Man who exposed appalling COVID hospital conditions explains his decision to leave Russia

Shortly before leaving Russia in a hurry for Georgia, Sergei Samborsky visited the office of the Presidential Commissioner for Human Rights, Tatyana Moskalkova.

Tomsk resident Samborsky made headlines last month after posting a shocking video of appalling conditions inside the “red zone” of the Siberian city’s largest COVID-19 hospital. In a telephone interview after a voluntary exile, he told RFE/RL that “reliable” sources in Moskalkova’s office had advised him to leave the country immediately.

“People there who know about it told me not to stay in Russia,” Samborsky said, adding that he was told it would be “very dangerous” to stay.

“I can’t say that I felt the slightest sign of it. I was not followed and received no direct threats,” he said. “But, first of all, the source was reliable. And, second, events all around me were taking a dangerous turn.”

Among these events, Samborsky said, were several indications from the Tomsk prosecutor’s office that made it clear that they objected to his filing a legal complaint against the hospital directly with the Investigative Committee of Moscow – in fact, going over their heads.

“I went to Moscow because I knew the local law enforcement had ties to the medical authorities and they wouldn’t punish anyone,” Samborsky said. “They knew all about the [alleged] offences. So I went to Moscow to tell them the truth.”

In late October, Samborsky learned that his 84-year-old grandmother was on a ventilator in intensive care at Tomsk Infectious Diseases Hospital No. 2. He was refused permission to see her and learned from another patient that she was not being treated. for properly.

He dressed in personal protective equipment and made his way into the “red zone” of the hospital, claiming he was a therapist from another ward. He found his dying grandmother lying in a pool of urine and feces, covered in vomit, with an oxygen mask strapped unnecessarily to her forehead.

His video of the situation (above) caused massive public outcry and he took legal action against hospital director Aleksandr Kholopov, a controversial former head of the Tomsk Oblast health department , for negligence and mismanagement that led directly to Samborsky’s death. Grandmother.

Samborsky said sources in Moskalkova’s office said he would be arrested “directly upon arrival” if he returned to Tomsk.

“And the day before,” he added, “I received a letter from the Ministry of Health. I specify that I never wrote to them myself, that I did not send them any complaints. But for Some reason the bureaucrats decided to respond to. The point of their letter was that orders had been issued to resolve the issues, but generally they found no major violations.

“The conclusion? Nothing was going to change – and they were going to sue me with everything they had for breaking the health regime. So others wouldn’t try to do the same.”

The day before his planned return to Tomsk, Samborsky instead left Russia for Georgia.

Samborsky says he doesn’t regret what he did.

“For three days, before I was exposed and deported, I managed to comfort my grandmother and make things at least a little easier for her,” he said. “I have no regrets about it. Of course, I didn’t think it would end with my forced emigration. But I don’t regret it. I would do the same again.”

His only regret, he says, is having filed a complaint with the authorities.

“I see it was unnecessary,” he said, adding that it was naive to think that Moscow would have a different view of the situation in Tomsk or that President Vladimir Putin did not know what the circumstances were in distant regions. to like.

“The Investigative Committee just sent my complaints to the investigators in Tomsk,” he said. “That is the source of the danger for me.”

Samborsky, a welder by profession, said there was nothing left for him in Tomsk after his grandmother died and his employer fired him because of the hospital scandal. In Georgia, he says he felt welcomed and was able to quickly find a job in a provincial town.

“But I don’t feel safe yet,” he added. “I can’t say for sure that I won’t have to move again.”

RFE/RL senior correspondent Robert Coalson contributed to this report.