My Friend from a Care Home - a new documentary from BBC News Russian


BBC World Service

“At first I lived in orphanage N28, then I was transferred to residential institution N22, and then Arina Muratova took me to her place,” says 27-year-old Nina, a resident of a care home for people with learning disabilities (or, in Russian abbreviation, a PNI). A new documentary from BBC News Russian, My Friend from a Care Home, now published (available with English subtitles) on the service’s YouTube channel and other social-media platforms, looks at how, as a result of the pandemic, Nina managed to leave a closed institution and live a regular life in a Moscow apartment.

In April 2020, during the coronavirus lockdown, officials responsible for overseeing Russia’s care home system for people with learning disabilities took the unprecedented step of allowing residents to move out and stay with friends or volunteer charity workers. Nina was one of the few who managed to take advantage of this opportunity and move in with Arina, a 30 year-old professional.

My Friend From A Care Home is a story of how two young women have lived for almost a year in these new conditions; what such living meant for both Nina and Arina; and what challenges this new experience creates for existing arrangements and norms.

“When the epidemic subsided a little, it became clear that the people, whom [our] foundation had moved from the care homes to apartments for the duration of the quarantine, did not want to return. We started thinking about getting a permission for them to stay where they are,” says Ivan Rozhansky, director of the Life Path Foundation.

Following in the footsteps of Nina and Arina, the BBC documentary explores the possibilities that accompanied living offers to a person with disabilities. One of the main factors here is the ability for them to maintain and develop close ties with others, and to maintain their own identity.

As Maria Sisneva from Stop PNI explains in the film, people living in care homes often do not know basic things - how to find the nearest pharmacy, how to use the public transport, how to call an ambulance, what markings on goods indicate. For the first time in her life, Nina had to take care of herself on her own: shopping for groceries, preparing food, washing clothes, cleaning the apartment. In the residential institution, they did it all for her.

Nina, who reads by syllables and does not count well, began to study mathematics. It’s not easy for her to study, but she always looks forward to the classes, realising for the first time in her life that she needs mathematics, for example, in order to do the shopping on her own.

“The main advantage of care homes is safety,” argues Anton Klyuchev, director of PNI N22. “Professionals work with the residents, they know exactly how to help and support them, how to communicate, how to care. The average age of our residents is 57, half of them are completely dependent on somebody to help them.”

As they try to help take people out of these care homes for good, charities are faced with the fact that in these institutions the residents recognised as disabled, such as Nina, are deprived of the right to independently decide where they live. Their guardian is often the head of the care home. In order for Nina to finally terminate her relationship with the institution, she needs a new guardian who will be prepared to listen to her choice.

Russia’s draft law on distributed custody is being finalised in the country’s parliament, the State Duma. While there is currently no law on this, Arina has decided to take custody of Nina. The BBC documentary follows her in this process.

Arina is still trying to figure out what role she plays in Nina’s life. She does not want to be a mother to her, although she understands that in Nina’s eyes she is much more than just a friend. “This is perhaps the most difficult thing because it is important to treat Nina as an adult. But sometimes you want to say something that makes you sound like a kindergarten teacher,” Arina admits.

“I won't go to the care home, no,” Nina says to Arina. The thought of returning there makes the girl hysterical. In the final frames of the documentary, Nina admits that Arina is her family, and adds: “With such a woman - nowhere else! Only to be with her. Together.”

The author of the documentary, BBC journalist Zlata Onufrieva, met Nina and Arina four years ago, when she herself joined, as a volunteer, a project to help adults with developmental disabilities living in closed institutions.

According to various estimates, between 155,000 and 161,000 people live in Russia’s neuropsychiatric care homes.

My Friend From A Care Home is available for viewing on the BBC News Russian YouTube channel, as well as via VKontakte and Facebook. BBC News Russian also connects with its audiences via Instagram,, Telegram and Twitter.

BBC News Russian is part of BBC World Service.

February 18, 2021 3:15am ET by BBC World Service  

, ,

  Shortlink to this content:


Latest Press Releases