By Polina Ivanova

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Moscow resident Arina Muratova knew something was wrong when the messages she received from Nina, a patient at Psychiatric Hospital No.22 who has become a friend during her voluntary work there, suddenly lost their usual, optimistic ring.

The hospital had gone into a precautionary lockdown, aimed at preventing the spread of the new coronavirus, and Nina, 26, was feeling more confined than ever.

“They were already living in isolation,” Muratova, who has volunteered for three years at the hospital in the city’s Elk Island park, said. “Now their (living space) had been shrunk to a tiny cube.”

Concerned about how fast the coronavirus could spread in the densely populated ward, Muratova decided to use a new government emergency measure allowing people to take residents of state institutions home during the lockdown to get Nina out.

Muratova, a 30-year-old marketing researcher, already had a flatmate, so she moved into temporary accommodation provided by her volunteer group, the Life Route foundation.

Nina, who has spent her life in children’s homes and then the psychiatric hospital, moved in with Muratova the next day.

With Moscow in a partial lockdown, the two women are self-isolating, and as Nina’s disability means she is not considered to have legal status, they are unsure how to register her for a digital pass allowing some excursions outside.

“So right now we are sitting in pretty strict self-isolation. All our groceries are delivered, everything we need is contact-free delivery and we don’t go outside,” Muratova said on a call, adding the plan is to do so at least until July.

“The main thing for me is that I can be with a girl friend here,” Nina, also on the video call, said.

They are cooking together and finding activities for Nina to do, Muratova said, adding that Nina was enjoying having her own space for the first time and being able to take showers alone, rather than in groups.


“All over the country, institutions house hundreds, sometimes thousands of people in one place … If one gets sick with coronavirus, so will everyone else,” Lida Moniava, director of a Moscow children’s hospice, said.

In a call with regional governors on Friday, President Vladimir Putin said if such outbreaks occurred, it was due to a failure of leadership: “Outbreaks, as a rule, occur as a result of our incomplete work. Because we have missed something.”

Last week, a psychiatric hospital in Russia’s northern city of Arkhangelsk reported an outbreak of 79 coronavirus cases. Two facilities housing children with special needs went into lockdown this week in Siberia’s Chelyabinsk region after staff members tested positive for COVID-19, Interfax reported.

“It’s terrifying, but sometimes terrifying situations can produce unexpectedly positive outcomes,” Moniava said, referring to the new government policy.

“Thanks to the coronavirus, an event occurred that is unprecedented in the whole adult and child boarding house system … The doors of these institutions were thrown open.”

Five staff members at Moniava’s Lighthouse Charity Foundation have taken in severely physically disabled children home from two Moscow city orphanages for the quarantine period.

Medical beds rigged with all the necessary equipment to support the children’s breathing and movement were installed in their homes, and the orphanage set up a WhatsApp chat group to provide medical advice and tips to the children’s new hosts.

Moniava said the paperwork granting temporary adoption rights was handled by authorities within a day.

Vica Lobanova, a 28-year-old editor working remotely during Moscow’s lockdown, who offered to share her home with Svetlana, from the same psychiatric ward in Elk Island park, said that in their case the paperwork was more arduous.

Delays brought Svetlana, who knew of the spread of the coronavirus from the news shown on a television in the ward, to tears. With around 100 people on her building’s floor, keeping a safe distance would have been tough.

Now self-isolating in Lobanova’s flat, Svetlana, who has been in institutions since her early teens, spends time playing with Lobanova’s dog and taking online classes.

“I gave Sveta one of my two laptops and it has Zoom and Sveta knows her schedule, puts in the conference number herself,” Lobanova, who also volunteers with Life Route, said, adding that the decision was a straightforward one for her.

“I live alone, I have a one bedroom flat … so I have space,” Lobanova said.

(Reporting by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Alison Williams)