We wanted to begin disposing of syringes a few years ago. We called many offices and in each of them they told us we should contact another office. Then we realized that calling them was useless, and began sending out official requests. Some of those offices even took the time to answer our requests.” The Foundation sent one of the letters to Infectious Hospital No. 2 which refused to accept the collected syringes and suggested that ARF talk to the Moscow Health Department. The department was not willing to dispose of used syringes, specifying that medical waste should be disposed of “in a centralized fashion” by a special licensed organization. “According to the current sanitary regulations, used needles and syringes collected on the streets of Moscow during the campaign are not classified as medical waste,” the department responded. In its official response it emphasized that “the order of disposing of household garbage in Moscow is not within the Department’s mandate.” The Moscow Centre for Epidemiology suggested that ARF address “specialized organizations that recycle and remove medical waste,” but it did not specify which organizations those are. The Foundation also appealed to the Moscow Health Department’s Methodological Unit for Epidemiology, the Moscow AIDS Centre, and the Central Scientific Institute of Epidemiology. Finally, Rospotrebnadzor’s Central Scientific Institute of Epidemiology agreed to dispose of the needles collected on Moscow’s streets. It recommended that the activists pack the syringes in a heat-resistant plastic bag and a cardboard box. As the institute explained afterward, these measures were recommended in order to protect the Foundation’s employees.
ARF President Anya Sarang explained: “It’s crazy that we had to spend so much time to find an office that could dispose of the syringes. In civilized countries, this wouldn’t be a problem – there are needle exchange programs where drug users can pick up special containers and return the collected needles; this isn’t complicated. They come to harm reduction programs because they need syringes and communication.” According to her, in some countries such containers and disposal boxes are considered standard practice. “My friend saw these special containers for syringes in Australian Parliament. It’s strange that in Moscow it took us two years to find a way to get rid of the syringes in an organized fashion. I wouldn’t even mention what regular drug users have to go through,” Sarang said.
The Snowdrop campaign events took place close to several subway stations - in Maryino, Tekstilschiki, and Pervomayskaya. According to the participants, in some areas “there were not enough bottles to collect the needles.” Maxim Malyshev, the campaign organizer, said that Rospotrebnadzor’s Central Scientific Institute of Epidemiology promised to help with syringe disposal in the future. “Syringes are considered dangerous waste, and they can’t be thrown out with the garbage. However, getting HIV through those syringes is highly unlikely – the virus is not very tough, and it requires many conditions to penetrate our bodies. But getting hepatitis C is more likely; about 80 percent of drug users have it. It’s much tougher, and just a small amount of the virus is needed to get infected. But objectively, the aesthetical inconvenience of seeing used syringes is a bigger problem for people,“ Malyshev said. He was planning to continue collecting medical waste in the future. Malyshev said: “Since we have found a place where we can bring used syringes we can start collecting them regularly. But we need to find a place where we could store our inventory and where it will be convenient for our volunteers to come. Even regular residents can participate if they want; they only need to tell us where there are a lot of needles. And we can help depending on our abilities.”
We want to tell our supporters about a new component of our work – adding a legal aid component to our outreach work with Moscow drug users. Human rights and strategic litigation was at core of ARF work, but it mostly were strategic work with single cases from various cities aimed at changing the Russian legislation and make it more complicit with the International Law and supportive of humane drug policy. Outreach work in Moscow was not part of these activities. At some point of our human rights and litigation work we came to the conclusion that in most situation professional lawyers can do less than people themselves in order to represent their interests. Lawyers may be needed in order to fulfill some formal tasks, but drug users themselves can do a lot of work if they are aware of their rights and empowered to stand for them - with our assistance and with some legal oversight. Thus emerged a decision to grow our own street lawyers. The concept of our «Street Lawyers» project is to add on to our health harm reduction activities with the component of legal aid to our participants, but minimize involvement of professional lawyers but rather training outreach workers and project participants to gain understanding of legal issues and skills of legal representation. To achieve that we organize training for outreach workers to gain legal skills and to be able to help participants represent their interests in courts, public offices, hospitals etc. and also enable participants to defend their rights. Soon we realized that legal representation should be a core part of harm reduction activities – as important as health – as injustice, overincarceration, violations of human rights and human dignity are great harms of the War on drugs that ruin peoples lives, health, dignity and integrity.
