How ordinary Russians help the homeless and the poor

Credit: Ta-Tev

Private charity focused on helping the homeless and the poor have always existed in Russia. Before the revolution, it was customary and honorable for wealthy citizens to help the homeless, build almshouses and hospitals. During the Soviet era, the state took upon itself all the obligations to help those in need, and yet I remember how adults in my family would always tell me, then a little girl: “the hand of the giver shall never be empty,” when we saw beggars at churches or in metro stations. We were not a religious family, so I think that was more about the Russian spirit of giving to those who are in need, without asking for justification.

My mom and grandmother explained to me from a very early age that we all should always help others when presented with an opportunity. Regardless of what kind of story a person has. The sheer number of small private charitable groups in Russia, which are found in almost every city, suggests that many Russians hold the same position.

I found out about Yulia Khakimova from my friends in Kazan, where she lives as well. Growing up, I have spent every summer there. Yulia has been helping the homeless and poor in the capital of Tatarstan for over ten years. Nowadays, she has a page on Instagram that shares the news of people in need and helps find funding for various projects. Yulia goes above and beyond in helping others and is often the last resort before a family loses their rental flat for unpaid bills or a retired grandma runs out of groceries and medicine.

The story of one of the people she had helped has gone viral in Russia. An elderly Soviet officer Vladimir Alekseevich ended up in a Kazan shelter for the homeless with a severe disability and without documents. After desperately trying to help him, Yulia invited the old man to live in her own house and was able to raise funds for an expensive surgery, which restored the veteran’s eyesight and hope for life.

Yulia agreed to give Draftsy an exclusive interview about her work.

D: Yulia, how did you start helping people?

Y: We have been helping those in need for the past 12 years. I wanted to help kids, so I started going to orphanages, eventually, friends and like-minded people have joined me. At the very beginning, our work consisted mainly of trips to nursing homes, boarding schools, and shelters. We brought the essentials and basic medicine to lonely veterans and helped low-income families with home repairs and groceries.

In 2014, the war began in Donbas (Russia-Ukraine conflict – Ed.). I remember we were sitting in a cafe, having lunch. The news was playing on TV, with reporters saying there was a shooting in Ukraine, bombs have exploded. Residents could not leave the country, because the banks were closed, and it was impossible to withdraw money for a ticket.

The server brought me a check for lunch. I looked at it and realized that for the same two thousand rubles that I have spent right there, someone could buy a train ticket from Donbas to Kazan. I was dumbfounded that while we eat at the restaurants and have our lives generally go on without a change, people in Ukraine live under bullets and have no way out from the country. From that day on, my family and friends began to save money and help Ukrainians in whatever way they could.

My children even opened their piggy banks, gave me the money that they were saving for the summer holidays, and asked me to transfer it all to Donbas.

We then sent all the funds we had to civilians that we found through online chats. How we transferred money to them is a whole different story. We sent funds through other cities and middlemen, who all took a fee for their services.

At first, all those who came from Donbas stayed in my house and with our friends. Then, when we had too many people and not enough houses, I had to look for other accommodations. We have organized a free cafe and a clothing distribution point. I will never forget the women who were coming to us, saying that their families had finished their last groceries and they have no money or means to get more. It was a terrible time; I have never seen so many hungry people in my life.

Of those who then came to Kazan from Ukraine, most remained in our city. They found work and received citizenship.

Afterward, not only refugees from Donbas but also local people in need began to come to our help center. We began to realize (with much surprise) that town officials often sent people to us, saying, “go to this organization, they will help you”. At the same time, we did not receive any state support or funds for our social work. We helped people with our own money, and when the funds ran out, we sold our cars. At that time, we only accepted food and clothing from those who wanted to help. We did not ask for donations or money in general.

At some point, we had too many people coming in for help, and we could no longer keep up. We had to close our Help Center and go back to normal life. However, it was impossible for my team and I to return to our main jobs (Yulia owns a small business producing cemetery monuments – Ed.) and leave charity behind. People still found us and asked for help, and there was always someone who had no one but us to rescue them. Since then, we have all been combining our main occupations with charity work.

D: What problems do you face most often?

