Russian Flooding Snaps Volunteers into Action

Protracted flooding of the Amur River has buried swaths of the Russian-Chinese border under water, affecting more than 100 thousand people in roughly 185 towns. As the water approaches Khabarovsk [ru], the number of victims is only poised to rise.

Like other natural disasters to hit Russia in recent years, the flooding along the Amur has prompted a wave of humanitarian relief efforts. Celebrities like Russian singer Nikolay Baskov, donated 300 thousand rubles, have encouraged [ru] this trend.

Flooding along the Amur near Khabarovsk. 18 August 2013, screen capture from YouTube.

Flooding along the Amur near Khabarovsk. 18 August 2013, screen capture from YouTube.

Entertainers, however, aren't the only Russians working to raise awareness and help collect aid for victims. LiveJournal user SPP 43, who calls himself “President FSB,” has promoted food donations in Kirov, writing:

Вот уже третий день в Кирове работает пункт сбора гуманитарной помощи для пострадавших от наводнения на Дальнем Востоке. 31 августа… Собрали за день примерно около тонны гуманитарки.

This is the third day in Kirov of a food collection point for humanitarian aid to victims in the Far East. August 31 … In a day, we collected roughly one ton of humanitarian aid.

Additionally, the Moscow-based Charitable Foundation “Traditions” (In Russian: Благотворительный фонд «Предание») launched an fundraiser to support volunteers working in flood-affected regions.

The most vivid volunteer organization belongs to photojournalist Mitya Aleshkovsky: Amur 13, a crowdfunded volunteer coordination portal. Despite spending over 230 thousand rubles a day, Amur 13's administrators say they have struggled financially to deliver aid and volunteers to the distant region. (Amur 13 will cease operations on September 5, 2013, when the Russian Army will take control of rescue and rebuilding work.)

Dozens of prominent public figures have used Twitter to endorse and promote Aleshkovsky's project, including former Finance Minister Alexey Kurdin:

Give whatever you can to the Amur 13 operation. Help the flood victims!

To understand better the difficulty of transporting air and volunteers, consider the flight from Moscow to Blagoveshchensk, the biggest city in Amur Oblast affected by the floods. It lasts more than 7 hours. Amur 13 was able to acquire from Aeroflot and Transaero 40 free seats for its volunteers on each charter flight to Blagoveshchensk. This has brought the Amur region new volunteers every day for weeks now. According to blogger and Amur-13-member Natalya Malafay, volunteers from Moscow, Yekaterinburg, and even Belgia have all converged in today's humanitarian undertaking.

Amur 13 has boosted its visibility with the cooperation of actors like Gosha Kutsenko, who became popular by appearing in Russian films, like “Night Watch” (2004) and “11 Studies in Beauty” (2012). Once Kutsenko joined Amur 13, online donations to the organization rose noticabley.

One of the Amur 13’s volunteers, apparently en route to the Amur region, wrote proudly on Instagram, for instance:

Летим с Гошей Куценко, командой волонтёров, журналистамии грузом гуманитарки в отдаленные районы.

Flying with Gosha Kutsenko, the team of volunteers, journalists, and a load of humanitarian aid to remote areas.

Other volunteer reports online also celebrate the presence of the celebrity:

Гоша общается с женщиной, она – учитель, эвакуирована вместе с больным мужем.

Gosha is talking to a woman. She is a teacher, evacuated with a sick husband.

Thanks to its popularity, Amur 13 has already collected and transported 7,000 tons of goods to Blagoveshchensk, after collecting more than 2 million rubles online.

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