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#4 - JRL 7244
Sunday Times (UK)
June 29, 2003
Dostoevsky's descendants beg for relief from their poverty
Mark Franchetti, Moscow

THEY are the descendants of one of Russias greatest writers, but the great-grandchildren of Fyodor Dostoevsky are so poor they have been forced to mount a public appeal for money.

Dmitry Dostoevsky, 57, and his sister Tatyana, 68, are among the six living relatives of the celebrated 19th-century author of Crime and Punishment. Last week Dostoevsky, who earns less than 100 a month as an unlicensed taxi driver, placed an advertisement in a Russian newspaper asking for donations to help him to look after his bedridden sister, who survives on an invalidity pension of less than 40 a month.

We just cant cope any more, said Dostoevsky, who lives with his sister, her alcoholic son and a teenage grandson in a dingy two-bedroom high-rise flat on the outskirts of St Petersburg. We raised what we could to pay for a nurse to look after Tatyana but the money ran out after only a month.

I have asked for help from the local authorities and even the city governor, but to no avail. We are desperate.

Although they are the authors closest living relatives, the brother and sister have never benefited from sales of books such as The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov, which run into the millions.

Soviet authorities disapproved of the authors strong religious convictions and stripped the family of his books and other personal possessions including a Bible he wanted to be passed on to his male descendants that is now in a museum in Moscow. His great-grandson has tried to have it returned to the family but his requests have been denied.

The house in St Petersburg that the writer left to his children was also taken away by the state and turned into a museum. Its managers recently gave a one-off payment of 15 to help care for Tatyana.

The extreme poverty of the Dostoevskys is in sharp contrast to the millions of pounds spent by the Kremlin to spruce up St Petersburg for its 300th anniversary celebrations last month, which were attended by leaders including Tony Blair and President George W Bush.

While many of Russias second citys most famous palaces were restored, little has been done to improve the lives of ordinary citizens. The Dostoevskys problems are far from unusual: pensioners have been among the hardest hit by the economic turmoil that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union more than a decade ago.

Many retired teachers, scientists and doctors struggle to survive on a monthly pension that is barely enough to pay for a meal in a restaurant.

Some make ends meet by collecting empty bottles, others by selling prescription medicines to drug addicts who mix them into powerful cocktails.

Fyodor Dostoevskys writings add a particular poignancy to the fate of his family. Dostoevsky wrote beautifully about the poor, said Tatyana, who is too sick to leave her flat. He really felt for them. But I think even he would be shocked if he saw how his descendants live now. Sometimes I cannot afford to pay even for bread.

And its not just us. All over Russia there are people living in the same poverty described by my great-grandfather and nobody cares.

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