“They tell me to go away, they call me a coronavirus infection, how can they treat me in such a way,” cries out Natalya during her Facebook live. Natalya’s life turned into a nightmare at the end of March.
It was the very beginning of Moscow’s lockdown. All schools were closed and Natalya and her three teenage children decided to move from a tiny flat in the capital to their house in the Moscow region.
The village is very small and is located 80 kilometres away from Moscow.
“We came by bus, and were walking through the village. The first thing I noticed was that people were hiding away from us. While normally they are happy to say hello,” Natalya explains.
She says that since then she is insulted and threatened every day. She receives violent messages on social media and she is afraid someone will set her house on fire. Natalya says that she became a victim of coronavirus bullying.
“I went to a store, a man pushed in the road and said, get the hell out of here, you! You, you, coronavirus infection! The fact that I came from Moscow immediately means the coronavirus infection. Rumours spread, they say that I am lying with a fever and that my children play around in the streets with a runny nose. In villages rumours spread around very fast. This is very dangerous, because it is clearly bullying. And it is very scary to stay alone in a totally hostile environment. This is creepy.”
Under quarantine rules introduced by authorities, Natalya is allowed to self-isolate in her country house and to go to a nearby shop. But she is hearing insults every day. She decided to send her children away and called the police but for the moment nothing has changed.
Natalya’s story is not an exception. A journalist says on Facebook that his aunt was not even able to unpack when she came from Moscow to live in her dacha. That is how he describes her story on his Facebook page.
“She had just started to take things out of her car as the locals gathered. They told my aunt to go back. They told her that if she had hung out somewhere in Italy, or just picked up the coronavirus in the capital, then she would have time to get to Moscow – and in Moscow, she could be cured. And they told her they had nowhere to go here – that the district hospital is completely incapable. So they told her to get out of here, and not to infect them. So my Aunt got into the car and drove home.”
Dachas under lockdown
Many Russians, especially living in big cities, have dachas, small or big countryside houses. It is a Soviet legacy, a tradition that is being preciously preserved.
In Soviet times city people were given a piece of land and they planted vegetables there as shops were empty. Now it is slightly different. Some dachas look like palaces. Others are more modest.
But the main idea is the same: having a dacha is about having an escape from the big city for holidays or a weekend. Meanwhile there are locals, who have only one house, and their houses stand next to dachas. At the beginning of the lockdown, many citizens decided to self-isolate at their dachas. Many families, especially with children, decided to rent village houses for quarantine, the demand was huge and still is and prices have shot up.
The authorities of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, the two epicentres of the outbreak in Russia, have allowed people to travel to their dachas.
In Moscow officially, you can drive back and forth twice a week. So some people who keep on working during the week come to their dachas or village houses only for a weekend. And traditionally the beginning of May is the time when people visit their dachas or countryside houses. And this is a real source of panic and frustration for locals.
Anastasia Mironova lives in a village in Saint-Petersburg region. She is a journalist and blogger, and in her articles, she urges authorities to protect those who live in villages.
“The work of law enforcement agencies is to guarantee the isolation of dacha owners, of course, they can come. It is not possible to forbid people to go to their property. But they come and walk around, and they go to a barbecue or go shopping, and they have no means of protection. For some reason, people do not understand that it takes just one infected person, who does not even have any symptoms, to infect the entire village.”
And that would be a disaster, Anastasya says, “because local hospitals are not well equipped.”
The coronavirus crisis has pitted dacha owners and their local neighbours’ against each other.
Most of coronavirus cases in Russia are registered in those two biggest Russian cities. People from Moscow and Saint Petersburg, especially those who go to work every day and come to their Dacha only for a weekend are at higher risk of catching the virus.
But once it is in the village, the whole village is sentenced. Those who are registered in the cities, Dacha owners, have the right to be cured in the city hospitals. Villagers with regional registration are taken to the regional hospitals. It is not a secret that Moscow and Saint- Petersburg have the best medical facilities in the country, while regional ones are often lacking basic supplies.
In one of her articles in Novaya Gazeta, Anastasya wrote: “I appealed to the administration of the Leningrad Region on Facebook to take at least put some measures in place. In one of the local groups on social media, users tried to find out how many ventilation devices were in the local hospital. Someone wrote that there were only three, someone said there are five. But 300,000 people are living in the district during the lockdown, that means there are 1.67 units per 100,000 people.”
Anastasya has shared some footage of her village with our correspondent in Moscow. In the videos, we can see her goats, empty streets, fences, a field and hear her comment: “look, the village is half empty, but very soon it will be full with all of those happy citizens who every day go to work”.
Anastasya says that for the May holidays the number of electric trains from Saint Petersburg to her region has been increased. And the invasion is inevitable. And the fear and the hatred are inevitable too, Anastasia is persuaded what is happening with Natalya and others who are being harassed, is a result of the failure of the authorities.
“People are neurotic, people are very scared, people are dissatisfied, the economic factor is working here, many have no means to live at the moment. (The harassment experienced by those going to their Dachas) is an unfortunate, and tragic consequence, but it seems to me to be unavoidable. If the authorities cannot take control, such things will happen,” she says.
Anastasya is urging the authorities to track down dacha owners coming from Russian epicentres of epidemics. She expects crowds at her village for May holidays, a danger for those who have nowhere else to hide.
Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 cases in Russia has grown up to 114,431 on Friday. and Russia is now the eighth most-affected country in terms of infections.