We have received funding from the Levi Strauss Foundation for the advocacy work and used co-funding from our Crystal of Hope Award to fund prevention materials and launched the project on July 1, but a lot of preparation work was done before that. So from July 1st we have continued to carry out daily outreach visits to the streets of Moscow to meet with people who use drugs. We now have a team of 17 street workers consisting of 13 outreach workers, two case managers (one of them focuses specifically on women), one medical worker and one lawyer who select evenings of the week that are convenient for them and work in pairs. Also sometimes unpaid volunteers and journalists join the pairs. The visits last about 1-2 hours or as long as it takes to give out all the materials that the outreachers can carry in their backpacks.
Altogether, from July 1st to December 31st, 2013 we have had 938 contacts with drug users, of them 260 were contacts with women. We encountered 402 new project participants (135 women) and provided prevention materials (needles and syringes, condoms, alco-swaps, ointments, bandages, vitamins as well as Naloxone to prevent overdose deaths) carried out testing and counseling for HIV and hepatitis C on demand and provided short consultations on health and legal issues, as well as referral to medical and social services in Moscow. Some people asked for more specific assistance and our case managers worked to help them on their issues. As we started implementation of the legal aid component, our outreach consultations and case management started to concentrate more and more on legal issues encountered by the participants and utilize more and more legal tools and instruments.
We do have one professional and very enthusiastic lawyer Timur working with our team and one lawyer from a partner project who sometimes go to outreach and engage with participants out on the streets. Most commonly, we start with contact on the street during regular outreach then case management addressing participants’ medical issues and then legal issues emerge too.
The project experienced problems in the first few months when people did not address to us with their legal problems as they were used to the idea that we mostly focus on health. We have printed and handed out special contact cards, but people were saying, "Well I'm taking [the card], but I don’t need it, I'm all right". However, after about three months we started to work on the real cases. Then another problem emerged – we would start to work with someone, and then something happened to them (police, jail, closed hospital) so that they could no longer sign the contract with ARF enabling us the power of attorney, and we could not act on their behalf. Because of this, we decided to develop an algorithm for working on all our cases: first, we interview the participant who needs help, then, with the help of a lawyer we analyze the interview/situation and decide which directions can be pursued, and we develop a case management plan. Then the person signs the power of attorney form and the case management agreement, we make copies of all available documents. However, in some situations this algorithm does not work, because new problems emerge suddenly (usually with police, detention or arrest) that were not discussed during the interview, so we need to be very flexible and change our tactics immediately, to react to the new circumstances. But having the contract and the power of attorney form greatly helps to represent participants’ interests later on.
Another problem is that project participants often ask for help at the last moment, for example just shortly before the court. In such cases, we do not have time to prepare sufficiently, motivate the participant, explain to him/her the potential risks, and tell them about special procedures. In such cases we depart from our algorithm and we conduct a brief interview only on the substance of the matter and there is no time to develop a detailed plan of social support, we act according to the situation.
It actually matters for judges if social workers are involved in the trial! Even in cases where we are not admitted into the process as public defenders, we actually manage to do a lot for the benefit of our participants. We enclose the case management plan to the case, write a statement to be read during the trial by a social worker. And during sentencing, some judges relied on some of those documents and paid attention to the presence of a social worker in the courtroom to soften the punishment. Note that the rate of acquittal sentences in Russia is estimated at 0,6% so the realistic goal at the first stage is to get a softer punishment.
We have faced several situations related to terminating parental rights to women accused on the 228 article (drugs) and developed a model of working with guardianship authorities. It involves an approach referred to as “family conferences”. Family conferences are one of the remediation technology tools, a technique for working with families. A family discusses the problem/issue and produces the most acceptable and workable plan for themselves. The role of the professionals is mostly facilitative - the family hears the opinion of experts but develops the plan themselves. It turned out that experts from guardianship authorities have basically no idea about the issue of dependency and approaches to working with drug-dependent people and they usually have very negative and judgmental attitude – disregarding the real situation in families and parents’ effort to maintain the family and care about the kids, the mere fact of their drug use serves as a ground to decide that they are not able to take care of the kids. Tragically, the guardianship authorities opinion is the most important ground for judges decisions on terminating parental rights in courts. In spite of what we can do, if the expert opinion of a guardianship authority is negative the court will decide in favor of terminating parental rights.
