Russia’s rising retirement age: six real stories

The Russian government’s move to raise the retirement age is encountering a lot of public discontent. Here, six Russian citizens tell us why they're against the reform. 

Anastasia Geyn
27 July 2018

Photo: Andry Markison / Flickr. All rights reserved. On 19 July 2018, Russia’s State Duma reviewed and accepted draft legislation on increasing the retirement age. The retirement age for men will be raised from 60 to 65, and for women from 55 to 63. This initiative has caused discontent across the whole country. Some cities have already held public actions, and on 28 July a nationwide protest is planned.

I spoke with six Russian citizens who will be among the first to experience the effects of pension reform. These are men (born around 1959-1963) and women born around 1964-1968, who will reach retirement age in several years time. Here, they share their life stories and opinions on the pension reform.

Viktor Moshkin: “Who will need me if I fail the medical examination?”

I live in Ekaterinburg, and I will soon be 55. I work as an engineer in the Sverdlovsk Regional Radio and Television Broadcast Centre, a telecommunications service provider. My duties include working with electrical installations and devices, servicing the radio and TV broadcasting equipment, and working in increased risk environments. I work under considerable pressure and I am now experiencing certain health problems. I was hoping to retire at 60.

Previously I worked at high altitudes, however I had to stop because of the health issues – there are younger people who can do this. Of course, I would have liked to retire after working five more years. However, it turns out that I will now have to wait twice as long. The main problem is that each year the company employees have to undergo a medical examination. With age, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep up with the health requirements. Who will want me if I fail the examination? Finding a job at 55 is impossible. They keep telling us that workers are wanted everywhere. But what kind of workers? Guards, janitors? You need to have your health for those jobs too.


Viktor Moshkin. My colleagues are also upset about the pension reform. I haven’t seen anyone who agrees with it. Perhaps it is all the same for the deputies at the State Duma – their job is to sit in parliament. But our job is a physical one.

Marina Tsai: “Despair – that’s what I’m feeling at the moment”

I’m 51 and I live in St Petersburg. I am a designer in a small company. I was planning to retire in four years. I find it difficult to move around because of arthritis in my knees, and one of my eyes is very short-sighted. However, I haven’t been categorised as having a disability. Despair – that’s what I’m feeling at the moment.

In the 1990s, we found ourselves in a state of constant learning because the new market economy was emerging. Forty years later we are no longer needed anywhere

I started work right after graduating from the university, and I currently have 27 years of working experience. I love my work, but I am not sure if I’ll be able to keep my position in the next few years. If I lose my job, I have no one to rely on. It is also most unfortunate that our generation became employable during the crises of 1997-1998, and we were unable to save any money. We were out of work! We went through a lot in our lives. Most of us are childless and without families. For example, I was not able to build a family. My husband used to tell me: “With a life like this, we can’t have children.” We eventually got divorced. I have no one to rely on.

Ekaterina Denina: “My father will not live to see his pension”

Our whole family will suffer because of this reform. We live in Bryansk, my father Sergey turned 55 this March, and my mother Valentina is now 54. On 1 July, our whole family went out to join the strike against raising the retirement age. I also wrote a letter to the Presidential Administration. We understand that our father will not live to see his pension. He constantly has to be hospitalised because of his condition and his job, and we are praying for him to still be alive by the time he’s 60. My mother had to start working as a janitor, but her joint pain is so strong that she can barely sleep at night. And the government is asking them to keep working.

My father is an Afghan War veteran, he has certificates and rewards. After the military service he went to work in the railway industry, however because of the reform, he is now no longer a worker of Russian Railways, but rather an employee of a private company. It appears that a war veteran, who all of his life worked on railways, is not entitled to pension subsidies.


Sergey Denin, Afghan War veteran.With all that said, my father’s job is very labour-intensive – he is a rolling stock blacksmith. This usually involves getting on the top or underneath of a diesel locomotive in order to perform repair work. How is he expected to be doing this kind of work at 65, if he already finds it challenging at 55?

They work two days in a row, sharing 12-hour shifts between two people. Even young people would find this difficult to handle. Because of cardiovascular problems he has to go on a sick leave every year, and he’s constantly on medication. My mother was supposed to retire in January 2019. She worked in an industrial greenhouse complex for over 20 years. As a consequence of her constant exposure to various toxic substances, she now has a duodenal ulcer as well as other chronic diseases. At her age, she was only able to find a job as a cleaner.

I myself am raising a three-year old daughter, and because of her poor health I can barely ever leave her in a kindergarten. We were hoping that, after her retirement in January next year, my mother would be able to look after my little girl so that I could work. It is common for grandmothers to look after the children these days. And the fact that 55-56-year old grandmothers will now have to work will be a painful blow to young families.

Tatyana Astakhova: “I have only one demand: the government must resign and the President must be impeached”

I was never interested in politics, but the pension reform forced me to change my views. I’m now 52, I live in St Petersburg. I’m an HR and a Health and Safety Officer in a construction company.

