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City Closes Major Moscow Soup Kitchen

November 24, 1994

MOSCOW (AP) _ Moscow’s only full-time soup kitchen has been forced to stop feeding the hungry because it hasn’t greased the palms of greedy city officials, the kitchen’s director charged.

The soup kitchen, which received much of its funding from U.S. Christian organizations and fed some 500 people a day, was closed by Moscow’s sanitation department on Nov. 17.

Dozens of kitchen regulars protested the closure Thursday outside the lower house of parliament. One banner read: ″They Have Taken Away Our Last Hope.″

Kitchen administrators say city officials pressured the sanitation department into closing the kitchen so the city could sell the space to a wealthy business venture.

″There is no way for charity organizations like ours to survive under corruption like this,″ said kitchen director Alexander Ogorodnikov. ″The city just wants money, or bribes. And we can’t pay. We won’t pay.″

A spokeswoman for the city’s sanitation department confirmed the closure but said she had no further details and could not comment on Ogorodnikov’s charges.

The city listed violations, such as an employee operating without a medical certificate. It also announced a rent increase, demanding 40 million rubles a year, or $12,500 - about what a commercial restaurant would pay. This would be 10 times the current rent.

Ogorodnikov said sanitary inspectors had found no violations in an inspection three weeks before the closing.

″Take a look at any public restroom or market in this city, then look at our soup kitchen and say it’s unsanitary,″ said Daniel Ogan, an employee of the kitchen.

The kitchen was established in May 1991 by the Christian Democratic Union, a small political party with ties to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Funded largely by U.S. Christian organizations, it has also attracted the attention of U.S. congressmen. Sen. James Jeffords, R- Vt., and Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., have volunteered at the kitchen.

The kitchen has served more than 400,000 people in 3 1/2 years, Ogorodnikov said, including Moscow’s growing numbers of homeless, elderly people who cannot afford to eat on their meager pensions and refugees from former Soviet republics.

″No American authorities would ever get away with this,″ said Ogorodnikov, a former dissident who spent more than eight years in Soviet prisons for refusing to renounce his Christian activism.

Lidia Baranova, a homeless woman who frequented the soup kitchen, clutched her tattered coat as she berated the city.

″Who else will help us now?″ she said. ″If even charitable organizations cannot afford rent in this city, who can?″