Coronavirus COVID-19 | Letters from the Other Side by Oxana Timofeeva

Oxana Timofeeva | Letters Against Separation

Oxana Timofeeva from Russia


It’s a beautiful day, lots of sunlight, but life is not easy when you have a toilet outside, get up in the morning and realize that the weather is -9 Celsius. Every morning and every evening I have to heat the house. I have an old stove that eats a lot of wood. There was a huge stack of wood here 12 days ago, when we – me and my beloved one – arrived from Berlin, and now it’s almost gone. I never count days, but now I have to, because we are in quarantine: all those who come back to Russia from abroad have to lock themselves for 14 days. Breaking this rule entails a felony. In two days, our quarantine will be finished; after then, we can move around.

I have to choose good potatoes myself

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My mom just called me: she is out of bread and potatos. In St. Petersburg, there is already the regime of strict self-isolation, but people are still allowed to go to grocery stores and pharmacies. She is not happy with the idea of food delivery. No, she says, I have to choose good potatoes myself! No one can forbid my mom anything.

Another update: Vyborg is closed. It is the only place around where we could buy food. We still have a supply that will last one week.

There is also bad news. Two neighboring villages – Perovo and Goncharovo – are isolated, because someone there was diagnosed with corona. There was a disinfection there. What does this mean for us? I don’t know. I learned that there is a mobile shop that runs between all our little settlements each Thursday. It sells bread, milk, butter and other stuff. I am really waiting for it, and hope that this wagonette will keep running.

I remember, half a year ago, I felt ill while hiding here in Lebedevka. I came from Leningrad for a few days to pick up a huge harvest from an old apple tree that lives in my garden, but, all of a sudden, I began to feel really terrible with fever, nausea, and vertigo that continued even when I was staying in bed. I had to burn the wood and bring water from the well, but was not really able to do that. I had no idea what it could be, and, thinking through the possibility of dying here alone, called for a doctor, who came from Vyborg very fast, gave me some paracetamol and reassured me that this is a regular virus that won’t last long. Finally, a friend rented a car, came here, picked me up and brought back to Leningrad.

We are afraid of cops more than criminals.

The police system in Russia is famous for making an interesting cocktail of violence and corruption.

The virus

Now, however, the situation is much more complicated. What should we do if something happens to our family members? We are locked in our places and cannot move around. Let me tell you how it works in Russia. We have a system of registration: everybody must have a permanent residence address, almost like everywhere (in Germany, too, one has to have a so-called Anmeldung, you know…), but there is one nuance. In Russia, the residence – propiska – is stamped in the passport.

Now, in the conditions of the new regime, everybody must stay at their places of residence. If you want to buy cigarettes, you go to the shop that is the closest to the place of your residence, and, indeed, take your passport along. A policeman can stop you and check where you live. If you live somewhere else, you’ll get into trouble. What kind of trouble? With Russian police, you never know. We are afraid of cops more than criminals. The police system in Russia is famous for making an interesting cocktail of violence and corruption with the most unexpected effects.

Who is not afraid of the police and can travel anywhere without registration? The virus. From your hand, it will jump on your passport, from there, onto the policeman’s hand, from there, onto my hand, etc. Believe me, the policeman does not care about the virus. He is interested in the stamp in your passport. The more our president transforms into a tzar, the more privileges and competences are given to the police. These days, after the decision of the state power to rewrite the constitution for the sake of a life-long presidency, Russians discuss two major things: corona for Mr. Putin, and corona for all of us.

My sister called me yesterday. She is working on the radio; they cannot stop the broadcast, and people still have to work on the production facility. The radio lives by selling advertisement, but everybody is in the crisis; no incomes.

Quarantine in Russia

It is already one week of total quarantine in Russia; however, it is not even called quarantine. Officially, we all have a holiday break. Putin gave a speech yesterday and said that the decision was taken to continue the holidays until the end of April, which means, nothing will work. I was trying to reach my bank yesterday – their phone number does not reply, and there is no info about whether there are offices that are still open. Life goes on, however. We will get used to this; our species may be even more adaptable than these viruses. You want to know how things can work? Let me give you an answer: corruption. Imagine you are a small company that does apartment renovations. Would you stop your work? No, because if you stop, you and your brigade will have no money to feed your families and pay their bills. So, you can continue at your own risk, and if the policemen come, dudes will make a deal.

oxana timofeeva russia covid
Oxana Timofeeva

For me quarantine is a kind of relief: as least I do not feel guilt of not attending this or that exhibition, seminar, or party. Sometimes friends are saying to me: you should socialize! I don’t think so. Solitude is my remedy. But now I feel attacked online. Everybody wants to organize something, to discuss, to reflect together on the current crisis; people compete in making statements and producing content. I have to find a way to reduce the noise. Hiding in a countryside is a good solution: you have to interrupt this work flood for some other practical activities; otherwise you won’t survive.

When we were at the Soviet school, we had classes on so-called civil defence, where we were taught to sew gauze and cotton facial dressings. We were supposed to do that in case of emergencies, such as nuclear explosion or chemical attack. We were preparing for events that would never happen. Today, people have a possibility to exercise all these crafts from the era of the Cold War. Some people that we met in Vyborg were wearing their self-made gauze and cotton dressings.

People say that situation is not safe in cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg. The probability to get robbed is very high: men gang up on empty streets around grocery stores, stop lonely passers-by and take their bags with food products. Meanwhile, more and more people are getting arrested, but not for robbery. The police take random people for being on the street. A person was arrested in Moscow for walking a dog. They grabbed the man and forced him into the police car. The dog was left alone outside. “Please, let me keep the dog!” – he cried, but the police did not react. Now it is reported that, luckily, the dog somehow found its way back home, and someone found it. I hope it’s true....

Oxana Timofeeva is a senior lecturer on contemporary philosophy at the European University in St. Petersburg, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Philosophy at the Russian Academy of Science, a member of the artistic collective Chto Delat? What is to be done?, a deputy editor of the journal Stasis, and the author of the books History of Animals: An Essay on Negativity, Immanence, and Freedom (Maastricht, 2009), and Introduction to the Erotic Philosophy of Georges Bataille (in Russian, Moscow, 2009).