Pen-pals and pensioners: new website helps those in need

Like many developed nations, Russia's population is getting older and fewer children are being born. As a result, more people are finding themselves alone as they approach the end of their lives.

Many reach retirement age in Russia with almost nothing to show for their lives. No money, no friends, and no relatives – this is the common story for the inhabitants of a retirement home.

“Both of my children died a long time ago. I had two sisters and a brother, but they are now also gone. Now I just have myself. And it feels terrible,” says 69-year-old Nina Reutova, who has been in a care-home since last September.

Tatyana Gladkova, ‘A letter from grandson’, oil on canvas, 2006

Her most precious belongings nowadays are her memories and a bundle of letters that started coming not so long ago from a girl Anya, who she had never known before.

The nurse Elena Gureeva says that “Nina is always so happy when she receives a letter or a card. We read the letters together over and over again, and then I help her write the reply.”

Just a day ago Nina celebrated her birthday. At the time she eagerly awaited a letter from Anya, but this time Anya decided to travel over 250 km from her home to meet Nina in person for the first time in her life and to greet her. Needless to say, their emotions overwhelmed them and the pair chatted away for hours.

As a result of seeing those eager to share their kindness with their elders, someone has started a website (in Russian) where the details of those who have nobody left in the world are posted.

The leader of this movement Liza Oleskina says that “Most of the people deal with children, but there are very few who look into the problems of the elderly, who really need to feel our support.”

There are now about 300 such pen-pals like Nina and Anya in Russia. Everyone is free to join. After you find the person desperate for a friendly soul on the internet site, all it takes is 20 minutes a month and less than a dollar for a stamp with an envelope. The main condition is that it has to be at least one letter per month.

In facilities for the elderly, nurses look after those who have lost their youth and energy. They say that the main thing they have to deal with is the loneliness of these people, and the positive impact that just a single letter or a postcard can have that comes to a person who has nobody left in this world cannot be underestimated.