Inside the ‘red zone’ Life in Krasnodar is getting back to normal — but not for doctors. A photo report from inside a regional hospital battling COVID-19.
Life in Russia’s southern city of Krasnodar is returning to normal despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, local medical workers are continuing to work shifts in uncomfortable protective suits. They’ve learned to recognize each other by only their eyes, which are visible through the thin strip of their protective goggles. In a special photo report for Meduza, photographer Maxim Babenko shares his experience spending several days in the “red zone” of Krasnodar’s Regional Clinical Hospital No. 2.
The epidemic found me in Krasnodar Krai, the exact region in Russia where a “quarantine” regime was first announced (rather than “self-isolation”). Movement between municipalities was only allowed with a special red permit. After several rejections from other hospitals, I was lucky enough to be admitted to the “red zone” of Regional Clinical Hospital No.2 for a few days.
In my previous experience, doctors, soldiers, and civil servants are often weary of a person with a camera. But in the “red zone” of the hospital, it seemed that the doctors were both surprised and glad for my arrival. When passing through the sluice, you are the same as they are: it’s the same protective suit, several layers of gloves on your hands, shoe covers, lots and lots of tape (to keep everything secure), a mask, and plastic goggles; through which I looked at people who I didn’t know at all, but [whose stories] I wanted to tell.
The intensive care unit is the most difficult, with its small wards containing beds with patients on artificial lung ventilators. It’s completely silent, everything around is painfully white: the beds, the walls, the sheets. Even the patients seem to be white. The intensive care physician on duty is always going between them, checking the readings on the medical devices. One of the machines makes a noise — he picks up his pace.
Despite the epidemic, new life is being born in one of the buildings on the hospital grounds. Doctors are performing a difficult operation for a newborn baby. After half an hour it becomes clear that everything went well. The doctors show the child to the mother, who is still under anesthesia, and smile with their eyes (the protective suit covers your face).
Due to the epidemic most operations were transferred out of the main building, where the coronavirus patients are located. But some of them still have to be done inside the “red zone.” Naturally, the number of these operations has decreased sharply — the doctors are trying to protect pregnant women.
Ambulances with new patients still continue to approach the overpass in the “red zone,” albeit less often.
A few weeks after I started working, I met an elderly nurse on the street. She said: “I helped you tape your suit, when you came to the ‘zone’ for the first time! Remember?” Medical workers have learned to recognize a person by their eyes, which are visible through the thin strip of their protective goggles.
I go between the intensive care units, climbing from floor to floor. The nurses, who spotted the camera around my neck, are embarrassed — they’re worrying about how they will look in the photos. But I’m thinking about how they spend so many hours in these suits everyday. The mask fogs up, my gloves have tape wound around the wrists, but after a few hours sweat leaks out from there and drips out onto your hands.
By mid-june the city has almost completely returned to normal life. People are sitting on summer patios at restaurants, someone rides by on a bicycle, and children run around the fountain in the park. I sit in a taxi and think about those who are still inside the “red zone,” those who will continue to fight for their lives. I’m trying to understand if the new normal has already arrived, or if we have yet to find out what the new normal will be.