• A Helping Hand: Director Nina Kornyushkina told correspondent Fred Weir that before German Pyatov, who founded the Russian charitable group Murziki, showed up at the door of orphanage No. 72 in late 1998, times were hard. "We didn't have even a sack of sugar," she says. The 1990s were a desperate time, as the local government went bankrupt and financing from Moscow nearly dried up. "We saw every kind of deprivation," she told Fred. "Sometimes I just despaired."
She says that she feels fortunate that Mr. Pyatov decided to help her orphanage. "On his second visit, Pyatov bought 80 pairs of new shoes, just in time for the New Year. After that, he started bringing friends, and the Murziki were born. Pyatov and his friends took pictures of our awful conditions and noted all our needs," she says. "I wasn't sure we'd hear from them again, but they returned with a truck full of things. Now we're the best of friends. The kids are inviting the Murziki to celebrate the New Year with us."
Fred, who went with the Murziki for a trip through the Volga region, says that he was astounded at how the Putin-era development on vivid display in Moscow has bypassed the area. "Moscow is filled with foreign cars, well-dressed people, neon-lit commercial areas, and lots of new construction," he says.
But he saw a different picture on his trip. "The roads are rutted, and what traffic there is is mostly Soviet-made cars and trucks. Buildings are dilapidated, there are few shops selling anything other than necessities, and many people look as if they haven't bought new clothes in a decade. Experts say that alcoholism and unemployment rates in towns like Rybinsk top 70 percent. The Murziki, mostly Moscow professionals, like to tell the kids that they come from a different country where everything is wonderful. In a way, they really do."
Deputy world editor