Tatiana Grigorievna


I was born on board of a coach. My parents wanted to go visit my mum’s parents, so my mum said, ‘Let’s go now, I’ll give birth soon’. So they left but didn’t get there in time, I was born on the coach between the two cities.

I didn’t feel loved. My mum didn’t love me. We were more or less friendly with Dad but he sided with Mum more often.

My father worked as a long-distance lorry driver and I spent a lot of my childhood with him on his trips. I travelled. We even got into an accident once. I have two brothers but there’s quite an age difference between us. As many as 20 years with the youngest one and 7 years with the second brother.

I didn’t have any dreams about what I wanted to be. I played the accordion but it’s not that I liked it that much, it’s my mum who wanted me to. I liked sports, track and field. And I even made some decent progress in it. Yuri Sedykh was my coach. But then it didn’t work out and that was the end of this dream.

I came here from Ukraine a long time ago, back in 1979. I studied here at the University of Pulp and Paper Industry but I dropped out during the third year and started working. I wanted to stay in St. Petersburg. I was working and renting. It was all ok until I got an injury. I broke my hip. No one will employ someone with crutches.

My main mistake was that I didn’t get my passport replaced in time.

It was totally mundane, I was walking home in the evening, I slipped and fell. Some passers-by helped me return home, I didn’t live very far. The following day I called an ambulance and got taken to an A&E department. They did and X-ray of the knee, since it was swollen. I told them that it hurt in the hip but they told me it was normal. So they put a cast on my leg. They didn’t X-ray my thigh though. A month later the cast was taken off but I couldn’t walk. So they did another X-ray and found out that the hip had been broken. Had they seen it on the very first day I could walk on my own now perhaps. And the operation would have been free of charge most likely because it would have been considered urgent medical help. But the doctors didn’t notice anything and so I’ve been walking with crutches for over two years now.

I overheard someone in the queue at the Federal Migration Service Directorate talk about Nochlezhka. I wasn’t properly homeless at the time, I was just trying to sort out my citizenship and then, after this whole thing with my leg happened, I remembered that conversation and went to Borovaya Street. They had no vacant beds at the time so they provided accommodation in one of their tents, near Chernaya Rechka station. And from there I was transferred to the Pokrov parish. I have been here for two years now.

Vyacheslav, a lawyer at Nochlezhka, is helping me sort out my papers. Without him, I’d get nowhere. I have already been given my birth certificate and my own death certificate. It turned out that my relatives had ‘buried’ me back in 2001. They identified a drowned woman as me. It’s quite a surprise to find out you’re dead.

I hadn’t spoken to my parents for many years. Upon hearing about my own death, I sent them a letter, telling them I was alive. I got the following response: ‘Don’t call or write, we don’t know you’. It was about ten years ago. I find it hard to understand what happened there. Maybe someone told them lies about me, maybe this drowned woman actually looked like me. I don’t want to even think about it.

I had a one-bedroom flat left in Ukraine, my grandmother’s house with a little garden… Basically, there was something for them to claim and share.

I need the court to recognise that I am alive. The legal action has been going on for half a year now. The delay is caused by the judge. She won’t make the decision in my favour and recognise that I’m alive. She says they don’t know who is buried in Ukraine. Why should it concern me? Just give me a paper saying I am alive. I can’t get my passport without this paper. 

I can’t have an operation for free because I’m a Ukrainian citizen. It costs a lot of money, about 150-200 thousand.

I spent many years working at a shop and I liked my job. The funny thing is that I worked all that time with a Ukrainian passport and even used it to get a medical certificate. No one minded my passport before 2014.

Responses from Ukraine take a lot longer these days. It took almost six months for the birth certificate to arrive, for example. Maybe, the judge is so stubborn because I come from Ukraine? But no one will say anything openly.

We filed a cassation appeal and asked for the judge to be replaced. But first, we do need to get that ruling. I came by and she said she was busy. She’s been busy since 24 September. It’s been half a year!

I lived together with a man for a while, then we broke up. When he found out that I was here, he started visiting me, helping me, he comes and brings presents for everyone here. I hope he’ll take me with him one day. Neither of us is getting younger after all and we’re not strangers.

When I was living at the shelter near Chernaya Rechka, I was really lucky to meet Sasha, the attendant. He put me into a dorm with men, I was the only woman but we got along fine. The guys were kind. There was a very old man there, we called him Vasilich. He'd just command: ‘Guys, out!’, so that I could have a wash and change in peace, have some privacy. So this man and Sasha spoke about me a lot and they said, ‘Let’s go, it’s clean over there, there’s a shower’. And they brought me here. I only spent two months there.

You know out of eight homeless people I shared the dorm at Chernaya Rechka with, there was only one alcoholic. The others had a complicated past, they had drunk etc but mostly they don’t drink now. People don’t end up there for no reason, as they say. I got there because of my papers. Although I can’t say I didn’t drink at all. But, still, I wasn’t properly homeless and I was a little bit scared of them to begin with. Then I got used to them and stopped being scared. They are people, just like me. Everyone has some secrets in the past. Some still have children and families or friends. Some even spoke to their relatives and friends occasionally. Some have visitors. Some had lost everyone. But you know, if one keeps to the rules, one can get on with everyone.

In the two years that I’ve been here, a lot of people have left and I keep in touch with many of them, we call each other now and then. And you know, some of them have established a decent life. They have managed to escape.

We get visited by a doctor from the Botkin Hospital, Anatoly, once a week. He measures our blood pressure, provides some basic medical help if needed. He brought me attachments for my crutches. I asked him to treat me. He said, ‘Get your paper first, then we’ll think what can be done!’

Volunteers come here. One of them wrote down my story, took a picture of me and told me that she had put me down on the waiting list for a free operation. I’ve been on that waiting list for half a year now. She says, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll get there!’

I would really like to start walking again, I’m fed up with not doing anything. I was thinking of organising some sort of a workshop here at the parish, so that we could all make something with our own hands, but the administration is not keen on my idea. On the other hand, we have a teacher coming. We draw and paint together and she organises exhibitions of our works here. I am currently drawing military machines for an exhibition in Moscow, but this is just a one-off order.

They don’t impose faith on us here. We can confess if we want to but we don’t have to. But a lot of people decide to get baptised here. It’s easier with faith of course. It’s less scary if you believe that it’s all in the hands of God.

I am really fortunate with the people I come across. I met a wonderful woman at the Federal Migration Service Directorate, for example. She said, just give me your passport, and we’ll help you, do what’s needed, apply for citizenship. The only problem is that I don’t have a passport! I met another woman here, and she helps me a lot, she used to work here as a social worker. She no longer works here but she is still helping me.

I had some spare time when I was employed. If I could rewind time, I would have spent that spare time volunteering. I would have helped people like myself. I would have gone to hospitals. Volunteers go to hospitals, too, they help around, wash and look after people. Alternatively, I would have helped people with papers, for example… Once I can walk again, I’ll take up something like that.

I suppose, if I could choose, I’d become a traveller.

I don’t want to return to Ukraine. I don’t want to get involved with this story with my family. They wouldn’t have done what they did, had they not wanted to. They did a lot for me as it is, to be honest. They brought me up and I’m grateful. All sorts of things happen in life.

The worst thing is when your own life is out of your control, when you have to wait for someone’s decision, as if you were nailed to the ground and couldn’t go anywhere. I am indeed just as good as dead now. Legally, I don’t exist. And I am powerless!

Interviewed by Nastya Ryabtseva for Takie Dela
Photo by Valery Zaitsev/SCHSCHI for Takie Dela

    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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