Around Moscow – in a wheelchair

Celebrities and journalists have joined people with disabilities for a marathon through the streets of Moscow. How wheelchair-friendly was the capital to them?

­They say if you have never had it you cannot miss it.

Many people gathered for the wheelchair marathon in Moscow center have never taken a step in their life. Others are new to the wheelchair experience, and miss their legs. Both groups are willing to give volunteers a chance to wheel themselves from the Hermitage Garden to the Bolshoi Theater to show how difficult it is to be confined to a wheelchair in the city of Moscow.

Marina Suvorova’s heart and lungs gave out on her and transformed her life.

It is difficult to speak about the future because the disease develops rapidly. Last year I could walk without any help. Two years ago I was an absolutely healthy person,” Marina told RT.

Now Marina never goes down to the subway as she cannot breathe there. Nor does she go to the city centre.  

When I am outdoors my husband always helps me. I prefer not to go to the centre of the city because I know how difficult it is. I don’t even try to do it,” she says.

­Subway and buses are nightmares

­The event organizers say if they had one ultimate wish for change it would be a transformation of public transportation.

We have to do something with the subway,” urges Anastasia Chukovskaya, one of the event organizers. “It is absolutely impossible to use it when you are in a wheelchair. It’s impossible to use it when you have a baby. It is very difficult, it is tough, it is awful, it is humiliating! It must not be like that!

The thin metal rails a person in a wheelchair has to ascend or descend to enter the subway require amazing amounts of upper body strength to maneuver. Something a sick person might not have an abundance of.

Five years ago Rustam Zamalitdinov broke his legs. They never healed properly. And now he cannot walk.

Since I have got the electric wheelchair, my life has become easier. I can go outside because it makes the sidewalks easier to use. But most shops have no entrances for people on wheelchairs. I can’t even get a passport photo taken!” says Rustam who also seems to avoid using the public transport.

When it comes to the subway, in our district, I need a bus to get there and few buses have special entrances, so sometimes I don’t even know if I can make it there and back,” he adds.

­Three, two, one – wheel!

­RT’s Lindsay France took one of the wheelchairs to herself. But life turned out harder than expected.

You really can’t move very quickly in any direction – especially in the city. It is a lot harder than I thought it would be,” says Lindsay quickly losing all the fun.

When the marathon finally reaches its destination at the Bolshoi Theater, almost an hour has elapsed. Lindsay’s only consolation during her ride was the help she got from the people who rushed to help her maneuver the sidewalks and get down onto the streets.

If it had not been for them, my independence would have been completely and totally compromised here in Moscow,” sighs Lindsay.

The marathon attracted actresses, theater directors and many other volunteers who also wished to see what it was like to have no legs in this stretch of the city.

We need to help other people,” said actress Ingeborga Dapkunaite. “We are doing this not to blame somebody. We are doing this to show that there is a great deal of work to be done and to ask for this work to be done.

The stones, the sewer lids… it never seemed to end. The city’s government makes many a promise to help the disabled: more wheelchair friendly buses by 2014, better access to the metro by 2018. But as these people sit and wait, hope is not far away.

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