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Russian quarantine in Siberia
Via Instagram (@nd.nadias @marina__zai)

The Russians quarantined over coronavirus documenting their lives online

We speak to some of the 140 Russians living in a Siberian sanatorium after being evacuated from Wuhan, as they share their workouts, food, and fashion on Instagram

As the coronavirus continues to spread across the world, people returning to Russia from Wuhan in China have been taken away to a sanatorium in the Siberian forest, where they will remain in quarantine for two weeks. The facility is policed by members of Russia’s National Guard who are under strict instructions not to let anyone enter or leave.

Around 140 people are currently housed in the facility in Tyumen, where they will live under 24-hour surveillance for around 14 days, during which time they will undergo various medical tests to gauge the risk they pose to the general public. Russia has already had its first two cases of the virus confirmed and the Kremlin has started to carry out body temperature tests on people attending events with President Vladimir Putin as a “precautionary measure”, according to spokesman Dmitry Peskov

The country is on high alert, but those under quarantine in Siberia have been documenting their experiences on Instagram, posting workout routines, pictures of the food they’ve been given, and the cramped living quarters that they’ll call home for the next fortnight.

“I will tell you my personal impression of everything that is happening,” wrote Nadezhda, a Russian model and evacuee from Wuhan whose Instagram grid has abruptly changed from neon-lit photographs of her travels in China to posts of her in the decidedly less colourful sanatorium. “I had to fly with strangers and potentially dangerous people to me”, she said of being evacuated, “When the bus drove us to the very same aircraft of the VKS defense ministry, I became even more worried... 😅.”

Nadezhda chronicled the journey on her IG stories, posting videos of being helped onto the military aircraft by Russian officials in protective hazmat suits and gas masks. When they touched down in Russia, “a bus immediately took us from the plane to the sanatorium”, she said.

She tells Dazed: “I am now on day four out of 14,” adding that to pass the time she’s been “watching films, reading articles, and studying languages. I don’t want to try to escape, because I don’t want to be dangerous to others.”

Misinformation about the virus and how it spreads is being given mainstream airtime in the Russian media. One of the country’s national TV outlets, Channel One, now has a slot on its evening news programme that’s devoted to coronavirus conspiracy theories, presenting ideas circulating on the internet and partially debunking them, but in a way that suggests they may contain elements of truth.

Given that Russian TV generally has an anti-Western slant, particularly regarding the US, it should come as no surprise that the programme recently aired a theory that the whole thing is President Donald Trump’s fault. The word “corona”, which means “crown” in Russian, hints at his involvement because he used to award crowns to the winners of the beauty pageants he presided over, or so the theory goes.

Meanwhile, the reality of the situation is being revealed on Instagram by those quarantined in the heavily guarded sanatorium in Tyumen. Marina Zaitseva, a student visiting a friend in Wuhan at the time of the outbreak, posted a video shortly after landing in Siberia – with the caption “-27°C” – showing officials shepherding evacuees into military tents next to the runway.

After arriving at the quarantined facility, Zaitseva posted a video tour of her room, complete with a small single bed, two styrofoam plates of fruit, a tiny travel chess set, and an empty fridge. A string of posts then focus on the food, including her first quarantine dinner “which was lovely”, some chocolate, and a “really weird” powdered coffee. “Are we supposed to just put it in our mouths like that?” she joked in the caption.

Zaitseva also shared a photo of the desolate frozen landscape seen from her window, pointing out tracks in the snow left by the Russian army from their 24 hour patrols. She highlights the fence around the perimeter of the grounds preventing escapes, not that you’d last long in temperatures pushing 30 degrees below zero if you did decided to make a run for it.

Another detainee, model Pavel Lichman – who appears to maintain a professionally trim physique – shared a video of his fitness routine which consists of planking, sit-ups, and leg work. “My health is in order, thanks to my workout,” he wrote on Instagram.

Lichman told Dazed: “I do workouts every day, once in the morning and once in the evening! Because I am a real Russian, and not an alcoholic with whom the whole world represents us.” The model seems to be truly enjoying the regimented quarantine lifestyle: “The conditions in which I live are very good, I can’t believe it. They feed us very well !!! It even seems to me that this is not happening in Russia.”

But what about his captors, the Russian National Guard, who also happen to be the brutal military arm of Putin’s authoritarian regime? “They treat me like a son,” Lichman says.

“It looks like the beginning of the Stockholm syndrome, Tyumen Edition,” someone commented under a picture of Nadezhda dressed in the striped pyjamas provided for all detainees. “It’s stupid to complain, since the truth is that everything we need for life is there,” Nadezhda says under her own post. She adds: “and they don’t contain us in some terrible conditions, at the moment, everything is not as bad as some say.”

With thanks to Ksenia Maqa for translations.

Read our feature here about the young people detained in Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronovirus outbreak.