By István Gábor Takács

The Andrey Rylkov Foundation (ARF) is the only organization providing needle exchange for drug users in Moscow. Their mission is to promote and develop humane drug policy based on tolerance, protection of health, dignity and human rights. My organization, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union assists them with video advocacy.

It has been known for decades that providing sterile injecting equipment and substitution treatment are the most effective ways of preventing HIV and other blood borne infections among injecting drug users (WHO, UNODC, UNAIDS on syringe exchange and on substitution treatment). In Russia however, where the HIV epidemic is one of the fastest growing in the world right now, more than a million people live with HIV, and eight out of ten people are infected through the sharing of needles.  Yet, syringe exchange is not supported and substitution treatment is illegal.

Not long ago the ARF started to carry out syringe distribution anyway: “We decided for ourselves that everything which is not forbidden is allowed. Theres no law forbidding syringe exchange programs, there’s no such law in Moscow. This means that we can carry out these programs” says Anya Sarang, director of ARF. The outreach workers of the Foundation, many of them former drug users, walk the streets of Moscow with their backpacks and give out needles, condoms and information, and visit drug users in their homes and around pharmacies where users buy the legal opiate drugs they inject.

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union aims at stregthening harm reduction development in Hungary and internationally, and so we produced a short 20 minute video and a 2 minute long teaser video in seven languages for the Andrey Rylkov Foundation, in order to help them in their advocacy and fundraising efforts. If you also think, like we do, that their life saving work must be supported, please consider donating to them, or share one of these films with your friends.


Watch the full film here.

In February 2012 the ARF’s website was banned in Russia, because it provided information on methadone treatment and this is not tolerated by the Russian Anti Drug Agency. The HCLU now helps by hosting their website abroad, and when we had the chance in Vienna, we asked the head of the Federal Narcotics Service of Russia. why they needed to ban the site. Mr. Ivanov replied that the ARF was selling methadone on the site which is an illegal activity (they are not). The ARF is considering suing the Agency because of these claims. You can watch our film on the issue here.

Video Facts:

  • Title: Giving Hope – The Andrey Rylkov Foundation
  • Date Created: 2 April, 2012
  • Length: 2:00 minutes (trailer) and 20:00 minutes (full video)
  • Who Made It: The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union
  • Location: Russia
  • Human Rights Issues: Access to prevention of HIV, medication and treatment

Goal: The ARF is using our videos currently in their campaign at Global Giving. They are fundraising for a minivan, with which they could provide mobile health services for 1000 Moscow drug users. This way they could much more effectively reach out to drug users and provide them with even more health and social services.

Primary Audience: The general public, that is to be informed about the situation of drug users and HIV/AIDS in Russia and to become potential funders for the ARF.

Message: The HIV situation among drug users in Russia is dire. The government does nothing to prevent the infections, it does not support science based prevention or harm reduction. There is a small group in Moscow that tries to save the lives of drug users by giving them sterile needles and also to contact them about health and social services.

Content/Style/Voices: Interviews with the members of the Foundation, drug users and experts, and footage of the outreach.

Did You Know?

The authorities in Moscow forbid the hospitals to burn the used needles that the Andrey Rylkov Foundation would collect from the streets and the users. This is why the ARF only distributes the needles.

Andrey Rylkov was a Russian drug user activist and founder of the “FrontAIDS” movement, which demanded HIV treatment that was only available for very few people, and not at all for drug users in Russia at the beginning of our century (in 2004 only 1300 people received ARV treatment out of the 56 thousand in need). They conducted brave actions that often ended in arrests of the activists, to raise media attention and public awareness to their issue. They chained themselves to the mayor’s office in Kaliningrad or carried coffins in St. Petersburg.

After Andrey Rylkov died in 2006, to honor his memory, Anya Sarang named her new organization after him. Anya is an internationally acknowledged human rights and drug reform activist. She spoke before Bill Clinton at the opening of the 2010 AIDS conference, and in 2011 she received the “Chrystal of Hope” award at the Life Ball in Vienna. This is how she writes about Andrey Rylkov:

“Above all, he remains a symbol of hope that drug policies can be humane and effective, that people should not be punished by sickness and death for drug use, that the medical system can work well to treat rather than maim, that law enforcement agencies can defend and protect, not degrade, beat and rob, and that the people affected by drug problems have sufficient forces and capabilities to protect themselves and their loved ones. This is what we are working to achieve.”

Suggested Resources

Join the Conversation

Do you know of other successful needle exchange programs in countries where the government is hostile or un-supportive of such efforts? Do you have any ideas on how to put pressure on the Russian authorities to change their approach towards drug users? Do you think there are other ways or channels through which we could call attention to the Russian situation and the struggle of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation?


István Gábor Takács is the Video Advocacy Program Director of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union. He is a psychologist by degree and a self thought videographer. He attended the 2007 Witness video advocacy training that started him at his video advocacy career. Since then he produced almost 300 online videos, mostly in the field of drug policy reform and harm reduction advocacy. You can read the picture illustrated portfolio of the HCLU’s 2011 video advocacy activities here.

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