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Jan 27, 2015

A Belated New Year Story <3


ARF celebrates the New Year with children of project participants

On January 2, a Grandpa Frost and Snow Maiden from the Andrey Rylkov Foundation visited five children from four families of drug dependent people and celebrated the New Year with them. There were a few more children we couldn’t visit because they were at their grandparents'. But we will definitely find a way to give these children the gifts we have prepared for them. This was an amazing New Year experience that filled our hearts with warmth and holiday joy. That’s why we decided not to write upbeat reports but rather, to just publish the impressions of those who took part in this interesting activity.

Max: Somewhat unexpectedly, our idea of Grandfather Frost and of celebrating the New Year with children of drug dependent people became reality.

At the Andrey Rylkov Foundation, we have long thought that it would be great and very important to celebrate the New Year with children of drug dependent people. These children often don’t get enough attention and care, and (here’s the most important thing) they need a bit of magic in their lives. For a few years I have admired the employees at the Timur Islamov Foundation in Naberezhnye Chelny – they have celebrated the New Year with Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden with these children in their city. But we weren’t able to do that in Moscow. We didn’t have a car to visit several places in different parts of our mega city, we didn’t have the costumes, we had no time, no money to buy gifts, etc. But maybe we didn’t have enough faith that this could happen. Who knows…

It all began with one of the female project participants calling us and thanking us for helping people like her, people who use drugs. And she asked if it was possible to celebrate the New Year with her little son and to buy him a small gift. And then it all started happening – we found a car, we found the costumes, the people, the time and money to buy gifts.

Until the last moment I didn’t think it was really happening. I negotiated, I received the costumes, read emails from my colleagues (how they were choosing and buying gifts, calling the mothers and agreeing on a time to visit). I realized it only when I knocked on a shabby door, wearing the Grandfather Frost costume with the Snow Maiden standing behind me. A happy boy, Nikita, run towards us shouting, “I was waiting for you!” and “I love you so much!” I had tears in my eyes and I realized: it’s really great that we did it.

A few unexpected situations occurred during our New Year trip. I grew up in the Soviet Union and I have always thought that all children love Grandfather Frost and that he is the quintessence of all things happy and good. But the children reacted in different ways and one girl, for example, was so afraid of me that she turned away and could communicate only after her mother spent 30 minutes encouraging her. Another kid paid no attention to Grandfather Frost and ignored the “grandfather” who came from the North Pole with his reindeer.

I don’t know why it went that way. Maybe these children didn’t have enough experience of confronting something new and magical; maybe their parents don’t talk to them enough about Grandfather Frost and the holidays. But maybe it’s about our times, maybe not all children value Grandfather Frost and maybe they’re interested in other characters. But all the children enjoyed the gifts. And I believe that during the next New Year celebrations these children will have a bit more faith in the magic of the New Year and will not be afraid of a bearded old man bringing them gifts.

Asya: For me, participating in the New Year celebrations was above all about trust. People whose homes we visited trusted us, trusted the ARF team. And we really worked as a team to prepare and organize this activity: Ezhi, Lena and Zhenya compiled a list of people who have children; Lema was in touch with those people we were about to visit, she was the navigator and she took pictures; Max played the role of Grandfather Frost, I played the Snow Maiden, and everyone else gave financial and moral support.

I’m grateful to the project participants who trusted us with the most intimate thing – allowed us to celebrate with their families. This experience inspires us to continue, to think about something fun, not to wait for the next New Year celebration but to do something in the coming spring or summer. We’d be grateful for idea suggestions:).

Lema: My task in this project was to bring Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden to various addresses to see children – I was like a reindeer but I used a car actually. And I was happy to help make this happen.

