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In Rural Siberia the Hospital Comes to You

Come aboard one of Russia's five rolling hospitals

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Siberia is big. Really big. It's also sparsely populated. Some big cities and numerous isolated villages. You can't build a hospital in every village, but neither can you leave them to fend for themselves.

Luckily there's a railway. Still the most reliable mode of transport in a part of the world where winter lasts nine months. Thus the Russian health ministry operates five hospital trains which make periodic visits to the villages.

Newsweek visited one of the trains and collected some good photos along with more information:

The Saint Lukas train doesn’t accept passengers—it accepts only the sick. The Saint Lukas is one of five government-funded medical trains that travel to remote towns in central and eastern Russia.

Each stop lasts an average of two days, and during that time the doctors and nurses on board provide rural populations with basic medical care, X-ray scans, prescriptions and referrals to seek specialist help.

“People started queuing to make an appointment early in the morning, around 6:30 a.m.,” says Emile Ducke, a German photographer who traveled with the staff of the Saint Lukas for a two-week trip in November through the vast regions of Krasnoyarsk and Khakassia.


The Saint Lukas has increased the number of stops it makes each year from the 55 it made on its first journey a decade ago to 75 today. For 10 months every year, the train stops at about eight stations over two weeks, before returning to the regional capital to refuel and restock.

Then it starts all over again the next month. Most stations wait about a year between visits.

Doctors see up to 150 patients every day. The train’s equipment allows for basic but comprehensive checkups. Doctors and nurses administer blood tests and can provide sonography, brain wave scans (EEGs), heart rhythm tests (ECGs) and X-rays.

The duration of each stop depends on the degree of health care available on the ground; some larger towns have several thousand inhabitants and a hospital, while others have a population of only a few hundred and just one overburdened local doctor.


Patients register at the train's reception. The treatments are free of charge. The train's duration of stay is dependent on the size of the village—the train only stopped for one day in Son, which has 740 inhabitants.

A woman from the town of Kuragino waits for her EEG in the village of Tuba. She traveled to Tuba, where the train stops before reaching Kuragino, in order to avoid the rush demand for treatment in her town.

Patients wait in the gangways of the train for their medical treatment. The train gives them a chance to consult several specialists in a single day.

A man is radiographed after consulting nearly all the doctors on the train, who determined he had a chest injury. The doctors ordered him to undergo two operations in Krasnoyarsk, the region's big city.

One of the five trains even comes with a chapel built in honor of a priest and doctor who operated in Krasnoyarsk during the Second World War. The train also bears his name.

Priest rings the bells before chapel service.

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