‘Letter to Obama’ Gets Veteran a Roof
Published: May 11, 2011 (Issue # 1655)
At the height of the celebrations of yet another anniversary of the end of World War II, a desperate local pensioner brought the poverty of Russia’s veterans into the international spotlight by sending an appeal to U.S. President Barack Obama asking the American leader to put a roof over his head.
Each year on May 9, the date Russia marks as the end of World War II, also known as Victory Day, there is no shortage of words of gratitude for those who helped defeat fascism. There is also no deficit in promises coming from the country’s officials at all levels, right up to President Dmitry Medvedev, to improve the quality of life of war veterans. One such specific promise that came from Medvedev included a pledge to provide all war veterans with their own apartments.
St. Petersburg pensioner and war veteran Anton Karavanets, 83, who lives in a rented apartment, believed Medvedev’s word and spent the last two years writing requests and banging on the doors of the local authorities in the hope that the promise would actually take shape, especially considering his venerable age. Karavanets’ hope gave out shortly before this year’s Victory Day, prompting what the pensioner himself described as a gesture of despair: The old man, who saved the lives of several U.S. soldiers during World War II, wrote a letter to Barack Obama asking if his country would perhaps take an interest in his plight.
At the end of 1945, Karavanets took part in a military operation in China, liberating U.S. prisoners of war from a concentration camp.
“I live the life of a pauper, I feel redundant in my own country, the country I once risked my life for,” Karavanets wrote. “Yet another anniversary since the end of the Second World War is approaching, there are fewer and fewer of us, war survivors, left…What I am wondering is if American war veterans have the sort of problems that I am going through. Maybe I could get in contact with the U.S. soldiers that we rescued from that camp? Perhaps you think I am going insane, but I know that you can work wonders. I am 83 years old, but I am full of energy and I want to enjoy life. My country obviously does not need me, so maybe your country would be sympathetic toward my plight?”
Karavanets submitted his letter to the U.S. Consulate General in St. Petersburg.
Karavanets’ desperate letter, which risks embarrassing the local authorities on an international level, provoked an immediate reaction from Smolny. Within days of the news about the pensioner’s appeal to Obama leaking out, Alexander Rzhanenkov, head of City Hall’s Social Care Committee, called a news conference to announce that the local government is offering the veteran a one-room apartment in an elderly people’s dormitory on 2nd Sovietskaya Ulitsa. The flat cannot be privatized or inherited by the tenant’s relatives.
Rzhanenkov, who has met the veteran in person to make the offer, said the pensioner “appeared interested in the proposal and may soon visit the apartment to make his final judgment.”
“We took a decision to offer an apartment to the veteran to allow this honorable man to enjoy a healthy and happy life,” Rzhanenkov told reporters at a news conference on May 6.
“We will give all our support to the old man,” the official added.
A native of the Republic of Buryatia, Karavanents moved to St. Petersburg in 2001 after he survived a cancer operation and sold his flat. The veteran chose St. Petersburg in order to join his son, who has a family of his own. However, upon arriving in the city, Anton Karavanets decided to live separately, as he did not want to burden his son. The pensioner, who gets a monthly pension of 25,000 rubles ($900), rents an apartment on Ulitsa Reshetnikova.