Putin’s Bleak Covid-19 Admission: ‘We Don’t Have Much to Brag About’

Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, Mr. Putin’s former chief of staff, has won praise, even from some Kremlin critics, for leveling with the public about the threat of the disease and taking aggressive measures to try to slow its spread.

On March 24, Mr. Sobyanin told Mr. Putin that the number of infected Russians was significantly higher than the official data. Days later, he ordered all Muscovites to stay home.

But the Kremlin continued to play down the seriousness of the threat.

“There is de facto no epidemic” in Russia, the Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov told reporters on March 26.

Under the surface, however, Russian hospitals were scrambling to prepare, with limited resources.

Ms. Smirnova, of the Sozidaniye charity, launched a drive in late March to help hospitals fighting the coronavirus buy equipment and supplies.

The 19-year-old organization has supported hospitals in the past, but typically in relatively poor, far-flung parts of the country. Never in her two decades of charity work, Ms. Smirnova said, had she seen so many senior big-city hospital officials put their jobs on the line by asking for help.

“You must understand, a head doctor who says all is well is a ‘good’ doctor,” she said. “If he says, ‘Things aren’t good at all, I’ve reached out to a charity,’ he is taking a risk.”

Working with Russia’s biggest state-owned bank, Sberbank, Sozidaniye raised more than $120,000 for hospitals across Russia, including nine in and around Moscow.

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