The ailing and the injured await the train at every stop. In Khani, a village of 742 people wedged between the snowy peaks of the Stanovoy Mountains, patients emerge from concrete buildings and gather along the tracks. They all seek medical treatment. One man fell down a staircase while drunk and broke both of his ankles. A teacher at the only school in town wants a checkup for her 14-year-old daughter, who came down with appendicitis a month earlier and was, quite luckily, evacuated on a cargo train. She had her appendix removed in Chara, three anguished hours away.
These and other patients are waiting now to board the Matvei Mudrov medical train. This is Khani’s main lifeline—a mobile medical clinic with basic equipment, exam rooms, and 12 to 15 doctors. Run by the Russian state railways agency and named for a 19th-century physician who helped establish clinical practice in Russia, the Matvei Mudrov runs from village to village, stopping for a day to see patients, then continuing along the thousands of miles of track that stretch across the Russian Far East.
Khani is in many ways typical of communities along the rail line: A yard of rough gravel and stone ringed by five-story, prefabricated apartment blocks forms the center of town, which seems largely deserted. The people have no surgeon of their own, no specialists—just a small clinic with Soviet-era equipment and an all-purpose doctor who was educated as a dentist. For many, the Matvei Mudrov is the only expert attention they get.