Alexander Ogorodnikov and “the Island of Hope” for Moscow

Alexander Ogorodnikov had long been known as a Christian prisoner of conscience and human rights activist persecuted by the Soviet totalitarianism, until the more recent Russian economic and moral collapse made him give himself fully to saving young victims of poverty, drug-addiction, violence and crime, neglected or abused by their parents and, ultimately, by the Russian society as a whole. His own path of unprecedented suffering and struggle lead him to taking on the responsibility to save children suffering in the streets of Moscow today.

In 1971 Alexander Ogorodnikov, then a student of Cinematography Institute in Moscow, became an Orthodox Christian, eager to make his faith and understanding the way of practical service to God and his fellow men. His attempt in 1973 to shoot a film about spiritual search of the younger generation in the USSR caused his expulsion from the Institute which meant his career in cinematography, a very prestigious one in the Soviet society, was forever ruined. In 1974-1978 he led an underground seminar on Russian spiritual revival, becoming more and more involved in the Christian and human rights activism, considered a very dangerous subversive force by the authorities of the USSR. Pursued by KGB agents, always on the move, hiding in friends’ apartments, he was finally arrested after a press conference he dared to give in Moscow in August 1978. Alexander Ogorodnikov was initially convicted for 1 year, but his term was afterwards being prolonged over and over again, and he had remained imprisoned continuously until he was surprisingly released by Gorbachov in 1987 due to personal intercession by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. His years of imprisonment he mostly spent in Perm-36 camp, the so called “death-sentenced zone”, often in special punishment cells persecuted for his hunger-strikes and activism for the rights of the incarcerated. While in prison, Alexander Ogorodnikov was convicted anew for “religious and anti-Soviet propaganda” in 1985 for 15 years. His sudden release in 1987 could not have taken place if not for the end of the cold war and breakdown of the Soviet regime.

What then followed were dramatic political changes, economic turmoil and moral decline unseen ever before throughout the history of Russia. More than anyone else, teenagers of the 1990-ies fell prey to the new Russian social woes – overwhelming disillusionment, organized crime, drugs, alcoholism and immorality. After 3 years of intense struggle, in 1995 Alexander Ogorodnikov managed to set up the first private (not state-owned) center and orphanage for girls in Moscow which was symbolically named “the Island of Hope” and is a purely Orthodox Christian institution. Since then 411 girls, victims of poverty, moral decay, crime, drug-addiction, extreme abuse and parental neglect, found help, compassion, support and accommodation on this tiny “Island of Hope” which for many of them became a new warm and loving home, teaching them Orthodox Christian spiritual practices, ethics and conduct, so diametrically opposite to everything they had learnt and experienced before. 27 girls, from 5 to 21 years old, currently (May 2001) live in the orphanage and many more are in many ways taken care of by the center.

In August 2000 the first issue of Alexander Ogorodnikov’s newspaper called “Community – 21st century. Orthodox Christian Review” came out. This newspaper seeks to show the depth of the ancient Russian Orthodox tradition to open-minded, modern and educated intellectuals who are not impressed by the conventional, mainstream clerical and Russian nationalist mass media wrought with chauvinism, ritualism and superstition. Alexander Ogorodnikov’s selfless service these days remains similar to what he was doing under the Soviet regime: it is a day-to-day struggle, misunderstood, frowned upon and even slandered by the indifferent and cynical mediocrity. Authorities still consider him a crazy dissident, a threat to their corrupt power and well-being, and are fiercely campaigning through mass media and in court to smear what Alexander Ogorodnikov and his volunteers are doing and deprive the “Island of Hope” of the premises in Moscow where it is now accommodated. This struggle being long under way, Russian and German volunteers are currently constructing a new house in the countryside (Buzharovo village, Istra region) where the “Island of Hope” center and orphanage would move in if the premises in Moscow are taken away (which now seems to be about to happen).

A thorn in the side of the corrupt Moscow bureaucracy who treat charitable organizations as their own domain and often a source of income, irritating clerical conservatives wary of any open-minded and independent initiative which may imply disobedience and dissent, Alexander Ogorodnikov’s “Island of Hope” center and “Community – 21st century” newspaper survive solely due to selfless service of volunteers and to donations from those who care.

Having no personal connection to any of Alexander Ogorodnikov’s projects, we feel and express deep appreciation of the consciousness transforming work he and his volunteers are doing healing wounds and saving lives of so many suffering and deluded young people. We humbly ask you to consider supporting these projects as a way of truly serving the Whole through serving our fellow human beings who are in real need of help, love and support.

More information about Alexander Ogorodnikov’s “Island of Hope” center and “Community – 21st century” newspaper (in Russian and in German so far) can be found at his web site http://www.21v.ru and at the German web site http://www.kinderheimweb.de You can contact Alexander Ogorodnikov and the “Island of Hope” center by e-mail directly at main@21v.ru for receiving more information in English.

   

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