In Russia’s Provinces, the Doctor Is in (the Streets)

OKULOVKA, Russia — With his mop of white hair and soft surgeon’s hands, Dr. Yuri I. Korovin hardly fits the image of the typical Russian street protester.

But spurred into action by his tiny and shrinking paycheck, Dr. Korovin recently joined colleagues in a strike organized by a newly formed doctors’ union affiliated with Russia’s main opposition politician, Aleksei A. Navalny.

“It’s not good to make money off the sick,” he said wryly in the hospital in Okulovka, a town of about 12,000 people north of Moscow. But, like many other doctors in Russia, he would like to make more.

The strike and street protests by doctors and ambulance medics here were among dozens of labor actions that broke out this spring in Russia over bread-and-butter issues like garbage disposal, poor roads, corrupt local officials and the quality of medical care.

The medical workers’ union, called the Alliance of Doctors, has opened branches in 20 regions of Russia since it formed last summer and has staged about a dozen protests nationwide since then.

For now, few expect the protests to change much, as President Vladimir V. Putin remains broadly popular. But the brush fires of provincial discontent highlight the disconnect between Russia’s chest-thumping rise abroad and its stagnating economy at home. After five years of declining wages, adjusted for inflation, Russians are taking notice.

Russia ranks 73rd in the world in per capita gross domestic product, between the Seychelles and Greece. In one measure of the hard times for many, Russia’s state statistics agency this year released a survey showing that about a third of Russians could not afford a spare pair of shoes for the winter. An additional 21 percent said they could not afford to buy fresh fruit regularly.

“A very natural thing is happening,” Ekaterina Schulmann, a political scientist at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, said in a phone interview. “The worsening economy, the declining real wages, is souring public opinion.”

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