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The fate of St. Petersburg’s homeless


Natalya Bandurina, reporter: “This is the address of the St. Petersburg’s only shelter for the disabled homeless. In reality, it is merely a tent which had originally been planned as a temporary night place. Despite those plans, it has been there for several years – and even GPS navigator knows the address”.


The flag of the Maltese Order at the door – the symbol of a charity organization. Thirty beds in two rows inside. The first association one gets – a train cart, which either derailed or parked at the depot. No one’s in a hurry, some go through crossword puzzles, some are eating, some are sleeping. The lower berths are occupied by those in wheelchairs. The upper ones – by those able to walk. Mostly men. Women are accommodated behind a curtain, which is closed at night.

Anna Faber, homeless: “I got here having left my friends in Novosibirsk, rough life there. I followed my dream. I left a stepfather behind, who did not need me, and packed all my belongings in a backpack. I came here with it”.

The big and beautiful city has not been as welcoming as the girl had anticipated. She can’t find a job without documents and can’t rent a place without money.

  • Have you considered going back home?

Anna Faber, homeless: “There’s no home. And even if it existed, it’s quite interesting here. I have nowhere to come back to. No registration. I am fond of extremes, so I had a feeling this would happen to me sooner or later”.

Anya’s story is unusual for this place. Almost all of its residents are former alcoholics. Vodka deprived them of relatives, apartments and health – turning them into the disabled for the rest of their lives.

“I am from St. Petersburg actually”

Olya’s alcoholism led to the loss of apartment. She claims though that she was robbed by swindlers. Spent two years living in the streets. Until she was stabbed in the stomach by another homeless person and ended up here.

Olga, homeless: “My real family is here. I feel the warmth here – and I received much more warmth here than at home. Even started smiling”.

For people like her this tent indeed represents the last chance. No other place in St. Petersburg takes care of the disabled homeless, who have no documents on them.

Natalya Bandurina, reporter: “People often see this as a story about THEM and US. As if there is an abyss or a wall between us. That it is some kind of different life which we are observing from our seats in the audience. In reality, you take one step – and you are on the stage”.

And become the lead character of your own tragic tale. No one is protected from poverty and loneliness. That’s the main message of “Na Dne” play – according to actors of the NDT theatre. And this is well and truly alive – a century since Gorky wrote this play. Rough estimates suggest that there are 10 thousand homeless in St. Petersburg nowadays. Every time these actors take to the stage, they are trying to understand – what happened to these people and when exactly did they lose themselves.

Vadim Skvirskiy, actor at NDT theatre: “It is about us! Everyone has a sin behind them. I drink occasionally. Brodsky used to say that our life is like a costume – it never changes, only the outlook. It’s all about the people”.

Olga has agreed to show us the home which she lost. We accompany her to the outskirts of the city.

“Windows have been replaced – those three”

On the walls of her former apartment – where other people have been living for a while now – we can still see messages to her sister.

“A boy who was in love wrote that. My first boyfriend”.

She has not been here for two years and even missed her neighbors. So she did not expect this kind of reception.

“Why are you here?”

“Well, no reason”.

Meanwhile, the tent’s residents are getting ready for the dinner. Soups and hot meals are brought by the followers of Krishna. Anya is flirting with Damir. Its next to impossible to hide from prying eyes here, so everyone is watching this closely.

They will dine now, at lights will be out at 23.00 sharp. Time for bed. A guard will stay to monitor the heating. Another day “At the bottom” has come to its end.

Tatyana Ryabokon, actress at NDT theatre: “Having reached the bottom, you are hoping and believing that the sun would shine on you some day. That is the hope for salvation”.

Alexey is barely over 40 – and he doesn’t look like a typical resident of this tent. But 10 years ago he looked vastly different to his present self.

Alexey Nikonorov, homeless: “The club where I used to work as a sound engineer and DJ closed down”

The Estonian citizen with an expired passport, he found himself on the street. Diagnosed with dispersive sclerosis.

Alexey Nikonorov, homeless: “This illness has no cure at the moment. I am totally alone – my mother died nine years ago. Grandmother died too”

  • Would you go back to Estonia?

  • Yes.

Every person here would make a movie character. Like this woman, a distinguished doctor worked at a hospital her whole life, but was abandoned by her own kids. And now she is helped by Natasha here – who volunteered to assist the immobile ones. There are no quarrels or scandals here – simply because these people have nothing to fight about. But if ask any one of them – they are dreaming to start a new life. All of them are waiting for the spring, as Gorky wrote once.

  • What impression do you want to leave with the spectators?

Helga Filippova, actress: “I want them to have a thought – that there’s no safeguard from poverty or prison. And every homeless person serves as a living proof of that”.

Alexey Nikonorov, formerly known as DJ Alan, has come to the nightclub he used to work at back in the days.

“The DJ booth was here and the bar stand was smaller”.

His emotions are complicated. He feels like a visitor here – for the first time – and such bad coffee is only served to the outsiders. The show goes on, but without him. It seems he cannot fully comprehend what exactly happened to him. Alexey is likely to be helped. He is one of 10 thousand homeless people, who are waiting for the spring at the very bottom – not inside a warm tent, but out in the streets.

There are no such things as THEM and US. Sometimes there’s only one step to an abyss.