World War II heroes keep fighting for social benefits

Almost 65 years after the end of World War II, more than 50,000 Russian veterans still live in appalling conditions. The government is vowing to finally change that – but the veterans fear they may not last long enough.

“We are not sure all veterans will have better accommodation by May 9, 2010, but we have to manage that by the end of 2010,” Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in October 2009.

After hearing that, many veterans hurried to apply for better living conditions – but many have so far failed to attain it.

Aleksandr Shirenin is one of the few remaining veterans of World War II in the city of Ryazan. Forty-three years ago he received a two-room apartment of 56 square meters. He now has a family of eight, and they all still live there.

Four generations of Shirenin’s family have no other choice but to share his tiny flat – this is creating unsanitary conditions, and even the pets there live one on top of the other.

“On every anniversary of the Victory, I receive all these nice greeting cards from the Kremlin and the local administration. People visit me at my home with flowers, and they do see how hard it is live here for eight people, but nobody says or does anything. I still hope Putin will keep his promise,” Aleksandr Shirenin says.

The government promises Aleksandr’s family will eventually have five times more room – but the local administration says they cannot do anything yet as they have no official instructions.

“The flaws in our legislation are preventing us from speeding up the program and we are receiving many complaints, but we are working on it. The government is doing everything possible to pay tribute to the veterans. Not even a tenth of these efforts were seen in Soviet times,” says State Duma Deputy Frants Klintsevich.

But time is of the essence for those who fought in World War II. Most of them are in their 80s, and some seem to have lost hope for a better life.

“I have been living in this house for half a century, and I am sure it will last longer than I will. I know what my government can or cannot do, so I do not want to bother them with requests,” World War II veteran Olga Loseva says.

As of May 2008, there were about 855,000 World War II veterans in Russia, according to the data of the Ministry of Public Health and Social Development – and about 5 million if groups such as then underage prisoners of Nazi concentration camps and residents of blockaded Leningrad are taken into account.

Every year, the number of remaining veterans is decreasing, and just a fraction will celebrate the 65th anniversary of the Victory over Nazi Germany.

But they are counting on the government to stick to its promises, as they want to leave their descendants with something more than memories of their heroism.