Katya Yelizarova

‘I came to Nochlezhka in 2004. I was 20. I had no papers. Until then I had lived without any. I didn’t have any citizenship or a passport. My birth certificate had been lost, so when I finished school, I wasn’t given a diploma.’


As a child Katya moved to St. Petersburg from Georgia with her father. When she was an adult, Nochlezhka helped her get her citizenship and papers. When Katya was expecting a second child she had a really hard time. She couldn’t register with a doctor and she had nowhere to live. After she applied for social housing at the local administration and challenged several rejections in court, she was eventually provided with a room in an industrial estate, in a building which was in such an atrocious state that living there was simply dangerous. Nochlezhka contacted the Housing Committee and Katya was given a room in a flat on Ligovsky Prospect. This is where she lives now. She is working at a nursery school and bringing up two children.

Yekaterina Dikovskaya, Lawyer and Head of the Counselling Service

I moved to Russia from Georgia in 1991. I was 6 back then. I wasn’t left without a place to live, I have simply never had my own.

Dad came to Russia to move in with a woman. He just brought me along. So we lived at her place. Then we sold that flat and ended up with nowhere to live. We wanted to go back to Georgia but it didn’t work out. I can’t remember why, I was too little. So we stayed here. I went to school. We kept moving from one place to another because we didn’t own a place. We were either renting or staying with friends.

I have never met my mum and I don’t know her. My dad had a lot of women. They all took part in bringing me up. One after the other. Most of them were nice.

I came to Nochlezhka in 2004. I was 20. I had no papers. Until then I had lived without any. I didn’t have any citizenship or a passport. My birth certificate had been lost, so when I finished school, I wasn’t given a diploma. My name was just written in the register in pencil.

Through some friends I found a job at the checkout in a shop. They employed me at their own risk because I didn’t have any papers. I mostly worked night shifts when there are fewer inspections. It was easier when I had no children.

I got my Russian citizenship in 2008 through court, since I was born in the Soviet Union. And then I got my ID. Then I went to Nochlezhka again and their lawyer helped me join the waiting list for housing. And they helped me. In 2014 I was given a room by the authorities while I wait. Admittedly, there is no hot water and there’s only a trickle of cold water… I pay 5,000 roubles a month to the state for this room. This is called ‘commercial rent’. If it hadn’t been for Katya’s, Nochlezhka’s lawyer, help, I wouldn’t have got anything at all.

I lived with my dad until I turned 20 and I was a very well-behaved child. But then everyone started telling me it was high time I became independent. But he wasn’t even supporting me or helping me. Other people around me helped me, got me into school, bought clothes for me and fed me. But I would do what my dad would say.

At the age of 20 I left and had a son. He was born prematurely. I needed to go to hospital and stay there to prevent a miscarriage but they wouldn’t admit me because I had no papers, so I couldn’t even see a doctor. In the end I gave birth at 26 weeks, we had to call an ambulance. My baby weighed 1240 grams. They wouldn’t give him to me because I had nowhere to take him. He was put into a paid incubator and then they invoiced me for 990 000 roubles because I didn't have insurance. They said, either I pay or they won’t give me the baby. I went to Nochlezhka again and they gave me a certificate of registration at their shelter, which also said that I am entitled to free healthcare (something along those lines, I can’t quite remember now). They didn’t accept it first at the hospital and went to lawyers to check whether it was valid or not. But eventually they did give me the baby.

So the baby was at the hospital for two months. Meanwhile, I worked. I didn’t know when I would take him from the hospital. He was tiny, scary-looking, it was my first child and I didn’t know anything. I was very scared if I’m honest. I was crying all the time. I didn’t know where I’d take him and what I’d do with him. But I never even thought of giving him up. Even now the mere thought of it fills me with dread. I was helped by an organisation called ‘Roditelsky Most’ [Parent Bridge]. They took me to live at their dormitory. I got used to the baby there and started loving him.

When I was at the maternity hospital I met a lawyer, an elderly lady. She gave me an earful but in the end she just wrote down our names, called someone she knew at the Register Office, dictated the information, and the birth certificate was just delivered to me at the hospital. Without her no one would have given me one, of course.

I have a brother in Georgia. He is a tramp there, I am a tramp here. I think, had my parents thought a bit more about their children, we wouldn’t be in our current situation.

You talk to some people and they grew up at one place, their parents live there, everyone knows everyone else, there’s a common past. And we didn’t settle down anywhere. I have no home: no family home, nothing. I wouldn’t mind having a family home somewhere, even if it's in the middle of nowhere.

I have only had one man. He is the father of my children. We haven’t spoken for over two years. He didn’t care about the first child and we broke up before I had the second. I left him, to be exact, and then I found out I was pregnant again. I am glad I found out about my pregnancy quite late and I saw a doctor too late. I am happy that I had Sonya. When I had her I lived at a friend’s for half a year. Then I moved to a shelter for women in emergency situations. The three of us spent a year and a half there. We lived on the child allowance. That’s the minimum living wage.

No one wants someone else’s children, and children find it hard without a father. My son says he wants to have a granny and a granddad. I have my dad but he’s not really interested in them. And a boy needs a man in the family.

I am now working at a nursery school. I am happy to work loads but without a degree and with two little children finding a suitable job is rather difficult. For now I work until four and so at least I have some time to spend with my own children. They have no one else after all.

I will spend the summer in the city but I’d like to take my children somewhere, to show them things. I want them to have things that I’ve never had. Their own home, education, good friends.

Some children stay at the nursery all day. They really suffer. If I didn’t work at the nursery I wouldn’t know that they actually suffer from it. In the past, when my son was very little, I thought I should get him to a nursery as soon as possible, so that he would socialise, play with other children and with toys, there’s a routine to follow, and I couldn’t provide all this. And when I started working at a nursery myself I found out that what children want and need most is being with their parents. That they need their parents’ love more than any toys. There are plenty of unloved children at the nursery. There’s a very sweet girl there, she calls all women mummies but not her own mum. She’s well dressed, she’s looked after. I think her mother just doesn’t know how to express her love.

If I met a caring and loving man whom I could trust, I would like to have more children.

Interview taken by Nastya Ryabtseva
Photography by Natalia Bulkina/Такие дела

    4,5 months

    An average period of time spent by a homeless person at the shelter

    56 116 rubles

    Average cost of bringing a homeless person to stable life

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