By various estimates, there are 64.000 to 5 million homeless people in Russia. The exact number is hard to calculate — the official statistics are highly distorted. The state does not provide any comprehensive assistance to homeless people, and the little support they still receive is clearly insufficient. In many ways, the task of helping those who have found themselves without a roof over their heads falls on the shoulders of caring citizens.
In Sevastopol, there is a charity fund «Heart of Sevastopol» whose volunteers help the homeless. According to the organization, there are over 2.000 people living in the streets of the city; 600 of them have severe disabilities. The incorporation of Crimea into Russia escalated the problem of homelessness in the region: not everyone was able to reissue their passports and as a result, many can’t get their social security benefits, access healthcare or apply for a job. Social services are not always helpful and the construction of a municipal shelter in the city has been postponed indefinitely for the fourth year in a row.
Last spring, Tatyana Shcherbakova, a member of the legislative assembly, donated her own summer cottage lot with two residential buildings to the «Heart of Sevastopol» to accommodate homeless people with disabilities. This marked the beginning of a social project called «Teremok» (Russian for «little hut» —translator’s note). The neighbors and the housing community chairman did not like this, and all the communications with the lot, including heating and electricity, were cut off. When that happened, the volunteers built stoves for the residents with their own hands to keep them from freezing to death.
«Teremok» can accommodate 10 people at a time. With the help of the project, homeless people get food and a place to sleep, all of them are tested for tuberculosis and receive medical care whenever possible. Volunteers help them to get their documents reissued, draw a pension, claim social security benefits; they also help them find relatives or get a place in a boarding house. However, as head of the «Heart of Sevastopol» Anastasia Makeeva admits, many homeless people get the volunteers’ help when it’s too late. «To myself, I call Teremok a hospice for the homeless», she says, «We try to manage on our own, but with 10 bedridden residents we need at least one nurse, which is at least 20.000 rubles per month. Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of money. We normally raise 30.000-35.000 rubles a month.»
Teremok is located on an allotment that belongs to Tatiana Mikhailovna Scherbakova, a member of Legislative Assembly of Sevastopol. The construction of a social shelter for the homeless in Sevastopol has been discussed for four years now, but it doesn’t result in any actions.
Vera Stepanova, 59 y.o. Born in Sevastopol. Three children, six grandchildren. Her relatives kicked her out of the house, and for almost five years she had been, self-admittedly, «hoboing», until her health seriously worsened. Volunteers took her from an abandoned two-storey house where she was living with other homeless people. Vera Stepanovna spent six months at Teremok. In 2020 she got a Russian passport and went to live with her daughter.
«I’d never have thought that it would turn out that way. Had I known, I’d have soften the blow. But how can you know? I’m grateful to the volunteers—if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have survived.»
Instead of a picture, there are icons and a bath towel above Vera Stepanovna’s bed.
«They gave me the towel to dry myself, but I loved this dog so much that I asked them to nail it on to the wall. Now I look at it and feel good.»
A barrel with empty plastic bottles. There is no water supply on the allotment. The water is brought there in bottles and tanks.
The residents of Teremok hand-wash their laundry and dry it outside.
Valeriy, 69 y.o. Born in Balaklava. No family. Volunteers took him from a social centre for the homeless, where he couldn’t find help. When Valeriy was sleeping on a bench, teenagers threw a firecracker at him and injured his face. He has a large malignant tumor on his back.
«My own brother sold the flat, declared me dead. I came to the police, and they told me: ‘Valera, go get your death certificate.’
In Krasny Perekop I tended sheep and bulls for Sanka the Moldavian. I worked in someone’s garden, dug graves, built a house for one boss…
We’ll cut the trees here, we’ll plant gardens. Once I took Genka (Teremok’s resident — T. B.) as a workmate for digging, and what do I see—the man digs half-spade. I say: ‘I don’t appreciate that kind of work. I push the spit with my bad leg, and this is how you’re helping me? Get off, I’ll manage myself.’ The poor guy probably has never seen a spade in his life. Must’ve thought it has an engine, digs by itself.
It’s too early for me to kick the bucket yet. I feel young, even though I’m 69. I think I’ll make it to my old man’s age. He died early, at 85.»
Half a loaf of bread next to Valeriy’s pillow. Valeriy doesn’t get his pension but, according to his neighbours, he sometimes begs for money by a nearby shop. He uses this money to buy bread and cigarettes. The volunteers allow the residents to leave the allotment but they ask them to be discreet and not attract the neighbours’ attention to avoid conflicts.
Alexei Ivanovich, 59 y.o. Born in the Saratov region, studied at the Saratov State Vavilov Agrarian University, worked as a tractor driver. Over 20 years ago, he found faith and became a Baptist. His relatives sold his property, and ended up on the street. He was sitting on the same bench for days, which attracted the attention of one concerned resident of Sevastopol. Volunteers temporarily took Alexei Ivanovich to Teremok and wanted to get him a job helping an old lady around the house, but he refused and left Teremok a week later.
