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Russian children’s hospice fears impact of Western sanctions

MOSCOW (AFP) – With its donations falling and medicines and equipment running short, a Moscow children’s hospice fears possible closure due to the impact of Western sanctions over Russia’s military action in Ukraine.

Since its creation in 2018, the House with the Lighthouse hospice has cared for around 1,000 children and young adults.

Now as western countries have imposed increasingly tough sanctions over the last month, the foundation fears the worst over their impact on medicines and equipment.

Without spare components, some of the hospice’s hi-tech equipment “could turn into a heap of scrap metal”, the foundation’s executive director Yelena Prokopyeva told AFP.

Even though medicines do not directly fall under sanctions, supplies are still affected by the ensuing logistical difficulties, blocked financial systems and rising prices for imports.

Even worse, The House With Lighthouse is 80 per cent funded by private donors, and the foundation has experienced a dramatic fall in donations since Russia sent troops into Ukraine, with many corporations and individuals slashing their outgoings as they anticipate economic turmoil.

A child and a relative are pictured in a ward at the Lighthouse children’s hospice in Moscow. PHOTO: AFP

“Some donors are pulling out because they are not sure they can pay their own staff,” Prokopyeva said bitterly, showing AFP around the Lighthouse hospice, a former school that has been renovated with a nautical theme – featuring “cabins” for patients, a large model submarine in a corridor and a lighthouse in the front yard.

And with major social media platforms including Facebook and Instagram blocked by Moscow for allegedly discriminating against Russian media, “collecting donations is becoming an even harder task”, Prokopyeva said.

As a result, “we are going to lose half of our funding by April”, she said, noting that the foundation has already had to cut its staff.

“Those who are most fragile are the most exposed” to sanctions’ impact, she lamented.

In one of the hospice rooms, Tatiana Bekker told AFP she was equally worried, as she fed spoonfuls of porridge to Arseny, her 10-year-old grandson who has cerebral palsy, trying not to stain his spinal brace.

“Everything changed” when on February 24, Russian forces entered Ukraine, Bekker said.

She already knows that buying a new spinal brace for Arseny would be impossible because it would need to be imported and the ruble has crashed in value against foreign currencies.

“But the worst thing would be if expectorants (medicines used to clear mucus from airways) disappeared, or the French medicine for his heart,” she said, adjusting Arseny’s brace.

“I’m afraid that a lot of things will change now for us,” she said, getting upset.

The Russian health ministry on Wednesday sought to reassure the public, saying there was no problem with stocks of medicines or their production.

“You don’t need to stockpile,” said health minister Mikhail Murashko.

The state fund for children with severe and life threatening illnesses, Circle of Kindness, also sought to downplay the problems at a news conference last week, saying “none of the suppliers has withdrawn” and vowing to “find alternative routes” for supplies.

When she heard that Russia had launched its military operation, Ksenia Mirzoyan, a 23-year-old carer at the hospice, said she “immediately thought of the hospice and its patients”.

“Working here, you already realise that life is so fragile,” she said, smiling as she prepared to enter a child patient’s room, while her eyes looked sad.

Mirzoyan and her colleague Vadim Troitsky, 26, are not among the young Russians who have chosen to leave their country in the face of growing repression and impending shortages.

This exodus does affect the charitable sphere, however.

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