The most memorable moments included the reincarnation of Max and Asya into fairytale characters, Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden, and also how people (from children to stern looking men) would smile upon seeing them enter their building. Then there were the children; they are all different, like everyone else, and they had different reactions to the old man from a fairytale who suddenly came to see them. There was this boy, Nikita, who hugged Grandfather Frost and said he’d missed him and really didn’t want Grandfather to leave. I also remember the children who were afraid of the tall old man with a long beard. This was a difficult task for Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden, and for the parents. Once it became possible to do something about this, when a little girl eased up a bit and burst out laughing. And probably the most amazing thing was that all these kids who were afraid initially, when we asked them in the end, “Will you be waiting for Grandfather Frost next year?” they quietly said yes. This tells me that even though they were scared they were also curious, interested, and they would like something like this to happen again in their lives. I think everyone had fun, even those who were afraid, who were silent. They were curious to see Grandfather Frost, the Snow Maiden, and the gifts. It’s great that something remained with them after we left. I think it was a kind of magic for them, a piece of something really good, a piece of childhood.

I also remember a mother who was talking to me on the phone and crying because she wasn’t able to buy a gift for her kid, and Grandfather Frost couldn’t come to them because her kid wasn’t in Moscow. I told her that it was okay, that we’d bring the gift anyway and she’d be able to give it to her kid. That made her very happy and she calmed down. This means it’s important for that mother to do something good for her child. Drug users may not have enough money to buy gifts for their children, and that makes them unhappy. I think the celebrations with Grandfather Frost could have given the mothers and fathers a feeling that they are not so bad as parents (because they often hear that they aren’t good enough to raise their children). It’s also important for them to make their kids happy on New Year’s Eve. And it’s not about the gifts but also about the attention, the holiday. I think it’s important that they chose the day, that they were home and able to receive guests. This says a lot about them trying to make that happen.

Also for me this event was about teamwork, about being able to find consensus between ourselves, about being able to do more together than separately. Overall I love this work, and this New Year celebration made me understand even better that this work is for me.

I’m really inspired by our plans for the spring and summer, the plans to do something for children or families together with our participants.

Anya Ezhi: It’s great that we could organize this event this year, and I hope this will become regular practice for our Foundation, involving as many people as possible, because that would be a great miracle for all the participants on both sides.

It’s hard to express the emotions we felt that evening which really became a magical moment  thanks to the efforts of our Grandfather Frost (Max) and the Snow Maiden (Asya) and their sincere desire to make a fairy tale come alive and to offer some happy moments to the kids and their parents. It was evident how excited Max and Asya were, which was really touching, and we (me and Yarik) were waiting for Grandfather Frost along with Vasilisa, as if having  revisited our childhood))) an undescribable shot of positive emotions!  At first, Vasya was afraid of the Grandfather, but then she thawed, and now she’s waiting for Grandfather Frost’s appearance next year. She says he’s kind and she’s not afraid of him anymore, and recently she saw him in a dream))) As for the Snow Maiden, she didn’t want to let her go, and we had similar feelings.

Thanks to everyone who took part in preparing and implementing the operation Outreach by Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden – on behalf of our whole family! I am proud of my participation in ARF’s work even more than I usually am)))

Finally, we would like to offer feedback from some of the parents visited by Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden:

- It was great. Andrey was scared but still he was happy. I heard him tell someone that he’d been visited by Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden. He never doubted this was the real Grandfather Frost. In fact, this Grandfather Frost was a bit thin but he looked real. And the sweets were really great. And as for Andrey being scared, we shouldn’t have forced him to come out, he would’ve anyway.

- Everything went really well. The child was happy, and this made me and his grandmother very glad. The celebration gave Nikita happiness and vitality. I was happy to watch my child having fun. That makes you realize: here is the meaning of life.


Father Frost
Father Frost
winter in Moscow
winter in Moscow
Nov 4, 2014

We need to change our fundraising strategy!

Health and legal aid to Moscow drug users
Health and legal aid to Moscow drug users

Dear supporters!

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%

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!


Anya sarang


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.



Aug 19, 2014

People who made me wiser


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.



Giving out syringes and warmth from heart to heart
Giving out syringes and warmth from heart to heart
Bringing health advise out to the street
Bringing health advise out to the street
Providing  health training to other team members
Providing health training to other team members
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