Russia’s harm reductionists are once again under attack

Ivan Reedm


Russia’s harm reductionists are once again under attack

4 December 2018

By Niko Vorobjo

“It used to be that you’d be walking on your way to score, and if you’d see a policeman, you’d give them three hryvnia [about 10 cents], and they’d tell you to wrap your business up quickly because undercovers were about to bust the spot,” says Sasha, a 40-something heroin user from Crimea (formerly Ukraine).

In 2014, as the Ukraine crisis erupted, “little green men” started popping up across the Crimea—a Black Sea peninsula the size of Maryland dangling off the south of Ukraine. A “referendum” was held in which 95.5 percent of the population apparently backed joining the territory up with Russia. In the political surprise of the century, Vladimir Putin later admitted that the mysterious strangers in green uniform were Russian troops.

Crimea’s history—and tensions reignited this week with the Russian capture of three Ukrainian naval vessels—is complicated. For all the international outrage, the 2014 change in power was relativelybloodless. But for one group of people, it was life-or-death.

Once Crimea went under Russian control, the territory’s “registered drug addicts” found themselves cut off from their methadone supplies, which they’d previously got courtesy of Kiev. They were in for a nasty surprise when the new leadership bannedtheir medication, in line with the rest of Russia.

“They gave it a few days, but then the feds and the Cossacks got together and came down on the dealing spots. They broke arms, legs, everything.”

Rather than risk withdrawal, many went back to using heroin, subject to dodgy doses and harsh enforcement. Within a year, over a hundred of them had died.