10 St. Petersburgers surviving self-isolation in a ghost town

Ruslan Shamukov
“Do not exit the room, do not make that mistake.” These lines by our own poet Joseph Brodsky have gained a new salience these days.

St. Petersburg and the Leningrad Oblast have been placed under total quarantine since March 28. Museums, theatres, zoos and other public spots have already been closed. Even the parks made the cut. For the first time since the Blockade of Leningrad, our cultural capital appears as an eerily silent, deserted cityscape. We’ve decided to reach out to some Petersburgers, and find out their strategies for dealing with total self-isolation amid the coronavirus, and what to make of this whole thing.

1. Andrey Batalov, 16, high-school student

My mood has been pretty much what it is during the holidays. Although there’s less strength and motivation to really do anything. The entire week, since the moment I came back from the U.K. on a study trip, I’ve just been at home, sometimes hopped outside for a light workout, nothing productive: watched movies, played videogames, talked to friends online.

Distance studies are starting soon, so I’ve started preparing for class. All in all, it’s horrible being quarantined, hard to force yourself to do anything, you get tired really fast doing nothing, you yearn for some live communication.

2. Evgenia Zarukina, 24, head of ‘El Capitas’ bar (rated 27 in The World’s Best Bars 2019)

It’s no use getting dramatic for the umpteenth time and focusing on the negative. Yes, most likely, the hospitality sphere is going to incur heavy losses, and not everyone will be able to open their doors again. The important thing is that we’re striving now to preserve the team, keep every staff member from being cut. Everyone is being provided for financially, which is definitely enough for rent and basic personal expenses. 

We’re working in five directions currently: delivery of Mexican food; live streams where we talk about making our classic drinks at home; a ‘hot line’ where people send us ingredients on Instagram, and we send them back a cocktail recipe they can try; online communication and chats with friends and members of the bar; and webinars with long-distance bartender courses for those interested in the industry. 

3. Svetlana Vanyulina, 31, unemployed

I lost my job in tourism last week. It’s not possible to send people to Costa-Rica and Mexico at the moment. The consulates are shuttered, and my U.S. visa-application superpowers are just not in demand right now.

This month I went from being a booking agent to one specializing in returns. A huge wave came and took everything with it. There’s a need for a new strategy. How? I don’t know. What am I going to do next? I’m searching for the answer to that question. Until then, I wish everyone who’s currently out of their comfort zone to see the huge energy and potential of self-growth. 

It’s all going to be fine (but I’m not sure).

4. Eldar Kabirov, 36, co-owner at a ‘22 Centimeters’ pizza and ‘Red. Steak & Wine’ steak house

I’m still young of course, but I’ve been in this industry since 2000, and will say that I’ve never seen anything like this. We’ve all been put on “holiday” - ALL of us, not just the restaurants, the entire industry. 

Will we return April 30, I’m not entirely sure, but return we will. We’ll be back so our guys can work again, so the stoves and pans are put in action and so that we can continue bringing smiles to your faces with our service and food. I’m inviting everyone for a glass, when all of this is over - let’s have a drink and a laugh, and continue living as normal.

5. Dmitry Ganopolsky, 37, guide and photographer

Each day my ideas about what’s going on shift dramatically: apocalyptic omens are replaced by plans to take over the world. Looking at this objectively, it’s hard to call this anything but a catastrophe. The tourism sector will only see the strongest and most adept remain, as there won’t be any business for some time to come. But making any predictions at this time is impossible - whatever we conjure up in our minds, the situation will develop unpredictably.

Perhaps we should all think about moving our work online, or perhaps, in a couple weeks of sitting in front of the computer screen at home will drive people up the wall. I would suggest educating yourself, while you have the time, and start a journal. It’ll make a positive and lasting contribution to your life.

6. Grigoriy Sverdlin, 41, ‘Nochlezhka’ homeless charity organization director

We’ve suspended operations in our legal consultation branch since March 17, as well as the laundry service - both usually get 30 to 60 clients a day. Other projects, including three rehabilitation centers, two warmup stations and a night bus, all continue functioning. About 300 people daily continue to receive assistance. Additional measures have been put in place in every ongoing project, along with masks and sanitizers.

We’ve issued a coronavirus leaflet. Which is important, given that most homeless people do not have access to information.

7. Dmitry Grozny, 49, journalist and chief editor at MarketMedia

The mantra “it’s desirable not to panic, but to act” has become a slogan for our charity project #поддерживрача (“support a doctor”). We seek out hospitals in need of help, and companies willing to provide it. Why is a business-oriented media such as our own suddenly taking on something so different? Because we’re friends with many entrepreneurs working in sales and manufacturing and hospitality, and they’re friends with us!

If at first we focused on baked goods, cookies, pastries, zefir and sweets and milkshakes, then pretty soon after that list grew to contain special medical personnel uniforms, protective goggles, and those respirators that are nowhere to be seen, as well as water and power banks. Several companies started to serve medical workers free hot lunches - after all, they’ve got nowhere to even eat these days, it’s all been shut.  

The number of supporters of #поддерживрача has already grown beyond 20. I hate the idea of high praise, but I’m honestly happy there are so many kind people around. 

8. Vitaly Osipchuk, 52, psychotherapist

We’ve of course been picking up on an escalation in anxiety in clients. First of all, people right now are trying to self-isolate, meaning they’re not visiting as often, this has been going on for the past week and a half. People are switching to online communication, and yesterday, for example, two sessions carried out this way were dedicated to what is happening right now.

My task is in helping the individual acknowledge having those thoughts, put them into perspective. From simply speaking something out loud, the person lifts a weight off their shoulders, a tension. After that we can start to move toward more rational ideas, to discussing action-based approaches.

9. Silvia Ruth Fernandez Caria, 58, Italian expat, born in Argentina

We live not far from Stieglitz Academy and Theatrical University on Mokhovaya street. The streets that used to be full of people now are deserted. My family of three is in isolation and I get out of home every two or three days to buy some essentials at the grocery shop.

At home I cook, write, oil paint, tidy wardrobes, do the house chores, porcelain paint, study, organize archives, follow FB and WhatsApp, talk to my friends and family spread around the globe, no time for boredom. I confess that I am quite enjoying this situation because I have a long list of things and projects to do on my own. 

10. Tamara Miroshnichenko, 62, worker at the school museum in Leningrad region

Our regional studies museum doesn’t simply amount to the past, to history, it’s also about working with school children. We took the diary of a war veteran who went through the Great Patriotic War in the Gatchina artillery division (our district), and distributed the copies of its pages to senior students for reprinting. We’d like to make an electronic version in time for the 75th Anniversary of the Victory. 

The quarantine has, of course, thrown us off our game a little bit. But we continue to work with materials independently and online - all of the checking, verifying, agreeing and giving out homework to our youths.

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