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Dr Anastasia Vasilyeva trained as an eye surgeon, but quit her profession to set up the medical trade union Doctors’ Alliance in Moscow in August 2018, which now has 48 divisions in 40 different regions of Russia and around 2,000 members. She has been a vocal critic of Putin’s general health policies, which she blames for the destruction of the healthcare system, as well as his response to the COVID-19 pandemic. During this current health crisis, the medical activist has consistently criticised the government for failing to provide hospitals with personal protective equipment (PPE) along with other basic medical supplies, and has claimed that doctors have been ordered to cover up COVID-19 deaths.

For her troubles, the trade union leader has been increasingly targeted by the security services, who are trying to supress her activities at every step.

Dr Vasilyeva explained to Express.co.uk why she believed the authorities were tightening the screws against her and her organisation.

She said: “Our organisation is showing the whole population of Russia the destruction of the healthcare system.

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“We are showing the real problems, but the government tries to tell the people that everything is good.

“They don’t want us to tell the truth. They just want to lie about this and make people think that everything is good, and that the politics is good and the healthcare system is good.

“It is just a psychological influence to the population that Putin is good and his politics.

“So that is why they don’t like anybody who tells the truth about the difficult situation in education, in medicine, in the sciences.”

In a sign that the coronavirus pandemic is already damaging his popularity, a new opinion poll published on Monday showed that Russians’ trust in Vladimir Putin had fallen to a 14-year low.

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The poll was carried out by the state-funded VTsIOM polling agency, which showed that just 28.3 percent of Russians named Putin, when asked to name a politician whom they trust.

Over the past few weeks, Dr Vasilyeva has received a summons from the Investigative Committee (Department of Public Prosecutions) to attend an “interview” as well as being contacted by the Social Services department, inquiring about the health and well-being of her children.

She was also arrested and detained overnight by police at the beginning of April, after trying to deliver medical supplies to a hospital in the small town of Okulovka, in Russia’s north west.

However, the former eye specialist has vowed to continue her campaign, insisting that she has no political ambitions and that her main motivation is simply to improve healthcare for the public.

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She said: “One of the most important institutions of the country is medical. If the medical system is bad, then the politics of the country is bad towards the people.

“I don’t want to be involved in politics, but I see the politics such as Putin and his government, they made our people to suffer from the bad healthcare system and bad political decisions lead to the bad health of Russia and suffering from diseases and the big mortality, and so on.”

She added: “This is social politics. It is very important for the good life of the people and it includes the healthcare system and education.

“I don’t really want to be in politics – I just want to influence politics to make the healthcare system much better.”

Russia spends just three percent of GDP on its health service, while most western European countries invest around 9 percent of GDP in the health sector.

Moreover, Putin’s government has been pursuing a so-called “optimisation” programme of medical services, which has led to severe cutbacks and the supressing of wages for doctors and nurses.

In one of his key pledges during the 2012 presidential elections, Putin promised to double and even triple doctors’ salaries, something he has spectacularly failed to deliver on.

Russian doctors working in state hospitals earn on average around just £520 a month according to surveys by medical unions, and often work long unpaid overtime hours, while ambulance drivers and nurses can earn as little as £100 a month.

As a result of the low wages and working conditions, every year some 10 percent of doctors leave the healthcare profession, which has led to a shortage of more than 25,000 medical staff, with the regions often worse off.

On Tuesday, Vladimir Putin sought to reassure Russians about the pandemic, which has seen infections explode to overtake China’s total.

During a televised address to the nation, the president claimed that the situation had “relatively stabilised” but that the situation was “still very serious”.

He said: “The peak is not behind us, we are about to face a new and gruelling phase of the pandemic… the deadly threat of the virus remains.”

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