Russian Reflections:How you can’t spend a rouble in a Russian loo



Russia under the Communists was well known for its queues. Food was scarce, shoes and clothes pretty unobtainable. All that has gone under Putin. But in a visit this month with my disabled wife,Margaret, we discovered a new Russian queuing phenomena – just to visit the loo.

The reason is that in Russia a public loo is a rare phenomenon even in the most popular venues in Moscow and St Petersburg. And a disabled loo is such a rare creature that it verges on extinction. What mostly passes for a disabled loo would also struggle to meet the British Trades Description Act.

Most Russian loos look like a builders’ portacabin. The row in the picture above are believe it or not the public conveniences off Red Square. In the Kremlin itself there are toilets for just six people – a place visited by millions every year.  And only one disabled person can pee at a time. Within little more than a stone’s throw of Putin’s apartment strict rules ban flushing toilet paper down loos, a babuska  rations the number of sheets, and comical notice in English warns the disabled not to stand on the toilet seat.In most cases the pleasure of such facilities sets you back 25 roubles or 30p.

But what happens when you don’t have the cash as in St Petersburg when both my wife and I had not yet visited a cash machine to get any roubles. My wife pleaded desperation and the babuska let her in only to find the double doors led to a series of steps to get on the throne of the loo. When there was a crash the babuska rushed to see over the door  to see if she was all right.Fortunately she was.

I had a little more difficulty. WIth no money it was Niet. So desperate was I to enter the portacabin that I even offered a crisp five pound note. That was refused . In final desperation I went round the back of the Portabin. It was only when I was poised to piss on the historic wall of  Peter the Great’s fortress that suddenly she started banging on her office window. I was literally relieved in every sense and allowed to enter for free.

But there were other extraodinary toilet events to come. Nothing really surpassed the public convenince  at the Nunnery where the Czars in the past sent their discarded wives rather than choosing the Henry VIII solution. To enter this loo you went into the bowels of the earth down a spiralling staircase. Hardly suitable for the disabled.When my wife eventually go down there it turned into a communal experience women able to see each other  over  stable doors.Still at least the experience was free. See the entrance below.

However  there is one disabled loo in Moscow that shames everyone  So high tech and brilliantlly equipped that it has no rival. It is in Moscow’s magnificent and brilliant Jewish Museum – more in another piece on Russia –  and boasts a bum warmer and a bidet . It is easily  accessible and i t is free for the price of an admission ticket. If only all loos were like this.

Russia needs to get its  act together if it wants to become a big tourist destination. It so needs another revolution, a proper disability agenda and a body to champion the disabled and fight for decent loos.

I took this up with the Russian Embassy when we returned from the trip . This is their unedited reply:

“Thank you for letting us know about your impressions and concerns. Indeed, there are fewer toilets for the disabled in Russia than there should be. Standards for accessible environment were legally set in 2001, and they are complied with in new buildings and structures, but, regretfully, less so in the already existing ones. This is really an issue we should deal with. Note that the safe option in larger towns is McDonalds – they always have good accessible toilets and are OK with non-customers using them.”

9 thoughts on “Russian Reflections:How you can’t spend a rouble in a Russian loo

  1. I never travel Abroad without packing away my very handy ‘HeWee’: take a look. No gentleman should be without one – and even you might benefit.

    I find it a blessing, whenever I am caught short, and need a crafty wee, and can’t find the gents. Or can’t be bothered to look. Meant to be for mountaineers, and people claiming to be diving enthusiasts, but one has to be broadminded about all that sort of thing these days.

    Comes with a strap on, and sheaths: I always order extra large, but I imagine they cater for smaller sizes, if you enquire. Vernon.


  2. I couldn’t possibly comment on ladies’ arrangements but – if we are going to be serious, there are many destinations abroad which are notoriously bad for disabled visitors, and the only thing to do is a lot of research before you book. The other problem is that here in the uk it is becoming increasingly hard to find a public toilet if you are caught short and we can’t really point the finger at other countries when councils up and down the country are shutting these conveniences, which is particularly hard, maybe even discriminatory for disabled, elderly,kids and pregnant women …


    • Vernon

      I find the two issues different. If Britain is closing down public toilets as the result of the cuts that is matter for a campaign here.
      But what seemed clear to me was that in Russia they had not tackled the issue of provision for the disabled – not just toilets, but ramps and lifts in public buildings except in occasional places.
      In the UK and the EU there are vociferous campaigns for services for the disabled – I participated in one to improve disabled transport to hospital in London through Transport for All. Legislation means disabled people can access museums, theatres public transport etc. Russia, I was told when I was there, aims to become a major tourist destination. Better provision would benefit their own citizens as well as tourists. I did not see one other disabled person in a wheelchair at the time we visited the Kremlin.


      • With all due respect, I think you are confusing the issues: your problems finding a public toilet, abled bodied or otherwise, and the matter of disability access abroad generally. I think a Russian tourist coming to the UK would have just as much trouble finding a public toilet as in Moscow – when did you last visit one in London? The few that still exist are disgusting. And have you ever tried to use the loo at Kings X in a hurry then found you don’t have the right change? No need for babushkas, the turnstiles are just as effective. Speaking as someone who has a close relative with needs that require easy access to toilets, I can tell you this is a real problem now in the UK, and disabled facilities still barely minimal in many areas. We are going backwards, not forwards, in the provision of sort of public facility.

        Of course Russia is in the dark ages when it comes to disability awareness, as it is in so many things, like LGBT rights: you shouldn’t expect anything else for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, there are many websites/guidebooks that warn you about such things, and best checked before you book a holiday – as well as plenty of holiday companies that pride themselves on providing all the necessary facilities for disabled travellers.


  3. David, I hope your wife doesn’t mind her arrangements being discussed by strangers, but this is the sort of situation which it is useful to talk about in public because so often people don’t know what’s available that could help them – and often it’s only when you’re outside your comfort zone, in the Kremlin or Cornwall, that you become aware of the need.

    Since the unit that was caring for your wife has closed, you’d probably do best to contact the rehabilitation/physiotherapy team at the nearest stroke unit. But Vernon has given you a useful pointer. There are collectors for women available as well – for example, and it’s only an example, not a recommendation because I’m only familiar with similar issues not this one, have a look at


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