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In Russia, pensioners acquire a new name: paupers

February 08, 1993|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,Moscow Bureau

If the elderly here are less represented than their counterparts elsewhere, they are in a way more protected. The vast majority of the elderly live with their families rather than on their own. The entire family shares what they have.

"It's our tradition," says Mrs. Klimkina. "We keep our old people in the family. And usually there's no choice, anyway. It's hard to get an apartment."

Also, for the time being, the conservative-dominated Russian Parliament has been regularly raising pensions.

As of Feb. 1, the minimum monthly pension was nearly doubled, to 4,275 rubles. Pensions also are being indexed to inflation, and will be adjusted quarterly. But even this will keep pensioners close to penury because they remain at the bare subsistence level.

Just the other day, a burglar broke into the home of a pensioner living in a small town on the Volga River. According to the local newspaper, Sovetskaya Chuvashia, the door was open and the lock was broken, but nothing was stolen.

Instead, the elderly inhabitant found a sympathetic note and 5,000 rubles. "Old man," the note read, "no one can live this poorly. Sorry for the broken door. Here's money for the damage."

Indeed, most elderly people must spend their entire income on food. "If my rent is increased, there is nothing left to do but die," says Mrs. Kovtunenko, shivering in her worn brown coat.

Mrs. Scherbenok, who worked fewer years than her friend, has a slightly lower pension. "I think soon we will die of hunger," she says.

But they don't dwell on such gloomy prospects. Despite their fear and privations, neither woman is willing to oppose economic reform. Neither wants to return to the past.

"We lived near the river and you could see beautiful ships go by, four decks high, filled with well-dressed, well-fed people amusing themselves," Mrs. Scherbenok says.

"That was for the apparatchiks [bureaucrats] and nomenklatura [influential people]. But what did we get? I could see it, and I knew there was no justice. No, I don't want to go back."

Mrs. Kovtunenko looks up cheerfully. "Never mind," she says. "We'll survive."

Mrs. Scherbenok agrees. "At least our grandchildren will live better than we did."

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