Russia mourns ‘Dr Liza’, renowned medic killed in Syria-bound plane crash

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 December, 2016, 12:24pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 December, 2016, 9:56pm

Russia’s shock over the military plane clash that killed 92 people became all the more acute when it became known that Yelizaveta Glinka, a renowned doctor and charity worker, was on the doomed flight’s passenger list.

The diminutive 54-year-old woman, affectionately known as “Dr Liza”, had boarded the same military flight to Syria as more than 60 members of the famed Red Army Choir, who were on their way to entertain troops stationed at the Hmeimim base Moscow uses to launch airstrikes in the war-scarred country.

But Glinka’s objective was neither musical nor military. She was on a mission to deliver medication to a university hospital in the Syrian coastal city of Latakia.

Pilot error or mechanical fault probably caused Sochi plane crash, Russian minister says

Since Sunday’s crash Muscovites have been laying flowers and candles in front of the headquarters of Fair Aid, the charity she founded in 2007 to care for the homeless, terminally-ill patients and abandoned pensioners in Russia which often offers little support to vulnerable social groups.

“She didn’t live her life in vain because she did a lot of good,” said 48-year-old Anna, weeping as she laid flowers on the organisation’s doorstep in central Moscow.

Glinka’s death sparked a national outpouring of grief that spanned the political spectrum, with the defence ministry, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and the opposition-friendly mayor of the Urals city of Yekaterinburg pledging to rename a medical facility in her honour.

Liza Glinka helped the people that everyone turned away
Human rights activist Zoya Svetova

But unlike the Red Army Choir, Glinka was not known internationally, humbly building her reputation as a selfless worker by assisting Russia’s underprivileged.

After graduating from medical school in Moscow in 1986, Glinka and her husband Gleb emigrated to the United States where she studied palliative care.

She later returned to Russia and also lived for some time in neighbouring Ukraine, where she founded a hospice affiliated with a Kiev oncology clinic.

In Moscow she is mostly remembered for feeding, clothing and providing medical care to the homeless people who sleep in the Russian capital’s sprawling train stations.

“Liza Glinka helped the people that everyone turned away,” said human rights activist and opposition journalist Zoya Svetova, who knew Glinka.

“Few organisations are ready to help the homeless at train stations.”

When fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists erupted in eastern Ukraine in 2014, Glinka - who was also a member of the Kremlin’s human rights council - travelled to the war zone to provide emergency care to children injured as a result of the conflict.

She told Russian media in July that she had evacuated 446 children from the area since the start of the fighting and taken them to Russia to undergo medical treatment.

Glinka had travelled to Syria earlier this year where she visited a local hospital and saw it was severely lacking in medicine.

“To save the lives of others, that was her mission everywhere: in Russia, in Donbass (eastern Ukraine), Syria,” the head of the Kremlin human rights council, Mikhail Fedotov, said in a statement Sunday, calling Glinka “a miracle, a heaven-sent message of virtue.”

But some have criticised the doctor, even after her death, for working around conflicts many say have been exacerbated by President Vladimir Putin’s policies.

“This shows us that our society is split between those who support Putin and those who don’t,” Svetova said. “There is no middle ground, and that’s dangerous.”

The journalist added that Glinka, who had received a humanitarian award from Putin this year, co-operated with the Kremlin because “without it, she wouldn’t have been able to do anything.”

“We are never sure that we will return alive,” Glinka said upon receiving the award, referring to her travels in conflict zones.

“But we are sure that good, compassion and mercy are stronger than any weapon.”