Story Publication logo December 22, 2014

Crimea: Irina's Story


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Russia's military annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine has already upended many lives...

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Of all the vulnerable people in Crimea, intravenous drug users seem to have suffered the most as a result the Russian annexation. There were 806 people enrolled in the opioid substitution therapy program, a therapy used world-wide but illegal in Russia, and suspended in Crimea after the Russian takeover. Now some of these people have left their homes and moved to other Ukrainian regions; others have returned to drug use, and a few have already died.

I met Irina Borovko on the outskirts of Simferopol in her one-bedroom apartment which she shares with her three sons. Space here is at such a premium that she converted the apartment's balcony into a tiny second bedroom for one of the boys.

A drug user for almost 30 years, she has numerous health problems and no money, so leaving Crimea and seeking substitution therapy elsewhere in Ukraine is not an option. When I met her in the summer Irina seemed angry, fearful and resigned to her miserable state.

She promised to stay away from "shirka," a home-made dirty equivalent of heroin, but her health deteriorated drastically. She was constantly in and out of hospitals, and just recently underwent surgery to remove a sarcoma.

One of her sons, Evgeny, who is 24 years old, lost both of his arms in a childhood accident, and he can't get by without help. Evgeny has prosthetics, but they are useless and he is embarrassed to put them on.

He told me that he actively participated in the referendum organized by Russia on whether Crimea should leave Ukraine. Enticed by promises of a bigger disability pension, Evgeny attended pro-Russia rallies, oblivious to the fact that his mother would suffer the loss of her opioid substitution therapy.



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