Dmitry Aleshkovsky's Anti-Apathy Crusade

A Russian photojournalist fights injustice and inertia.

Meet the other 100 doers featured in our GOOD 100 issue, on newsstands now.

In 1989, the West got its first real glimpse at how hopeless things could be for Russian youth through the popular feature film Little Vera, about a young woman searching for herself amid the chaos of her everyday life. The picture was grim: You did as you were told. Everything was out of your hands. Forget changing your environment. You didn’t even have a change of clothes. The movie’s heroine, Vera, wore the same striped v-neck in nearly every scene.

The fashion options have grown vastly since then, but the sentiment of powerlessness prevails in much of Russia today. Voter turnout is dismal. Corruption is rampant. Apathy reigns supreme. But a particular stratum of Russia’s youth is careening off in the opposite direction. Armed with mobile devices, tapped into social media, and possessing the boundless energy that can only be possessed by 20-somethings, they are determined to reform Russia, bit by bit. At the forefront of this new movement is a 28-year-old former photojournalist, Moscow native, and anti-apathy crusader, Dmitry “Mitya” Aleshkovsky. His name has become synonymous with a new form of Russian youth engagement that is non-mandatory, apolitical, and performed for free. His organization, Nuzhna Pomosh (which translates to “Need Help”) consists of more than 40 volunteers who publish stories on its website to draw attention to projects that need public support.

In Russia, Nuzhna Pomosh is widely known for saving Itomlinskaya Hospital in the Tver Oblast about 100 miles northwest of Moscow. It was April 2013, and the hospital, with a lone doctor serving patients from the 112 villages in the region, was struggling to stay alive. In a country with no small share of high profile-billionaires, somehow no one seemed to be able—or willing—to do anything. No one, that is, except for Nuzhna Pomosh, which over the course of several months collected enough donations to furnish the hospital with new equipment, furniture, and an ambulance. The hospital was saved.

The weight of every project Nuzhna Pomosh supports ultimately falls on Aleshkovsky’s shoulders. Thankfully, his energy is boundless. “My day is very simple. I work nonstop, around the clock. ... Every problem we handle becomes my personal problem,” he says. Aleshkovsky draws inspiration from his lineage. “My great-grandfather was in a Stalin camp,” he says, “and upon leaving, he said that if there is an opportunity to leave alive and well, then it would serve every decent person to spend some time in prison. He was like granite. He was a person who was impossible to break. Those kinds of people inspire me.
I understand that only being this way—in wholly not retreating from their ideals—can you do something for your country.”

As recently as two years ago, Aleshkovsky was a photojournalist for TASS, Russia’s largest news agency. But the catastrophic flooding of Krymsk, the southern city that was essentially submerged in 2012, forever changed the trajectory of his career. Aleshkovsky and a group of fellow journalists flew there almost immediately after the severity of the flooding became apparent, medical supplies and food in tow. The scale of the disaster floored him. He ended up staying for two weeks and becoming a de facto volunteer coordinator. “It was the harshest vacation of my life,” he says dryly. Aleshkovsky barely slept during those weeks, but the experience climaxed with an epiphany. “I realized, dammit, that it’s possible to be very effective,” he recalls. And so, despite his parents’ concern that he was leaving behind a promising journalism career, he started Nuzhna Pomosh.

When Aleshkovsky’s organization selects a project to support, it commissions qualified journalist to write about it. The idea is that a compelling story will move the reader to donate. Anyone who has crowdfunded a cause-driven project is familiar with the process, but in Russia, where the government is notoriously suspicious of volunteerism, the climate is much less hospitable than most places. “In essence, if you want to walk a granny across the street, you have to get insurance for yourself, for the granny, buy yourself a ticket back, and join some kind of organization, to get stamped to get approval to walk a granny across the street,” Aleshkovsky says of the difficulty of grassroots work in his country. “It’s that kind of gibberish.” In July of 2012, for example, the Russian Public Chamber proposed a bill that would regulate the country’s volunteer movement. Thankfully, Aleshkovsky and a few other charity workers managed to prevent it from getting passed.

But as hard as it is to get things done in contemporary Russia, Aleshkovsky still feels inspired. “In this country, there remain people who still give a damn,” he says, “who live honestly, who live not for their own pocket, but for their soul.”

Photo by Victor Gorbachev.

via Douglas Muth / Flickr

Sin City is doing something good for its less fortunate citizens as well as those who've broken the law this month. The city of Las Vegas, Nevada will drop any parking ticket fines for those who make a donation to a local food bank.

A parking ticket can cost up to $100 in Las Vegas but the whole thing can be forgiven by bringing in non-perishable food items of equal or greater value to the Parking Services Offices at 500 S. Main Street through December 16.

The program is designed to help the less fortunate during the holidays.

Keep Reading Show less

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
via / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less
Photo by HAL9001 on Unsplash

The U.K. is trying to reach its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, but aviation may become the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.K. by that same year. A new study commissioned by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and conducted at the Imperial College London says that in order for the U.K. to reach its target, aviation can only see a 25% increase, and they've got a very specific recommendation on how to fix it: Curb frequent flyer programs.

Currently, air travel accounts for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, however that number is projected to increase for several reasons. There's a growing demand for air travel, yet it's harder to decarbonize aviation. Electric cars are becoming more common. Electric planes, not so much. If things keep on going the way they are, flights in the U.K. should increase by 50%.

Nearly every airline in the world has a frequent flyer program. The programs offer perks, including free flights, if customers get a certain amount of points. According to the study, 70% of all flights from the U.K. are taken by 15% of the population, with many people taking additional (and arguably unnecessary) flights to "maintain their privileged traveler status."

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet