Sandji N. Buvaev, a Web-savvy Elista resident who runs a tourist agency, helped organize unhappy residents online, where they had been posting complaints late last year on a forum about the hospital.
In December, Buvaev said, the parents got the attention of Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s children’s ombudsman. He was touring the area, heard about the hospital and changed his schedule to make a visit.
“He was shocked with what he saw there,” Buvaev said, and met with the head of the regional administration, then sent a report to Medvedev. But at the end of June, with no results, the parents decided to send a letter to Obama and began collecting signatures.
“We appealed to him because he is believed to be a guarantor of human rights,” Buvaev said.
The parents, trying to shame their officials into action with the letter, understand they risk antagonizing them — Russia emphatically does not like the United States to tell it what to do. But they are desperate. “Irritation doesn’t matter,” Altshuler said. “Our goal is to make them irritated so they’ll do something. I am sure there will be positive impact, but only if there is a sufficient campaign.”
Though the head of the local administration was changed last year, Godin pointed out that Kalmykia has had a history of poverty and corruption. It was run until last fall by Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, a millionaire who once reported that he was abducted by aliens.
Ilyumzhinov, the head of FIDE, the world chess federation, was in Libya in June playing chess with his friend Moammar Gaddafi.
Godin said Ilyumzhinov was always more interested in chess than hospitals, building an expensive development called Chess City in Elista to attract world championship games, while citizens complained that their needs went unmet.
The one bright spot, Godin said, was that his daughter recovered well from her surgery. “It’s only because of the doctors,” he said. “The doctors and nurses are wonderful. They stay and take care of our children despite the terrible conditions. They know our children are sacred to us.”