Absent Under Communism, Russian Charities Slowly Emerge To Aid the Needy

For decades, no real charity organizations were allowed in the Soviet Union because the Communist government claimed that poverty and unemployment did not exist.

But as the Soviet Union began lurching toward a market economy, an increasing number of people started to need outside assistance to survive.

The first small-scale charity programs to appear in Russia after the Soviet collapse in 1991 were funded primarily by employees of state-run enterprises, who helped the destitute obtain food, clothing, housing, and health care. Later, as the country opened up more to the West, both foreign and state-funded charity programs began to emerge. Public soup kitchens and homeless shelters were among the first.

These days, a variety of projects are active in Moscow, funded primarily by religious and private groups, including a growing number of Russian community-based organizations. ``We have a lot of people come to us who want to fix every social problem in the next year or two,'' says Lisa Hayden of United Way, which provides free consulting to fledgling Russian charities. ``We tell them that's unrealistic, and help them decide on one small program.''

Although the number of charity projects is growing, there is still a need for more programs to help those at greatest risk.

Only a handful of crisis shelters for children exist, but the state lacks money to build more. For children who find themselves without a roof over their heads, finding shelter in time may mean the difference between a happy and productive life - or life on the streets.

``Gaps are being filled, but for kids in shelters and train stations, those gaps will be filled later,'' Ms. Hayden says. ``It's really unfortunate, as those are the kids who need help the most.''

* Among the organizations helping children are:

Moscow Center for the Medical and Psychological Care of Children and Teenagers

c/o Oleg Zykov, director,

Russian Charitable Foundation NAN,

``No to Alcoholism and Drug Addiction,''

10-A Shvernie Ulitsa,

117449 Moscow, Russia

Russian Orthodox Shelter

Ulitsa Nadezhdy Krupskoi,

Dom 12A,

Moscow, Russia

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