Similar situations emerge when we cooperate with penal system inspectors who oversee the probation. One of our participants has missed one visit to his inspector – he had to leave the city and informed the inspector beforehand in writing. However, the inspector issued a petition to punish our participant with a real prison sentence. Our social worker met with representatives of the inspection, described our work and our social support to the client, but to no effect. And the court only takes into account the opinion of an inspector when making its decision without considering other circumstances.
Another challenge is communicating with our participants’ parents. Many parents believe in lawyers and do not have much faith in public defenders. So they prefer to pay lawyers who are not really competent or efficient, and sometimes even obstruct our work. In such situations the project would benefit from having a person with the official status of attorney who could, if necessary, show them the documents (and also charge a lot of money and later give them to the poor!).
During the last month of 2013 we have realized our dream to make a Newspaper written by our participants and team members. Our first issue of the newspaper (called Slyapa I bayan), there were two articles on legal issues: on the rights of drug users and on the cons of the special order procedure, motivating people not to plea guilty without investigation and stand for Justice.
Our main partner on this project is Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network whose representative Mikhail Golichenko often consult us on most of the cases and oversees preparation of legal documents and provides advise on legal strategies within a particular case. Mikhail have organized several seminars for project outreach workers where we developed the strategy and algorithm, and received some basic knowledge and understanding on how to represent participants rights in various instances. Mikhail also led several seminars for legal specialists. In order to seek new partnerships, together with Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network we have organized a series of lectures for legal clinics in Moscow, as we had an idea to refer some cases to those legal clinics. But it doesn’t happen as we envisaged, as students in the legal clinics are not ready to take up real cases yet – so at the moment they help us to find answers for some legal questions - we prepare questions, and the legal clinics prepare the answers. This process does not go as fast as we would like it to but this is an emerging partnership. We have also had several meetings with the Public Interest Law Network who distributed our questions to a number of legal firms providing Pro Bono services in Russia. They have also answered some questions but we wish they could take several cases from us. Another legal partnership is with lawyers association Agora, who for example, took our case Margarita Charykova (see below) and greatly help, basically freed her out of prison and applied to the European Court on Human Rights on her behalf. We also partner with the project hand.help.ru, which focuses on online legal aid on drug issues. Their lawyer Arseniy Levinson works as a volunteer with ARF goes to outreach and advises us on legal cases.
What did we learn from the project?
Timur, The project lawyer: ”I have learned a lot about the legal problems of drug users and about the barriers they face when trying to realize their rights”.
Sonya, the project medical worker: ”I have learned a lot about the problematic access to medical help that drug users experience”. I am proud of the fact that Naloxone that we give out saves lives
Lena, the case manager (focusing on women): ”Almost the entire legal sphere is novel to me. Before I knew only in broad terms that drug users face serious rights abuse, but now I understand the specifics, nuts and bolts”.
Evgenii (social worker): Thanks to the project, I learned a lot about the Russian legislative system and Russian law enforcement. I became more confident when facing police, and several times I was able to suppress the abuse of my rights using the new knowledge. On multiple occasions, the police have decided to stop wasting their time harassing and intimidating me and my companions, to stop forcing me into giving testimonies, to stop illegally searching my car and going through my personal belongings.
What are we most proud of?
Timur, The project lawyer: “I am proud that some of the drug users are willing to assert their rights when given assistance. I am especially proud of our participant Ildar who didn't compromise his principles and did not agree to plea guilty and got out as a result. I am also proud that our case managers (who are not lawyers themselves) already participate in the court hearings to the full extent”.
Sonya, our medical worker: ” I am proud of the fact that Nalaxon that we give out saves lives”.
Lena, the case manager (focusing on women): ”I am proud that I participate in this project”.