Y: The main problem, in my opinion, is the attitude of society towards helping those in need. When we find a person or family who desperately needs help, we share their story and call for action, beg people for support. They give it to us, feel like they accomplished something good, and move on. Unfortunately, this emotional response and the desire of people to help both disappear very quickly and everyone except us forgets about the person in need. But a lot of people require financial help and assistance for weeks and months. Some veterans that can barely survive on their pension remain with us for many years.

We cannot leave someone until their life is back to normal and they can go on without help.

Our workload is growing, we have more and more people that need our assistance. We are always looking for new opportunities to find support from others.

D: Do the local authorities help you, is there enough social support in general?

Y: In my opinion, Tatarstan has a good system of social assistance. These are shelters for the homeless, soup kitchens, and centers that provide groceries for low-income citizens. People on the streets can get food and a roof over their heads.

The needy themselves are different as well. Some people end up homeless but do not want to change anything in their lives. They go to the soup kitchens, beg and continue to live on the streets.

Some have a normal pension, a good apartment, and grown-up children that help them. But they still go to support centers, come up with tales about their misfortunes and take whatever they can, in any way possible. I will never know why they do it.

Some people in difficult situations receive help and quickly get back on their feet. After a month or two, they themselves come to us with an offer of support, they want to help someone else get out of the same tough spot.

There are people who really are in dire need, but they are very ashamed of their poverty. They are afraid that someone will find out that sometimes they don’t even have food in the house. They will not ask for help, they will not go out into the streets to beg, and they will endure the unendurable. We help this particular category of people the most.

They trust us because they know that we will not share their stories on social media, we will not show their faces and not try to pry into their private lives. We will simply give them a bag full of groceries and ask how else we can help. Sometimes it is enough. Other times people open up and share their struggles and pain. We try to do what we can to make their lives better.

To sum up, we try to help most people on our own and contact government agencies only in extreme cases. We always receive support from the authorities and solve the problems together, when necessary.

D: Why do you think we are returning to private charity to help the homeless and the poor?

Y: There have been poor people in Russia at all times, no matter the government and the regime; as well as private benefactors striving to help them. In previous years, the homeless and the needy may not have been so visible, because there were fewer places where they could get help. Now there are many more support centers, soup kitchens, and people willing to help. Naturally, underprivileged citizens who take advantage of these services have become much more visible. Social media also helps to draw attention to this issue. With Instagram, it is easier to spread the word about people who urgently need help. It also helps us inform our followers about what has already been done. Positive examples of other people doing charity work are contagious, others see it and want to join in. It is the spiritual responsiveness of people that sometimes moves me to tears.

D: Yulia, what should happen to make your work with the homeless and needy a little easier?

Y: Our work can become easier if people start to notice those who need help and not pass them by. I wish we would not need an Instagram post to bring our attention to an underprivileged family or an older neighbor that could use some help. We have had dozens of cases when someone brought food for those in need, and we ended up taking the donations to the veterans living in the same building with these benefactors.

Yulia continues to help the homeless and poor of Kazan and refuses to give up in the face of any obstacles. Vladimir Alekseevich, once a homeless disabled officer and veteran, still lives with Yulia and her family. He teaches her children what he knows about wild herbs and surviving in the forest. Vladimir Alekseevuch had become a real grandfather to them.

Yulia says that help with new cases mostly comes from friends and acquaintances. Social media (Yulia is active on Instagram) helps to attract people who want to help volunteers with food, building materials, or money.

If you want to help those in need in Kazan, you can transfer funds to PayPal: radif– or send funds to a Sberbank card via the number +79872963373 (inside Russia only).


A walk along the river.

I am home. The familiar outlines of the river, the recognizable smell of Siberian summer, and the noise of the city which didn’t change, the music of which once never stopped to inspire me. I feel like I am walking back into my past, and yet it is slowly changing before my eyes.
Walking down the street, I see the familiar places, buildings, benches, trees, and storefront signs. One side of the river has changed completely. Wild and rebellious in the past, it has turned into a beautiful and clean boardwalk where couples, families with children, and old people walk. The tree towering over the river, which was a witness of my student years, is no longer there. And now everything around here is polished concrete. Maybe the change is for the better. On the other side of the river, it feels like time is frozen. It seems as if the river divided the space into the new and the old city, into the future and the past. Although I know for a fact that on the other side, the construction of new buildings is already actively underway. Soon everything will be concrete there too.
The walk along the river feels like a dream. As if from the river, through her eyes, I look back at the city. Familiar and already changed places are slowly passing by, and some I am discovering for the first time. I look at the sky, where the clouds have remained unchanged, lush and airy.

