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Mercy for the homeless

At night, the homeless gather. They are waiting for salvation, and it comes in the form of a bus.

A bus run by the Mercy Orthodox Church Charity.

Although figures are hard to come by, it is estimated there are around 100,000 homeless people in Moscow.

The Mercy vehicle and its crew travel to the main railway stations every night trying to help them stave off the worsening winter's cold. They give medical attention, help to keep the weakest warm and try to help some of Moscow's most helpless residents.

“I do this work because I can't help but do it,” said Mercy team leader Nikita Danov. “I just cannot live my life peacefully when someone else is freezing to death in the streets.”

Unfortunately, the team has to turn away many hopefuls to make way for those in the worst condition.

“Among all the homeless people we come across, we can only choose 30, 35 of the most needy ones at most. And each time, I’m afraid of making this choice,” Nikita said.

Each of these people has a tragic tale of how they ended up on the streets. For many, though, it’s Russia's nightmarish bureaucracy that has prevented them from working.

“I spent 30 years in many prisons, and I had no ID whatsoever,” one of them explained.

Once they are on the streets, state help is all too scarce.

“Social Services just doesn’t have the budget, and so they only deal with Muscovites,” said Sergei Yulin, the team’s medical assistant.

“Our organization is public and lives off donations. That's why we help everybody who needs us, irrespective of their age, gender, faith, nationality or citizenship.”

The Mercy bus team will let these people sleep in a shelter until morning, then give them a hot meal and a shower.

But then there's no other place for them except back on the streets.