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23 Feb, 2009 09:05

Binge drinkers’ home from home

It is a Russian creation – but probably not one all the country’s citizens are proud of. Sobering-up stations date back to Tsarist times, but are still an important way of protecting both boozers and the public.

Every night a special police unit scours the frozen streets of the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk to pick up those who've had one over the eight.

And it's not long before they find a reveller who is then delivered to a sobering-up station, where he’s checked by a doctor. He will sleep there until he can pass a sobriety test, at which point his clothes and possessions will be returned and a small fee paid to the police.

Invented in Tsarist Russia, and heavily used for maintaining public order in Soviet times, there are more than 500 such stations across Russia.

“We deal with people who pose a danger to themselves or others. If they were taken to a hospital, the doctors wouldn't be able to cope with them. We have the ability to isolate them from society, but only for a short time,” says Stanislav Gagonskiy, a station chief.

Sobering-up stations are subject of lot of dark humour in Russian novels and TV shows, both because of their clientele and the supposedly rough way police treat them.

But Yury Kornev isn't sorry he woke up in such a place. He says he over-indulged in beer and wine during a party at a friend's house. The patrol found him lying in the snow.

“I have been treated well. They helped me. I could have frozen to death,” Yury says.

Although other countries have experimented with sobering stations, nowhere are they as common as in Russia, though even here they have come under fire from those who say they infringe on human rights and waste police resources.

More than a half the stations have been shut down since the collapse of the USSR.

But for the millions that have found themselves in one, the stations will continue to evoke strong emotions: whether shame, annoyance or gratitude.