Evgenii (social worker):I am proud of my colleagues who assist people who got into a difficult legal situation and bureaucratic trap. These situations worsen people’s lives and strengthen their addiction, making them defenseless against the corruption of courts, abusive cops and prisons. Our achievements are a drop in the sea, but even if we can achieve a little, alleviate people suffering even a little, reduce their prison sentence -- all of those things warm my heart and strengthen me. I believe that a localized struggle against the rotten system cultivates the positive dynamics, which will eventually overpower the omnipotence of the absurd and corrupt, and will increase my own and my friends independence and freedom.
Since summer we decided to put some of the exerpts from our daily outreach reports online and we have translated the September batch for our english-speaking supporters - you can find them below. September was a good month - we managed to establish a solid algorythm for our Street lawyers project, have two lawyers volunteering for us in moscow plus our regular support from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. Now another two legal firms agreed (one international and one national) agreed to support some of ARF legal cases from moscow outreach pro bono, thanks to our cooperation with PILNET (Public Interest Law Network). We are now a bit overwhelmed with legal requests coming from our participants - its a completely new direction of our work, but already by now we dont understand how we tried to work on peoples health issues without considering their legal and human rights problems - they are inseparable and we now start to believe that legal protection should become a key part of any harm reduction work! September was rainy but still manageable in terms of the weather, but now the winter is coming and we will have to cut down our outreach significantly - we still approached our 60K target for buying a minibus only by 25%. So we do ask for you further support - please help to spread the word about our work among your colleagues and friends and ask them to support us and Moscow drug users too!! And now - some of the outreach reports from Moscow hot-spots! :)
The Chronicles of HR-Moscow. September
30.08.2013 . Arseny , Lena G.
There was rain and autumn. There were not too many participants but enough. Lena has a hypothesis that in this area there is a pharmacy, which is open until 9pm and which sells cheaper stuff, and so before 9pm there are few people in this pharmacy. People know us, and are happy to see us. Did one HIV test for a girl. She was worried that the test will be positive, but her fears didn’t materialize. She once hinted about rehabilitation, but were couldn’t talk normally. Non-users also came up from a bookmaker’s office. They had questions about what we were doing. Surprisingly, they were friendly. At the end of the outreach we met K., gave him the remaining materials. He says there is some people at Textilshiki [another outreach spot]. But it must be verified.
03.09.2013. Lena G , Timur , Sonia
Light rain. We came at about 8:10pm. We felt certain sparseness in the atmosphere. No one was waiting for us. Two girls came up. One was interested in rehabilitation. Gave her our card to call. Then there was another one, as she said, “one step from recovery.” She was interested in whether we can take her to work and all that. Talked to her heart to heart. She told us about her housing problems, that she had nowhere to live. Then came I., we gave him everything. By the way, I. requested Troxevasin, probably injectable, if I’m not mistaken. And then Roma N. He asked for detachable needles.
With Roma we had a very sincere and long conversation. It can be said that he made our evening. We gave alot of naloxone to the girls. They said that they needed it, because of the “goddamn overdosers”. Roma told us about a family we knew whose children were taken away. We said that we can help. He asked us to call, he will provide the contacts probably.
Then we moved on to the sex workers. Not a lot, frankly. Only one contacted us. She was standing there alone. Blond hair and big eyes, a limp. In short, we gave her everything, she received the secondary stuff. Went on. There were two more, but they didn’t need anything. Valya has hepatitis without HIV. Told them about the possibility of help with getting treatment. Maybe will call.
Oh yes, there was so few people there because the pharmacy wasn’t selling the tropicamid. That’s it.
09.09.2013. Timur , Lena G., Simeon, Yuri
This outreach was based on the wishes of the Swiss journalist Simon who wanted to mingle with some of the drug users, preferably with HR-Moscow participants. A few hours before we went there it was difficult to find someone who'd agree to be interviewed (and to gather them in one place), but in the end after all three people came to meet us and gave interviews. Simeon the reporter was accompanied by the photographer and translator Yuri.
After the interview with one participant, the foreigners took a taxi and we went to the Staryi Guy [another location]. There were a few less people than in those times when we went out there with Alexander. We had 7 contacts, plus a few people refused a contact. One couple wanted to return and get tested for HIV, but did not return. There were even two contacts with people we already met. We also had a chat with a woman who wasn’t a drug user, she was just interested. In truth, I used to not pay attention to contacts with “civilians”, but recently Arseny spoke to the effect that a right self-presentation for the casually interested can become an important element, and this seems to me a sensible argument. Maybe we should be giving these people some materials about drug policy?
