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Pssst. Wanna buy a kidney? Why three Russians have decided to sell their organs to pay off their debts

Photo: Sebastian Kaulitzki / Alamy / Vida Press

Many Russians are saddled with an enormous amount of debt. The number of mortgages alone currently being paid off is more than 3 million. Outstanding loans now amount to roughly 10 trillion rubles ($143 billion), and almost 1 trillion rubles of this debt is past due. When people get desperate, they're willing to go to extremes. The website Takie Dela recently told the stories of three Russians who have decided to sell their kidneys, in order to pay off their debts. Meduza summarizes that report here.

Vadim is 33 years old and lives in Kemerovo, in southwest Siberia. A year ago, after Vadim's father died, he began to drink. Then he was fired from his job as a rescue worker at the Ministry of Emergency Situations, where he served as a brigade commander and successfully saved the lives of several miners. His wife left him and took their son with her.

One day she just left. She didn't pick up the phone, but I knew she was at her sister's. So, I stabbed to death her sister's dog, out of anger. I love her, because she is my Lyubka, my sweetheart. And my boy. We take him to a speech therapist, and maybe we'll teach him to read there.

Vadim spent 9 months in a hospital, recovering from his alcoholism. He was released without any money. Because his house had been bought on a mortgage and all the appliances were purchased on credit, Vadim has around 1 million rubles ($14,300) in debt. In order to repay these debts, he has decided to sell one of his kidneys for 5 million rubles ($73,000). (He says he's ready to bargain on the price.) He believes, by selling his kidney, he'll be able to start a business and get back his wife.

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27-year-old Nicholas is a businessman from Tambov, a city about 300 miles southeast of Moscow. He wants to sell one of his kidneys for 1.5 million rubles ($21,500). His construction company couldn't compete with the low-cost labor of Asian migrants. As a result, he owes about half a million rubles ($7,100).

The kidney idea came to me spontaneously. The human body can do anything—some are born with one kidney, and it's alright—it starts to grow and does the work of two kidneys… If I go through with the operation, I won't tell my relatives. Nobody even suspects that things have gotten so bad. My wife only knows about one line of credit, which we put in her name. The other loan with the real debt was taken out in her grandmother's name, in secret. I can't even get loans in my own name anymore.

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Olga's husband was in a car collision and can no longer work. Twenty-four years old, Olga lives in Rostov and has to do the work of two people, all while providing for the couple's two children.

After four months, my mother chased us out of the house. Basically, we disrupted her private life… So, we rented an apartment at 10,000 rubles [$143] per month. We have borrowed and borrowed from all our acquaintances. We've already run up 100,000 rubles [$1,430] in debt. Wages here are 4,000–6,000 rubles [$57–$85]—there is nothing else.

Olga says she isn't telling her husband that she plans to sell her kidney for 1 million rubles ($14,300). She's afraid he won't allow it.

Even if I only live for another five years, I will buy a home for my children and put my husband back on his feet. Who is there to do this now, if not me?

“The sale of organs is prohibited everywhere except Iran. [In Russia,] only blood relatives can donate a kidney. Using other people's documents, a ‘volunteer’ can sneak in, and doctors are asked to look the other way. They'll transfer money to a bank account that can only be accessed after the operation. But there's no written contract, so there's a high risk of losing your kidney and getting no money,” said transfusion specialist Andrei Zvonkov.
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