AIDS ambassador Anna Kournikova meets with at-risk youth in Russia.
Photo: Evgeny Zakharov/PSI
Travel Day: Miami, Frankfurt, Moscow and Yekaterinburg, Russia

As the plane begins the final approach to Moscow, it begins to feel real.

This trip is such an important one for me. I am coming home to Russia after two years, and this visit will be very different than my last. I am here as an ambassador for the global health organization Population Services International, or PSI, representing their local program. It's my second trip with PSI—the first was to Haiti, where PSI provides the most basic health needs in a country devastated by poverty.

Russia is very different.

I will be meeting young people in technical schools, youth centers and on the streets. Those most at risk here are injecting drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men. Young people may initiate drug use as early as age 12 to 14, and the first use of injected drugs can be between the ages of 14 to 17. I'll visit PSI programs that focus on targeted HIV prevention and drug use for the most at-risk.

Watch Anna discuss her life-changing journey Watch

At the early stage of the HIV epidemic, 80 percent of HIV infections came from using contaminated needles and syringes. The figure is now 69 percent.

Our goal here is to reach young people before they begin using drugs, to educate them, to give them the tools they need to make healthy choices. For those at most risk, the programs are targeted. I'll talk to you more about that later.

I have been back to Russia many times over the years for either tennis or personal reasons, but on this trip it suddenly feels like a completely different country to me. I am armed with all of these new facts and statistics, and they are all hard to believe. I hope that I can make a difference in these kids' lives and that my voice will be heard. I am really nervous about what lies ahead and what I will find.

Once we arrive at the airport in Moscow, I connect with a small group of people who will be joining me on the trip—people who contribute to PSI's programs financially and who, like me, are here to find out what else we can do to support the work and make a difference. We are headed to Yekaterinburg—Russia's third-largest city and a place I have never visited.

When we arrive, I am really impressed with the airport in Yekaterinburg. It's clean and new and really easy to get around. We are greeted by the staff and taken to our hotel, and then it's right to bed for me—we have an early start tomorrow and I want to be well rested.

A program keeping Russian mothers off drugs


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