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7 Sep, 2009 06:09

Haven for the blind sliding into decay

The “town of the blind” near Moscow, designed during Soviet times for visually impaired people, is gradually descending into rack and ruin, and some question whether its residents benefit from living there nowadays.

In the town of Ermolino, 80 kilometers away from Moscow, there is a street that some call a town of its own – the town of the blind.

After World War II, many blind people started moving here to a special zone built especially for them, where they could work, study, and get medical help.

“The town was built very quickly, in three years we had apartment blocks with utilities, a factory, and a social club. We had a wonderful choir,” said Vasily Tarantasov, one of the project's founding fathers.

However, things changed after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

What was an ambitious project, the City of the Sun for 40,000 people, where the blind would have their own recreational, educational and rehabilitation centres, is now just a few dozen houses and a factory with one fifth of its initial workforce.

Most people who still live here work at the local factory, a packing plant. Half of the workers are visually impaired.

Seraphima, like many of her colleagues, has been working there for more than 20 years. She processes 12,000 mayonnaise lids a day, and is paid less than $200 a month.

“I like it here. The pay isn’t much different, we get a nice welfare pension, too, that’s another $300,” she said. “The problem is the workload is inconsistent.”

The factory barely makes any profit, just enough to keep people working. As summer ends, it shifts completely to making cardboard boxes. It pays better, but still less than in the capital.

“We’ve become used to working here, even though everyone wants to move to Moscow, where the money is better,” said one of Seraphima’s colleagues. “Some have found temporary jobs, but it’s hard for us to even get there.”

The All-Russia Association of the Blind is worried about the lack of help the town is receiving. The project, they say, was a mistake in the first place.

“When blind people are not segregated, they adapt much better. When you are used to living in a special town for the blind, it’s much harder to then get out,” said Aleksandr Rakovich of the association.

Now there is not much hope for this town – without state help, it will eventually be deserted. Many have passed away, while their children have left looking for a better life. Those who remain simply feel they have nowhere else to go.