Updates from the Field

To wrap up our Notes from the Field series, we reached back out to our respondents for updates. Roughly two months have passed since we began this series, so we were interested to hear what has changed and what the future looks like now versus back in April. Below we have some updates from Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, and Russia.

Ann Merrill, Kyiv, Ukraine

Ukrainian President Zelensky sits in a café with his team despite cafes remaining closed to dine-in customers.

In Ukraine, it seems to me the government is caving under pressure from the business community to return to “normal life.” The Ministry of Health set specific conditions for easing the quarantine, which were not met by Kyiv city and several oblasts, but I guess keeping the capital and rest of the country shut down just doesn’t seem to be a viable option anymore. And with almost no enforcement of quarantine measures, and no repercussions for breaking them, it’s not surprising that many Ukrainians are not taking it seriously anymore -even the president. His office posted a photo on the Office of the President’s official Telegram channel of him inside a café during a working visit to Khmelnitsky. Cafes were not yet permitted to allow customers inside, so it caused a bit of a scandal. While the number of confirmed cases in Ukraine is still relatively low compared to many other countries (25,411 as of June 4, with 742 fatalities and 11,402 recovered), the curve is not flattening and certainly not declining. Yesterday had the highest number of new confirmed cases in one day to date with 588. The unseasonably cool and rainy weather has helped keep more people inside than usual for spring, but I worry what the coming weeks will look like as the weather improves.

 

Emma Pratt, Tbilisi, Georgia

The pandemic has certainly given me some insights into my daily life, especially into my work as a teacher. Delivering my course online has made clear to me which parts of teaching I like and which I dislike. Unfortunately, face to face interaction seems to be one of the things I like most, which I hadn’t fully realized before. Student requests come across differently online than they do in person, often in a negative way. On a similar note, it seems I should focus more on email-writing in the future. Some of the online activities born out of necessity have been very effective, and I hope to integrate them into future courses, even if they don’t have an online component.

I’ve realized that though cooking is my hobby, it is also a chore. There isn’t easy access to grocery stores and restaurants and the dishes are endless! Although I have been cooking for myself and my family for years, I never understood the “double burden” so well before. There was always the option to just grab something if I was tired or out of an ingredient. Don’t be mistaken. My family has also been doing an increased amount of cooking and dishwashing at this time. We just seem to need a LOT of food and dishes.

The biggest insight, though, has been into the political situations in the US and in Georgia. As America struggles, I worry about my friends and family there. However, Georgia has remained relatively calm and we are slowly returning to normal life, with the addition of masks and lots of hand sanitizer (both of which are now easily available). This is having an effect on the way I think about my future plans, though it’s too early for anything to be certain.

Free bread for those in need in Tbilisi

The following passages were pulled from a blog essay written by Tatiana Shchyttsova discussing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global society as well as Belarus’s response the pandemic. The essay was published in April 2020.

Tatiana Shchyttsova, Vilnius, Lithuania

The pandemic confirmed a truth already known to all: a crisis situation reveals weak spots and flaws in public systems: poorly functioning institutions, a deficit of material resources, various forms of social injustice.

The global spread of the virus has worked like a perception enhancer or a magnifying glass: it has sharpened our ethical, social, and political sensitivity, bringing about a new wave of critical hostility toward those things we already knew. That there are particularly vulnerable groups–the elderly, the critically ill, the unemployed, the homeless–who are not receiving sufficient social support. That the wealthy have privileged access to high-quality medical care. That corruption impedes the development of social institutions. That neoliberal capitalism does not facilitate social equality. That authoritarian government tends toward irrational decisions and the misuse of a crisis situation.

Liya Bushkanets, a literature professor in Kazan, Russia, honed her sewing talents during the Soviet era and now has created masks “in every size and color” for her family to wear during the pandemic.

Lyudmila Skryabina, Moscow, Russia

Lyudmila Skryabina shared her “outing schedule” for the first half of June: her building fell into Group 3 for her region and residents were permitted to go outside only three days a week: from 9 AM to 9 PM on June 2, 4, 6, 10, 12 and 14th.

Compared to many other countries, Russia has not had as many human losses in this epidemic. And that’s probably why large numbers of people outside of Moscow and the Moscow region don’t believe the virus is particularly dangerous. They argue that percentage-wise about as many people—and sometimes more—die each year from ordinary flu viruses.

In my opinion, the epidemic has not caused a collapse in Russia because quarantine measures were taken in time, the healthcare system was reoriented as the situation changed, and epidemiological controls were well-organized. This, I think, is where the habits of the Soviet-era planned economy come in handy.

Officially, unemployment stands at about 3 million people, and some estimates suggest it may rise to 6 million. Most of all the service sector—especially trade, food service, tourism—has suffered, and it won’t soon recover. Everyone I know who worked in cafes and bars has now registered for unemployment. In Moscow, civil servants have not stopped working but are still on a “distanced” regime. The plan now is to return to offices June 15, but construction and industry have already reopened.

Moscow instituted a walking schedule which residents were required to follow (although it was canceled on 9 June, 2020) and has now introduced a mobile tracking app.

 

Thank you for reading Notes from the Field, and thank you to all of our respondents for sharing their experiences during what we hope will turn out to be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

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