Russia’s first hospice turns ten

Ten years ago the first hospice in Russia opened its doors to terminally ill cancer patients.

It offered comfort to those seeing out the final part of their lives.

Strolling outdoors is a rare luxury for patients in Russia’s public hospitals. But here, in Russia’s first public hospice, they can enjoy the sunshine in what may be their last days.

Hospice Number One is for terminal stage cancer patients only. This state and charity run establishment is modeled after British hospices.  A cancer survivor herself, Vera Millionshikova opened these doors to the public in 1997. Since then, lots has changed, she says. Cancer patients now have more treatment options but for economic reasons these options are not available to everyone. 

“My hospice is absolutely free but as for the rest of public healthcare in Russia, I cannot be sure. Go to any hospital and see if you can get anything for free, all you can count on is a bed in the hall. I’m frankly afraid to be sick these days,” says Vera Millionshikova, hospice founder.

A disease like cancer can leave one bankrupt. In Russia, officially or unofficially payment has become a reality of the public healthcare system. And denial of treatment or hospitalization in severe cases is widespread.

Here there is the personal support people so desperately need at this point of their lives. The hospice was designed to feel like home. Volunteers receive training here and relatives of the sick also come and help out.

“I cried a lot, that’s why my hair is all grey, those who I take care of are leaving me, but they come back in my dreams to offer thanks,” says Lyubov Zaitzeva, relative of the patient.

One of the Hospice's founding principles is to accept that everyone is mortal, but in this age of advanced medicine, many ask why premature death is some people's fate. Tens of thousands die every year in Russia because they failed to spot the cancer on time or received the wrong treatment or even none at all.

“For one-and-a-half years I used to tell him, Andryusha, go to the doctor, he complained his throat hurt but he dismissed it, if only he'd known about the disease and had found out earlier,” says Taisiya Petrova, a patient's mother.

Making the last days of life more comfortable is a luxury many could not have afforded outside the hospice walls.