I seem to be home, but it seems that my home is no longer here.  

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Tyumen, summer 2012


Homeless people in Paris

Credit: Ta-Tev

I first came across hotline #115 for the homeless people (ran by the organization Samusocial de Paris) when I was a volunteer in an association helping Russian-speaking refugees. This number works throughout France and is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In 2016, I was offered a job there, and after much deliberation, I agreed.

I knew that working with the homeless people in Paris by phone would be difficult and exhausting. But the desire to understand the system that helped people on the streets, and the problem of homelessness in this country, which was now my home, won over all doubts. I wanted to plunge into the world of human stories and be useful.

The work began with a week of theoretical and practical training, but despite this, in reality, everything was much more complicated. I quickly learned that while talking to the homeless on the phone, it is very important to listen carefully. This skill determines the understanding of the person’s situation, guides the search for solutions, and helps to accept the emotions on the other end of the line.

Every day I was faced with the whole spectrum of emotions coming from people who expected support from me in return, – from anger to tears and despair. I needed to quickly learn how to respond to insults, crying and threats, most often caused by misery and deep loneliness. No training will teach a specialist how to over and over tell a desperate person or family that there are no places left for them to sleep. But the worst reaction on the other end of the line for me was the absolute lack of emotion from the caller. This most of the time meant that a person resigned themselves to their fate and stopped fighting.

One of the most important principles at Samusocial de Paris is “unconditional welcome”. Anyone homeless or in trouble can seek help by calling the urgent number 115. The principle is good in theory, but in practice, it is almost impossible to provide temporary housing for all homeless people. Starting work at 115, I could not imagine how difficult the situation is with the placement of homeless people in Paris.

Why are there so many homeless people in the French capital and why are there so few places for them to sleep? Why does Samusocial de Paris fail to accommodate homeless men, women, and families?

To understand the essence of the problem, it is necessary to trace the history of the development of the organization. 

The Samusocial de Paris and the urgent number 115 for homeless were created in 1993 by Dr. Xavier Emmanueli. The bulk of the homeless population at that time consisted of men – old tramps and marginalized people who found themselves on the streets for various reasons but had one thing in common. They lost the connection with society and were leading lives on the verge of survival. The Samusocial de Paris created mobile teams that went out into the streets and offered help to those who were “no longer asking for anything”. Special accommodation centers were created for the homeless men, and there were enough places for everyone in those early years.

Since 2006, the number of homeless women calling the hotline 115 began to rise. In 2016 – 2018, Samusocial de Paris could still find accommodation for 50-60 men per day of receiving calls. During the same period, out of 50 women who called, only 3-4 could hope for temporary housing. The system, built for a particular type of homeless person, no longer could cope with the influx of women and families on the streets. The centers created for men could not accommodate the diversifying crowd.

The profile of the homeless who called the 115 hotline continued to change dramatically. At the end of 2015, the so-called “migration crisis” began and in France, as well as throughout Europe, the number of migrant families increased. Each country resolved the issue of housing for newly arrived families in different ways. In France, the entire responsibility for the accommodation of families who have not yet started the asylum procedure or have already received a refusal of asylum fell on the shoulders of the Samusocial de Paris.

The organization struggled to cope with so many homeless people, including families who came from Syria, African countries, the former republics of the USSR and Russia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Albania, and many other nations. As a result, in the summer and autumn, newly arrived families with children of all ages lived on the street, waiting for their turn to get a place in the hotel. This wait could last longer than a month. At the beginning of the winter, magically, the number of places usually increases, additional centers and gyms are open to accommodate more people. And yet, even in the winter months, there are not enough places for everyone.

The system of urgent housing has become so maladaptive in the last ten years to the changing profiles of Parisian homeless people that it was scary to realize that all the callers were in one big boat slowly sinking to the bottom.  

