Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
Whatever the future holds, I am grateful to have had the chance to experience this coun-
try, to be touched by so many lives and stories, to have learned so much. I can't believe,
looking back twenty years, that I saw Russia as a cold, oppressed, backward country, emer-
ging from decades of terror and on the cusp of enjoying the wisdom of America's way of
life and system of government. If nothing else, I for one, now understand that Russians may
well want—and get—something else. They're taking time to figure that out. I can't predict
what will happen, but I'll certainly be thinking about and rooting for the people I've met.
Suffice it to say, the story of Russia is far from finished. So perhaps it's fitting that while
Vladivostok is the obvious last stop on this journey—the end of the train line, the window
on the Pacific—my thoughts tend to wander back to the middle, where the trip was far from
After our detour to Chelyabinsk to follow the meteorite, and our realization that we
could not travel east, since that would require a visa for Kazakhstar, we took the train
north to Ekaterinburg, east to the city of Tyumen, where we stopped for the day, then on
to Ishim. During that stop in Tyumen, Sergei and I took a ninety-minute drive through a
raging snowstorm to find a rehabilitation center for drug addicts. Russia loses tens of thou-
sands citizens each year to heroin addiction, and there are believed to be more than two
million people actively using. It's a devastating epidemic and a big reason Russia was eager
to work with the United States in Afghanistan—that's where much of the poppy that flows
into Russia is produced, and Russia's government has been desperate to curtail it.
Sergei and I walk through knee-deep snow into a ramshackle building and a living room
with old rugs and couches. On the wall, there's a painting of the sun, shining over a pasture
covered with flowers. A sign on the wall, translated into English, reads, “If pain today, look
ahead to tomorrow.”
Nine of the people in the rehab program have agreed to meet with us—six men, three
women. They're in comfortable sweats and T-shirts, sitting before us on couches. They talk
about how they got here.
“I started smoking dope when I was fourteen,” says a young man named Vitaly. “When
I was fifteen, I started using heroin. And I was diagnosed HIV-positive.”
“I was selling drugs at seventeen,” says a nineteen-year-old named Paulina. “I could see
I was dying.”
“I started smoking when I was fourteen,” says Kate. “It was the only thing that made me
Drug addictions aren't unique to Russia, of course. But the director of the program, a
thirty-three-year-old named Natalya—a recovering heroin addict herself who is HIV-posit-
ive—says that when people reach for help in Russia, it's nearly impossible to find:
“When it comes to disabilities, when it comes to drug addictions, in our society, it's sim-
pler to put a fence around these people than to help them. I travel to other countries. I ask
Search WWH ::

Custom Search