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‘Nobody knew we were going to Tyumen’ A Russian woman caught up in the evacuation of Wuhan describes life under quarantine

Source: Meduza

On February 5, two planes operated by Russia’s Defense Ministry removed 144 Russian nationals from the Chinese city of Wuhan, delivering them to a facility outside Tyumen for 14 days of quarantine and observation. To learn more about what’s happening in China and how the Russian authorities are bringing people home from Wuhan, Meduza spoke to a woman from Rostov-on-Don who’s been caught up in the evacuation, Nadezhda K. (who asked us not to disclose her full name for security reasons).

I went to Wuhan for the New Year’s holidays to visit friends. They’re local Chinese nationals. I was there from December 30 to February 4. On the night of New Year’s Eve, December 31, I got news from Chinese friends that some virus had appeared in Wuhan and that it wasn’t very safe there. But nobody gave it much thought. Like they were saying it was some kind of ordinary flu. So at first there wasn’t much reason to worry. 

Everything was pretty quiet at first. If about 20 percent of the population were wearing masks before, then 90 percent started wearing them, after the number of infected went up. But people were still going outside. The situation changed when the Chinese holidays began. The city wasn’t closed yet, but it was literally empty. A lot of people left to be with their relatives. For a city with a million people [sic — Wuhan’s population exceeds 11 million] to be so empty was quite a surprise, of course. By the time I’d started thinking of leaving, it was too late — the city was already under quarantine.

[But] it wasn’t frightening. My friends also tried to stay positive because the infection zone was on the other side of the city. So we just tried to stay home. The risk of infection was minimal. There was no particular panic in the city. A lot of memes and funny videos started popping up online. Of course, there were some real “batshit” types, too, but I never ran into any myself.

The situation in the stores wasn’t great. There wasn’t much on the shelves. But we stocked up as soon as we realized it was going to be a problem. We had enough groceries until the evacuation. Plus there was a Chinese cafeteria operating near the house. So I didn’t run into any other problems. Issues with groceries were probably the main thing. I guess it was getting around and with the fact that many retail chains weren’t working. We were lucky in particular that several stores around our house were working because there was no way to get to a larger supermarket on our own, where the situation was obviously a bit better. Though I think there might have been problems with medicine because of the number of infected and some who panicked. It was chaos at the hospitals.

I followed the situation through the news. My friends would tell me what they saw in the Chinese news and the Russian news. People in China see the whole thing as a global problem. But not the foreigners who were there. Most of them [first] thought only Asians could get the virus. 

Then we started hearing that other countries were evacuating their people or planning to do this, and that the problem was really escalating to global proportions. The Russian guys and I started calling the embassy and the consulate to find out what our next steps would be. There was no information coming in at first, and then they started collecting our data. We dumped it in their inbox and then they contacted us. 

Nobody knew until the last moment that we were going to Tyumen. Talk was about somewhere outside Moscow. But the quarantine doesn’t bother me. I wouldn’t want to endanger other people. 

Of course, I remember my very first impression of the plane. And how they met us. It wasn’t so much terrifying as exciting. What would happen next? [It was like a movie] in the apocalypse genre. In the plane, they took our temperatures. Nobody was running a fever, by the way. So far, that’s the only check they’ve performed. Now they’ve put us all in our rooms. They told us to take off our clothes and hand them over for disinfection. The remaining exams will be a bit later. At the health center, we’ve been given everything we need, but we can’t leave our rooms for 14 days straight. We’re not allowed to come into contact with anyone, otherwise, the 14-day quarantine clock restarts. 

There are two or three people to a room. Different guys were in the evacuation. We’re talking tourists and students and people there on work visas. For example, my neighbor was working as a dancer. There’s not much to do with all the spare time, but I’m keeping busy. I’m studying as a linguist, so I’ll spend the 14 days on language study.

I’d originally planned to come home in late February or early March, so this whole situation hasn’t seriously affected my plans. I’m from Rostov-on-Don and it’s not yet clear if they’ll help me get home after the quarantine. But I’m in touch with my family. They’re worried, of course, but we’ve been comforting each other the whole time. We’ve tried to treat the situation like the plot of a movie or a game.

We won’t give up Because you’re with us

Recorded by Pavel Merzlikin

Translation by Kevin Rothrock