We missed the alcohol wipes.
Foreigners interviewed Valya from Lublino (she came especially for this), and then another acquaintance, Ramsay (we once gave him materials for secondary distribution). He is interested in our work and is thinking about volunteering on outreach.
Timur led the foreigners to the subway , and we went with Valya to my place. Along the way, we decided to stop by the pharmacy next to Vykhino metro station - that is quite near my house; I’ve been wanting to check it out since 2-3 weeks. We arrived there at 11pm, and at that time there was a horde of druggies. Tropicamid is still on sale there. In a short period we made about 8 contacts, we gave out the remaining materials, all the brochures were taken. Did two tests for HIV and one for hepatitis C. There was a woman who knows about us and she said hi to Max – she’s a petite brunette, young enough, forgot her name. There was another woman Dasha, who had a legal request (she’s either doing correctional labor or is on probation, and she just needs a job). Due to her condition she couldn’t accurately formulate her request, but she took the card and even recorded my phone number in her notebook.
10.09.2013. Timur , Lena G , volunteer Oksana from the Silver Rose [sex workers union], Simon and Yura - journalists .
We left at around 8:10pm. We came on the spot and stayed there. A girl came up (there were two, but one went to the pharmacy, and the other came up to us). She was friendly. Took some insulin needles. Dusya was there with her crutches, she had received herprosthesis on a quota, but she can’t get to the testing site because she’s on crutches, and she can’t get a taxi. We gave her a number from the Silver Rose (from Oksana), who said she could help to organize transportation to the hospital but Dusya didnt want to take it, because it was "humiliating". Internal stigma is terrible.
Then there were two guys (one is lame, and the other one had tattoos on his arm). Very emotional guys. If you treat someone like a human being you’ll get the same in return. But at first they were tough, like those guys you’d be afraid to meet in a dark alley. One said that he’d call and write to a group on VKontakte. He wants to go to detox, he’s tired of drugs.
Then our journalists came up , and these guys agreed to talk about their life. They spent 20 minutes talking to the recorder, and then took some photos. Well, it's worth noting that these journalists were quite polite.
Then there were other guys, we gave them materials. [Our volunteer] B. also gave an interview. He talked at length about his drug use experience and philosophy. At 10:30 we hinted that it would be necessary to go to sex workers actually and we went to search for the girls. Here the journalists suggested using taxi services (at their expense). In the taxi was a Georgian guy, called Koba of which he was very proud [like Stalins party alias!]. And he wanted to tell the reporters about the other Koba [Stalin]. We explained to him that we need to take a ride through the sex workers spots. He said: "Aha, I know all the spots with girls, I’ll show you." And he did. We contacted five girls on two spots, gave away a lot of condoms and needles. They also took some back to an apartment for their colleagues. We gave them the Silver Rose [sex workers association] brochures. I told Koba about us. He understood. Says he is ready to give us a ride if we pay. Gave us his phone number.
Overall it was good and sincere.
17.09.2013 . Timur , Lena , Oksana , David
I 'll tell you a tale about how Lena , Timur , Oksana David did outreach!
Darkness enveloped the neighborhood. Haze laughed in our faces. Only occasional drug users lit us up with the warmth of their hearts and the glitter of their eyes! We met P. (I think it was him because I’m not good with names and he has an ear tunnel). He’s great! We talked heart to heart. He talked about the problems his girlfriend has with her veins. Strange things are happening to them . Doctors say these are blood clots , but he is certain that it is something else. By the way , he also said that on the weekend he had saved a guy from overdose with our naloxone. So one more saved life!
There were cute girls there . They wanted 2cc and 5cc syringes (5ccs were in high demand) . One asked about Troxevasin , says it helps alot - even her veins appeared slightly .
Pasha [another participant] was there. Pasha was as always cheerful and full of energy (but without his usual bag). We gave him as much as we could. Gave him hugs in the spirit of the General Secretary.