I have been living on my own since I was 16. I raised two kids, all by myself. I was not intending to become a burden for them at 55. My plan was to keep working, although I was still hoping to find a profession to my own liking. However, I am now forced to prioritise a job with a decent salary instead. This is not necessarily how I would like things to be. I graduated in Arts, but I was not able to realise myself as an artist. I had to find a job in order to feed my children. I was hoping that after my retirement I would find an occupation that I would enjoy.

I earned my pension and I would like to be able to rely on it. But when I’ve heard the news about this pension reform… It’s a catastrophe! At the beginning, when Siberia began to protest, I was thinking to myself: My God, I must do something about this! I was in despair! Meanwhile, people around me were completely indifferent to this, and I could not understand why this was happening.

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Tatyana Astakhova.Only a year ago, I was completely apolitical. But now, upon encountering this complete injustice, I want to do something. So, little by little, I started talking to my colleagues and the young. People usually react with perplexity at first, but this reaction soon gives place to pensiveness and interest.

The most important thing is to keep people informed. I have only one demand: the government must resign and the President must be impeached, because it would be naive to assume that the latter is oblivious to this problem.

People are now in need of a leader. Perhaps, it is part of our mentality, but we need someone with a flag to lead us. Everyone is full of fears. People fear repressions and punishments. I no longer have this fear. I am now free. If they will take my life, I’ll be ready, for there will be another judgement awaiting for us. Heartbreak and pain are not merely pathetic words.

“Our first protest was held in the total outskirts, and it had no impact whatsoever”

Our first protest was held in the total outskirts, and it had no impact whatsoever. Unfortunately, I did not take part in it because I was away on a business trip. People keep asking: “So, when next?” We are are not allowed to hold a protest legally. But I keep telling everyone: “Guys, what are we afraid of? St Petersburg is full of tourists! Let’s not do anything unlawful, let’s just walk along Nevsky Prospect!” Of course, some of us might be stopped and taken in. But it is better than… Who else, if not me?

I distribute the leaflets. Every day I follow what is happening in other cities in relation to the pension reform. I think we will prevail, I want to believe in it. I want to be proud of my own country, however, all I feel about my people now is grief.

Igor Sotnikov: “This is the scenario we already saw in Ukraine”

I am now 53, I live in Ekaterinburg, and I have been unemployed for a long time now. I am making a living as an investor.

I think that this pension reform is very premature. Today it will only bring problems rather than solutions. Currently we don’t need so many additional jobs.

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Igor Sitnikov.Of course, this reform will have to be initiated, but no sooner than we change the Constitution. We need to establish the sovereignty of the Russian Federation, and in order to do that we need to change Article 15.4 on the priorities of international law. We can gradually start increasing the retirement age only when we get rid of the American officials in our government who oversee the adoption of every single of our laws. We need to start making our own decisions. I am declaring this position as a member of the National Liberation Movement. Why was the pension reform initiated at this particular time? This was done in order to create resentment among people. People are taking to the streets led by all sorts of Navalnys and communists. They start with pensions, and end with Putin. “Down with Putin!” and so forth. This is the scenario we already saw in Ukraine. That is the whole purpose of this reform.

The pension reform is initiated by the International Monetary Fund whose headquarters are in the USA. They have been talking about this for several years already. The Russian government is in compliance because we have lost our sovereignty. I am part of the protesters who support Putin’s decision against raising the retirement age.

Yuliya Voyevskaya: “We were waiting for Moscow to stand up”

This is a blow straight to the heart. This government is the same age as us. We don’t need to explain to our children how we lived during the 1990s, they know it all too well: our pensions will be very limited because we all have gaps in our employment records. We were living in the conditions of a wild market. We were hoping that we will receive fixed pensions because each of us lost 10-odd years of our work experience.

Our generation is experiencing never-ending reforms which are never to our advantage. In the 1990s we found ourselves in a state of constant learning because the new market economy was emerging. Forty years later we are no longer needed anywhere. They are now telling us that our knowledge is obsolete, and that they are looking for the young ones with contemporary education. In order to remain employable, me and my husband got ourselves three majors each. I’m now 50, and I work as a distribution operator for the post office in the city of Balashikha.

I am not planning to retire in five years, but I was hoping for my pension payments. I had two difficult operations over the last two years, for which I received around 200,000 rubles. And so, we’ll just keep on killing ourselves.

We were all waiting for Moscow to stand up, and we would all have gone to protest without hesitation. People are seriously discussing this everywhere I go, but nothing is happening. We are no longer sure if we should expect any protests anymore. People are trying to come up with some ideas, but what should we do next?

My vacation coincided with the World Cup. I happened to visit various regions of Russia. This whole thing seemed nothing short of a feast in time of plague. Everything is great, people are jolly, the policemen are smiling, foreigners are happy. Meanwhile, the population is in shock, people are literally in tears! Because in the regions everyone’s waiting to see whether mothers will receive their pensions or not, an extra penny for the family.

This article was originally published on Znak.com. We translate it here with permission.


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