For me, the biggest shock during my work for the hotline was the very system of providing accommodation to people, especially for the homeless without children. When a person calls for the first time, a social operator conducts a long and detailed interview with them. Based on the information received, the employee turns to the coordinator with a request to provide a place for the caller. Oftentimes, there is only one place left, and several operators have people on hold, waiting for an answer. In that case, before providing an overnight stay for one of the homeless, the coordinators check all the information about their age, health problems, and how many nights they slept on the street already; if they have friends, with whom they can spend the night, any financial resources, and so on. Samusocial de Paris found itself in a dilemma, when from the crowd of fragile and sick callers they were forced to choose the most fragile and sick, refusing everyone else. As a result, some homeless people try to get through to 115 all day, and when they finally reach the operator, they receive a negative answer.

The situation is no better with the provision of places for families who call 115 daily. Several years ago, Samusocial de Paris, as a rule, chose a hotel for their wards and could easily change it if the family did not like something. In recent years, hotel owners have realized that they can choose to work for Samusocial de Paris or not, and have begun to dictate their terms, which has made it difficult to find new hotels for the homeless. Families who are finally accommodated in hotels stay in this temporary accommodation for a long time. More often than not, people do not have a residence permit to start working and rent normal housing. As a result, there are even fewer places for the new homeless families. 

The whole system of accommodating homeless families in hotels is scandalous and absurd. Samusocial de Paris pays a lot of money for rooms, and most often these hotels are located in the distant suburbs of the Ile-de-France area, where the commute is difficult and the public transportation tickets are expensive. There are very few charity organizations in the area that usually come to the aid of homeless families. The conditions in the hotels themselves are not ideal either. In many hotels there are no kitchens to cook at, hotel owners and neighbors are not always friendly to the homeless. People live in unsanitary conditions and despair. At the same time, the cost of paying for a week in a hotel for one family is equivalent to paying for a two-three-room apartment per month in the suburbs of Paris!  

The vast majority of the homeless in the Ile-de-France region are migrants who have never lived on the streets in their homeland. Once in France, they are faced with a very complex bureaucratic machine and the brutal reality of the stone jungle. Samusocial de Paris annually issues reports and runs advertising campaigns, writes about the difficulties of their work and the lack of places to receive the homeless, and requests additional funding from the state. The new French government, which came to power in 2017, has promised that in the coming years there will be no homeless people on the streets of Paris. Many social organizations write reports and carry out actions in an attempt to draw the attention of the public and government to the problem of homelessness, while the number of deaths on the street continues to increase.

I worked on the Samusocial de Paris urgent line for the homeless for two years. The most difficult thing for me was to explain to the callers how our organization and the housing distribution system worked when I myself considered them absurd and in which I no longer believed. During this time, I realized that working with people who have lived on the streets for most of their lives requires patience, lack of judgment, and the belief that there should always be light at the end of the tunnel.

In two years on the hotline, I learned that people living on the street die more often in summer than in winter. During the winter, as a rule, their bodies wear out, and in summer they cannot withstand the extreme heat. I realized that no matter how many accommodation centers, hostels, and hotels open, the number of homeless men, women, and children will continue to increase, because the current system of consumption and capitalism in which we live, as well as migration policy, are conducive to the development of poverty and social injustice.

Over the past two years, I have heard thousands of human stories on the phone. I heard tears and pleas for help, threats to commit suicide, and promises to blow up Samusocial de Paris. But there were also calls full of joy and gratitude when a temporary accommodation was finally found for a person. Long telephone conversations with people without a home left a deep imprint on my memory and forever changed my vision of Paris.

I wrote down some quotes so as not to forget and especially not to get used to the fact that people live on the street. Because when we get used to it and begin not to notice the homeless on the streets of our cities, we can get used to other realities of life, which are unacceptable and embarrassing for our society.

Homeless of Paris:

“She slept next to me at the station. Her death came suddenly and violently, on the pavement. I don’t think I can make it through this winter”.

“I came here and I feel that I will die here. I should have stayed at home”.

“I can’t hold on any longer … I sleep three to four hours a day. I feel like an animal. I have no special requirements, I just want to keep my dignity and find a safe place. I’ve never lied to anyone before”.  

“I am so tired, I walk a lot and do not sleep well. I can’t fight anymore, and I want to throw myself off the bridge”.

“I lost everything in two years, my family and my home”.

“For the last three winters I have resisted because I am young. But there are people who will die this winter”.