By the way, we even had a request for 10ccs . This is just ... for the future.
There also was a girl (she always comes up, so pretty, dark-haired, petite). She says her children are being taken away .They don’t take away her [parental] rights but demand that she write a letter of attorney to give away the parental rights to her parents . We told her that we can help she said she'd call.
I should mention one amazing thing. A woman pulled up “on a silver horse” with an open side window. She asked me, why are you here all the time. I explained about HIV , hepatitis , tests, all of this .... She became interested . Lena joined here and gave her advice and our card. We said that we can help with all of this, and if necessary - to sue for access to medical treatment. In short , maybe she’ll call . Then there was a woman with a dog (large, called Red) . We gave many things to the woman and she also promised to call. We gave her naloxone . She said she uses it to help people who OD regularly.
Regarding the situation on the ground I’ll say the following: Tropicamid is not being sold anymore at this pharmacy and THERE AREN’T ENOUGH PEOPLE! They say there’s some in the underpass, but also alot of police, so not really a good spot.
Then we called Koba the taxi driver and drove through the sex workers spots. It felt good. We gave out a bunch of condoms (Oksana bought additional ones). We drove around the spots, for about 40 minutes. Lena and Oksana went out and contacted sex workers . We had a sincere, long talk with one of them.
Mini outreach 19.09.2013 . Lena G. , Eugene H.
Went with Eugene to our local pharmacy even later at eleven-thirty at night. We met an interesting woman Katya. She is HIV - positive for thirteen years, but the immune status is not bad, about 350 cells (she’s not on therapy yet) . She regularly goes for tests and is generally attentive to her health. She has a child of 10 years , and is regularly visited by the state social worker - Katya believes that the visits cause psychological harm to her child . However, she is confident in her abilities and believes that she will withdraw from the custody surveillance on her own. Her child is adversely affected ( perhaps this is not harassment, but special treatment ) at school – adults are spreading rumors about Katya that she "has AIDS". Katya expressed willingness to come to any seminars or training sessions, but only on weekends . We should probably already start a group of women with children.
Katya said that near this pharmacy cops are cruising all the time. A precinct is nearby. Kate raised the question : how do we protect the data of our participants , recorded in notebooks or phones, if we are detained? They can search through our things? There was one man , whom we have already met . Interestingly there also was an Afro- Russian .
Talked to the pharmacist: she leaned out the window and started asking us about what kind of vials we were giving out (it was the naloxone) . We explained to her , and in addition gave brochures about the ARF and about overdoses.
20.09.2013: Max and Arseny
We met with Maxim in 7:30pm at the subway and went to the spot. Rain and grayness drove already a low motivation to work practically to zero. The only thing that warmed us were thoughts and conversations about shawarma . We went to SG [spot] by bus, which went straight to the depot. We began to worry that we will get lost, but the locals surprised us in a positive way. By their conduct, they reminded us of our native inhabitants of [our hometown of] Tver. On the bus we had a real debate on where Max and I should get off and where to go. As a result, we found the right pharmacy .
We stood at the entrance to the 7th Continent Grocery , and prepared to communicate heart to heart with those who are still suffering . But almost immediately we had the feeling that everyone around us were strange and unreal. I kept my thoughts to myself so as not to look paranoid in the eyes of Maxim. Moreover, we indulged in nostalgia for psilocybes, and I thought I was just having the flash-backs. There were almost no participants and we hesitated to approach those who came to the pharmacy. The reason for that were passers-by. There were many. Men and women, young and old, dressed in sportswear and soviet-style, all were different. But, they stood in silence for a long time near the store, smoking, drinking coffee, talking occasionally . In general, we spent an hour not understanding anything, we got hungry and went to the grocery to buy food. I purchased a cake with condensed milk and a bottle of Orangina , paid before Maxim and stood waiting near the exit chewing the cake. And then I was approached by hunted participants, who whispered that we were surrounded by plainclothes cops, and disappeared. I told Max about my phantom, and we once again rushed to the street. And hell, all these passer-bys were real cops! They somehow relaxed in the evening, began to loudly discuss the news of the police department, to joke about drugs and other crap. ALL THE PEOPLE AROUND THE STORE WERE COPS!
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