Kristina was five when she was found curled on a barroom floor, pockmarked from syphilis and terrified of affection.
Zhenya, 15, who makes his home on a grime-caked heating vent, asked shyly for something to read - "science fiction, preferably" - to fill his school-less, aimless, hopeless days.
For many Russians, children such as these are cause to despair at the future of their country. Lurching from uncaring homes to under-financed orphanages to alleys haunted by drug dealers and pimps, neglected children - estimated to number up to 3 million - make up an increasing share of Russia´s shrinking population.
Investors and politicians say that long-suffering Russia is at last prospering. Economic indicators show growing incomes, and Moscow´s streets glisten with boutiques. But these street children embody the hardships Russia has suffered since shedding communist rule 10 years ago: poverty, loss of social and family security, growth of crime and alcoholism, a decline in health care and wars in Chechnya and former Soviet republics.
Long overlooked by the country´s leadership, the children´s plight recently caught President Vladimir Putin´s eye, and he chided his government for allowing their number to reach "threatening proportions."
Soviet authorities had a solution to the problem of street urchins. When orphans flooded the streets after the Bolshevik Revolution and following World War II, they were taken to labor camps and factories.
In later years, the children routinely vanished into orphanages or institutions for the disabled. Post-Soviet freedoms and economic turmoil have let the problem into the open.
Since 1999, Russian police have been barred from picking up wayward children unless they commit a crime. Yet bureaucratic confusion has meant that the social services expected to take responsibility for at-risk families have accomplished little.
Child-welfare workers welcome Putin´s concern, but wonder if he will commit as much energy to mending Russia´s frayed society as he does to the war in Chechnya.
"We can wash them, feed them, dress them and tell them that they are loved," said Irina Abramova, the director of the Children´s Crisis Center in the Moscow suburb of Lyubertsy. "That is not enough to heal the illnesses of today´s society."
Many Russian children enjoy more adult attention than their Western counterparts. They often live with grandparents as well as parents. Education is paramount even in many poor families. Families that have prospered in post-Soviet Russia are sending children to European boarding schools.
But that´s scant comfort to Yevgeny Gontmasser, the head of the Cabinet´s social-development department. He said that about 150,000 to 200,000 children in Russia are technically homeless. But more alarming, he said, is that 3 million children have homes so dreadful that they sometimes prefer the streets, and parents too poor, drunk, violent, or mentally or physically unable to raise them.
That means nearly 10 percent of Russia´s 32 million children are neglected - and the proportion is rising.
The average monthly wage of $140 barely feeds and clothes one child. As a result, Russians are having fewer children, and the population has shriveled by 2.2 percent to 144.9 million in the past 10 years. Meanwhile, more children are being born to single mothers.
"The overall problem will take years to solve. This will last as long as ... there is such huge stratification of our economy, such a difference between rich and poor," Gontmasser said.
Fostering is new to Russia, and adoption is a social stigma. Just 7,000 of Russia´s orphans were adopted in 2000, according to the Labor and Social Development Ministry.
"These children are so damaged, who would take them?" Abramova asked.
The churches rarely step in. Charities are scarce, because few Russians are rich enough to support them and punitive tax laws scare off corporate sponsors.
Gontmasser wants the law changed to strengthen school oversight and make it easier to take children away from abusive parents. Other government officials want simplified adoption procedures.
Abramova wants better pay for social workers, who now make as little as 600 rubles ($20) a month.
The Lyubertsy crisis center is trying to do more. Helped by European donors who supplement state financing, the center offers a school, clean beds, doctors and psychologists and a basement youth club.