“I can’t sleep anymore, I’m so cold”.


Homeless dogs of Tbilisi

Ask any tourist who was lucky enough to visit the beautiful republic of Georgia in the past few years, if they saw any homeless dogs in Tbilisi. It is a given they will have at least one story about the friendly pooch they met on a street. There are a lot of homeless dogs in the capital of Georgia.

Every single one has a small round tag on their ear. The little plastic circle has a chip inside. It means the dog is safe for the people around it – vaccinated and spayed/neutered. (CDC still advises Americans to get a rabies vaccine before they visit Georgia, but the country has taken huge steps in the past few years to vaccinate and control the dog population). The tags on the ears also mean that the dog is entered into a local electronic database.

While the long-awaited federal law about animal control and protection is yet to pass (after being written over five years ago), there are plenty of local municipal programs and centers that treat, vaccinate and spay the homeless animals around Georgia.

Dogs and cats get picked up on the streets, given time to heal, if necessary, and then sterilized, vaccinated, and released back into the same area where they were taken from.

It is hard to tell exactly how many homeless dogs are in Tbilisi. According to the 2015 data, there were over 43 thousand of them. Animal rights workers and rescue centers volunteers say that despite all the recent efforts in controlling the population, the number of homeless animals continues to grow. Local vaccination and sterilization programs cannot keep up without a more widespread effort.

The attitude towards homeless cats and dogs is changing, Georgians are now more inclined than before to adopt a dog from a shelter or take one from the streets, instead of buying an expensive purebred puppy from the breeder. But all over the country, in big cities and small communities, it is often still considered a normal thing to do when someone abandons a dog or kicks their pet out on the street when a cute puppy grows up to be a hungry dog, or family circumstances change and for whatever reason, there is no room for the pet anymore.

It is impossible to solve the problem of homeless dogs in a few months or even years. The Republic of Georgia is definitely moving in the right direction. Very recently, there were protests for the harsher punishment for animal abusers in downtown Tbilisi. More and more people seem to care about animal rights. Hopefully, the federal law about animal control and protection will be passed soon. It could establish some very much-needed consistency in rules and regulations, and help ensure all the dogs in the country are accounted for, vaccinated, and fixed.

Perhaps the most dramatic change in this issue will come when the majority of Georgian society will see a dog on the street as an anomaly, not a normal part of everyday reality.

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Topic of the month

Volume I – Home

When we started talking about the format of blog we are trying to create – this small media, open space for artists sort of thing – one of the very important questions we had to ponder was how to organize the materials we are planning on publishing.

We decided to go with a monthly magazine way of doing things. Every month we would choose a theme or an idea to guide us. It would be a baseline for different opinions and an inspiration for us and our authors to think and to create.

We decided to go with “Home” as our first theme.Any good story starts with a safe place, an origin, space where it all had begun. 

While talking about what home means to us, we will discuss homelessness, immigration, and social work. What it means to not have a home, or have a few places that feel like one. 

We will also invite our photographer friends to share their vision of what home can and should mean to someone. 

As a rule, we will start each month with a few curated materials about the topic. In the course of the month, we will keep adding new articles, photo projects, and book reviews. 

We encourage you all to reach out with comments and suggestions through our email and on Instagram. 

If the theme of the month inspires you to speak up or to create, please feel free to write to us. We will be happy to share many voices and opinions. 


About Us

About us

The idea of was born during long discussions between friends living on different continents. We wanted to talk about things that were important to us, that made us think, and worry, and feel something. 
    The desire to express our opinions on topics that matter to us, desire to write and share experiences and information made us create this space. 
    We chose the name Draftsy for a few reasons. It speaks of literary drafts and unfinished pieces that can become something bigger, but also of drafts as movements of air, ideas, and opinions. Our readers AND our writers can choose the meaning closest to them or find a new one that speaks to their creativity and desire to be heard. 
    We want to invite you all to travel the world with us through different voices and stories, essays, opinion pieces, book reviews, and photojournalism. In our work, we will share and invite opinions and create a safe space for writing experiments.
    We plan on writing in both Russian and English and involve a wide variety of authors and topics. has a clearly defined position on social issues, equality, and human rights. In this space, there is no room for racism, xenophobia, homophobia, ultra-patriarchal views that dismiss women and their rights, and any views that promote hatred and violence. 

