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Europe

Crimean hospital turns towards Russia ahead of referendum

© Crimean Republic's Children's Hospital

Text by Brenna DALDORPH

Latest update : 2014-03-16

As Crimea heads to the polls on Sunday for a contested secession vote, the medical community in the capital of Simferopol is braced for what could be a landslide victory for Russia.

“A plane came on Thursday from St. Petersburg to transport sick children to a hospital there instead of to Kiev,” Aleksey Sobol, a leading paediatric neurosurgeon at the Crimean Republic Children's Clinical Hospital, told FRANCE 24 on Friday.

Although the only flights currently operating out of Simferopol International Airport fly direct to Russia, the children's hospital, which will be a polling station for Sunday's referendum, also has long-established contacts with its Russian counterparts.

The head doctor, Alexander Аstасhоv, is a pro-Russian deputy in the Crimean parliament. 

“We have one or two American doctors who visit each year but we usually have at least one Russian doctor on hand,” Sobol explained, saying the connection reflects Crimea’s close historic and cultural ties to Russia.

Sobol himself comes from a Russophone family. When the Soviet Union collapsed and Crimea became part of the newly independent Ukraine in 1991, Sobol’s parents held on to their Soviet passports for seven years, in the hope that Crimea would rejoin Russia.

Sobol says his father, also a doctor, still resents his small pension from the Ukrainian government. “He worked hard for many years and feels cheated,” he said.

Although Sobol says he is “proud to be Ukrainian”, he also recognises that state jobs are not particularly well paid, claiming that many Crimeans are motivated to join Russia because they want better pay. His net salary for February 2014 was 2,430 Ukrainian hryvnias (180 euros).

Both he and his father, who works in a hospital in a village on the outskirts of Simferopol, have heard rumours that Crimean hospitals are preparing to pay doctors their next pay check in Russian roubles.

When Sobol thinks of his future, he now thinks of leaving Crimea.

“Europe offers hope for the future but Russia offers it immediately,” he said. “For older people, it is hard to think of the future.”

“Even my parents want me to leave,” he added. “It is too unstable here.”

Medical community faces uncertainty

But Serder Seytaptiev, a medical student at Crimea State Medical University in Simferopol, said that joining Russia would be “a big step back” for young doctors.

Seytaptiev explained that medical students in Crimea were trained for the Ukrainian health system, which has a Western-leaning perspective.

“If our university was considered good in Ukraine, in Russia it will be difficult for it to compete with Moscow or Petersburg, and other old universities which have already proved themselves in the Russian Federation” Seytaptiev said.

“Moreover, many people spent money to gain diplomas or special training from Ukrainian institutions, which will now be invalid” he added.

Seytaptiev said that patients would also suffer if Crimea joined Russia, explaining it is a totally different healthcare system.

“The Russian healthcare will seem expensive and difficult to understand for former citizens of Ukraine. Moreover, now patients have to be sent to Moscow or St. Petersburg, which are much further than Kiev”.

As the country headed to the polls on Sunday for a vote that is widely expected to hand a landslide victory to Russia, Seytaptiev expressed concern for the Crimean medical community.

“For me and for all other practicing doctors, it is absolutely unclear what tomorrow will bring us. Right now, everything is up in the air.”

Date created : 2014-03-15

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