The Potemkin Village, that tried and true manifestation of Russian bureaucratic ingenuity whose place in popular lore has been cemented for centuries, has been updated for the 21st century.
The Potemkin hospital.
A hospital in Sevastopol, the largest city on the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea seized by Russia in 2014, was eager to show off its freshly renovated operating room in its new children’s ward earlier this month.
According to the Crimean news website Primechaniya, the city’s head, Governor Sergei Menyeilo, and the chief of the city’s health department, Yury Voskanian, visited the facility on May 18 to dedicate the new surgery.
The problem was, according to a facility staffer quoted by Primechaniya, that the renovation for the new operating room used up all the funds allocated for the project, and there was no money left over for new equipment.
The hospital’s chief ordered that machinery and equipment should be taken from other units in the hospital, and other facilities in the city, and placed in the new ward for the dedication ceremony, the staffer told the news site.
After the ceremony finished, employees quickly returned the equipment to where it came from, the site said.
“They took what they could. Something from the First Hospital. Something from the maternity hospital. The air cleaner didn’t work at all; we don’t know where they got it from, but then they took it away. Oxygen tanks from the maternity hospital. And then taken away,” another employee told the news site. “And the new operating [room] is now closed again.”
E-mails sent by RFE/RL to the main address listed on the hospital’s website weren’t immediately answered.
Since controversially annexing the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014, Moscow has struggled to fully incorporate the territory into the Russian economy. The peninsula has experienced electricity outages owing to the downing of high-tension power lines leading from the Ukrainian mainland. Moscow is working to install undersea cables to provide more reliable electricity.
Ukraine has also imposed a near total blockade on the territory for the transport of goods, forcing goods to be imported from Russia via ferry across the Кеrch Strait.
Moscow is building a multibillion-dollar bridge to resolve that issue, although that’s not scheduled to open until December 2018.
Residents’ frustrations with the economic woes boiled over this week in a tense meeting between Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and a crowd of pensioners who demanded their pensions be indexed to inflation. To the chagrin of locals, and the amusement of many Internet watchers, the encounter didn’t end well after Medvedev candidly said there wasn’t money in the budget, and then gave an upbeat farewell to the crowd.
The term Potemkin Village, meanwhile, has its origins in Crimea itself, dating to the tsarist era of Catherine the Great, when, during her 1787 visit to the region, one of her aides, Grigory Potemkin, purportedly erected fake villages to impress the Russian regent.
Some Russian and Western historians have cast doubt on whether the incident in fact happened, though the term has persisted. It also didn’t stop the Primechaniya news site from sarcastically suggesting that it was high time for residents to get used to “Voskanian’s Potemkin Villages.”