We hope you will enjoy reading and writing with us!



What is home for a traveler and an immigrant?

It is interesting trying to consider what home means to me at this point. I have lived in two different countries and for the past ten years have moved around the US and only recently settled down and bought a place to call my own.

I often ponder this when people ask me about my origins and story. I come from a proud Ukrainian man that didn’t think to teach me his language and an even more proud Russian woman. When she saw my blended smoothie of DNA test results that had put my roots all over Eastern Europe and some Western parts of the continent, she said quietly, “well, that’s all from your dad’s side, my people kept to themselves”.

I have moments when I feel myself to be a proud American, seeing all the good things that this land has going for itself, being grateful for how my life turned out. (Oh, the Americans want the new arrivals to be grateful here, for sure. But that might be a topic for another time)

Other times I feel distinctly different and separate from the rest, sometimes proudly and sometimes desperately.

I don’t mind being the other, being different. My own name has separated me from the crowd early on and I have grown to like the sensation. It is unusual here in the US, but even in Russia it was rare. One of those old names that no one remembers anymore.

I have always wanted to escape the everyday routine. My little town in Siberia, the life I knew, the company I kept. My father taught me early on that I was destined for bigger things. (He was most definitely wrong, and this is the shit I have to pay my therapist for discussing). But right or wrong, I have always wanted more. I still do, I suppose.

So, when the world is your oyster and you can travel and live everywhere and anywhere, what is home?

Is it the place where we grow up? Is it space where we find ourselves, no matter the age when it happens?

Is it more about the geographics or the people that fill up that space and make it ours, make it special?

I want to believe I have made a home for myself and others in many places I have inhabited over the years.

I want my home to be where my mother is, but I am not sure that fits the bill anymore either.

Is my home in a tiny cabin where my family lived since the 1920s and where I spent every summer growing up, learning how to do chores, making friends, and growing into the person I am today?

Or is my home an apartment on the second floor of a standard soviet design apartment building in a small Siberian town, where I spent the nights reading when I was a kid?

That apartment was where we went for a drink of water on summer days, after playing outside for hours. Its kitchen with the courtyard view is where my mom watched me get my tongue stuck to the freezing cold metal pipe a second time because apparently, the first time was winter before, I could not believe it happened, and I had to try it again. Like a scientist, I had to repeat the experiment to see if the end result would be the same. It was. It took a lot of warm water to get my tongue unstuck.

That little town in the middle of the forest was beautiful in its own right, but always felt like a cocoon to me, a chrysalis that I was ready to burst out of. I dreamt of the ocean and strange, beautiful lands. If someone told 12-year-old me that one day I will be living in sunny Florida, ten minutes away from the sea, that little girl would probably not believe it’s possible, but also secretly think “this is exactly where I need to be!”.

I took a job in aviation for a few years, motivated by the same search for the unknown. Hotel rooms were where I found myself on most nights for almost four years. I was happy to wander the streets of different cities and often traveled alone when I could not find anyone to go with. All that traveling made the world seem a bit smaller and more accessible, but also full of unexpected wonders. After every trip, I came back to my tiny apartment in Florida and could not wait to repack my bags for the next adventure. I have rarely stayed home for more than two weeks at a time.

Meeting someone I fell in love with has changed things. Coming back home now meant coming back to him. Maybe having someone who is waiting for you to return is what home really is.

Then the pandemic happened, and “home” was the only place everyone could really be in. Never have I experienced the reality in which I was so confined to my house. I know we had it better than many other places around the world (my high school classmate had to quarantine with three kids in her 13th-floor apartment in Siberia). But it was still a big change. I do think it made me appreciate my home more and taught me to find joy in being here, instead of planning the next trip.

I think what home means will change again, once I have my own children. Then home will be the safe space where they can grow up. Maybe they will have two homes, like two languages. Here in South Florida and in Russia, where they can go for the summer to come back every fall with crazy stories.

But for now, home is where my loved ones are – my partner and our little dog. It is where our quarantine project garden is growing with the first harvest of mangoes, figs, and passion fruit. It is where I hope to bring my mom one day. Make her a Cuban coffee and take her for a walk around the neighborhood, spend an afternoon at the pool. Home is where I feel happy and at peace.