«Become a Baptist and you will be saved».
Yuri’s bed. When he was living in Teremok, he went to work six days a week. His former roommate says that someone at work helped hiь solve the housing problem and he moved out. We never met.
Shaking the tobacco out of cigarette butts, the homeless make hand-rolled cigarettes. The cigarettes that volunteers bring run out quickly.
A piece of electrical wire on the ceiling.
A jacket over a resident’s bed.
Timofey, 63 y.o. Born in Vladikavkaz, no family. Timofey was a victim of real estate fraudsters. Volunteers took him from the house which was passed into new ownership.
«I was a driver —for a cargo truck, a passenger car, all sorts. Even drove a 25-ton BelAZ, in the quarry in Balaklava … I fell and broke my hip. Then fell again—broke the spine. They said I wouldn’t walk at all—but you see? I walk with crutches.
They all died. First my brother, then my father, then my mum, my wife and son. Only I stick around».
The outhouse. A toilet and a washbasin made from a plastic barrel—these are all the conveniences at Teremok. The water for washing and laundry is heated on a grill. The homeless try to maintain personal hygiene, despite the fact that many of them are weakened and move with great difficulty.
A cesspit in the middle of garden-beds. At the edge of the allotment, next to the toilet, the homeless dug up a small garden. They’re planning to plant herbs and vegetables here in the spring.
Nadezhda Serafimovna, 78 y.o. Born in Ulyanovsk. Has a daughter. Volunteers took her from a bus station in the autumn. She had a fractured hip and two vertebral compressions. After five months at Teremok she began walking again.
«I’m an accountant by profession. Then I had different jobs. I washed the dishes… had some ups and downs.
My daughter needed my place. We had a detached house. She said: ‘Mom, you have a job, you receive pension, go rent an apartment for yourself’. She has cancer, her nerves were frayed. She drove everyone mad. When she suggested this, I just packed up and left. I don’t like fighting and plotting. I stayed on a bench where buses leave for Ternovka. That’s where they took me.
A deputy was here, she offered to put me in a nursing home. I say: ‘With a great pleasure’.»
Borsch with mayo, made by Vera Stepanovna.
Nadezhda Serafimovna: «Oh, she’s a good cook! The soup is so delicious, you know. I’ve eaten canteen food and home-made food, but never anything like that. I tell her: ‘Vera, you have a gift.’ Rich enough, peppered enough, everything in balance. And, most importantly, it’s hot! Good girl. Vera has a real talent.»
The kitchen. Vera Stepanovna cooks for all the Teremok residents every day, trying to vary the menu whenever possible. It’s usually porridge for breakfast, hot soup for lunch, side dish with gravy and salad for dinner. Groceries are brought by volunteers and good Samaritans. There is no time to rest: Vera Stepanovna barely has time to wash the dishes after breakfast, and immediately begins to prepare lunch.
Buffet in the kitchen. It was very cold during the shooting in Teremok, and Vera Stepanovna welcomed me with tea in a beautiful porcelain cup. Teremok residents make tea in jars with lids, and eat soup from plastic buckets in which pickles are usually sold. These buckets are convenient to carry, and the liquid doesn’t spill out from such a container.
«I was in Simferopol, then I called a friend. He said: ‘If you don’t want to go to the monastery, you can live with the volunteers.’ There are priests in the monastery, and all the stuff. You can’t smoke, you must work every day. But I want to recover, or just to rest.»
Sergey is from Krivoy Rog. He has distant relatives in Ukraine. He is the strongest person in Teremok, and one of the few who receive pension. Money runs out quickly and there is never enough to buy cigarettes. Sergey laments the fact that the volunteers bring too little tobacco. When I visited Teremok the other time, I was told Sergey had left.
Sergey’s personal belongings on a bedside cabinet: a pair of glasses, a book, a candle, a pack of cigarettes, some matches, and an ashtray made from a tin can. Smoking is prohibited in the house, but the residents often break this rule: it’s difficult for many of them to go outside. The only available entertainment is books: they are read during the day, while there is light. The homeless rejoice over the fresh newspapers like children, and say they miss the radio.
«If only I could stand with crutches. It’s terrible as it is. I want to move, but I can’t.»
Natalia, 47 y.o. Born in Simferopol District. Has a son. Volunteers took Natalia from a bench next to a hospital. A year ago she was hit by a car at a crosswalk. The Sevastopol Ministry of Health denied her a surgery because she wasn’t domicile registered and didn’t have a medical insurance. Natalia lived at Teremok, waiting to be hospitalized. In December she had her operation.
An icon that belonged to Nikolay Mikhailovich, Vera Stepanovna’s neighbour. Nikovay Mikhailovich passed away in Teremok in September 2019.