"The war didn't disappear with the border crossing."

Natalia. Photo from personal archive

Natalia is an editor of an Internet publication in St. Petersburg. Until she was 42 she did not think seriously about emigration, she was collecting documents for repatriation to Israel just in case. February 24th found her at the end of her treatment for covitis, but a month later, barely recovering from her illness, Natalia left for Baku with her husband. Since the beginning of the war, she has kept a diary, which she wanted to share with the readers of the "February 24 Eyewitnesses" project. We publish the "Nomadic Diary of an Editor from St. Petersburg" in an abridged form. Here you can read it in full and follow the updates.

- Among the stories of recent months, there is little about feelings inside Russia. And there, too, it is scary, among the bombs that have not yet exploded.

This winter was terrible. On December 30, I fell ill with covid, then pneumonia, then the consequences and minus 7 kg - all winter I did not look at myself in the mirror. And then the war. So as not to go crazy with fear and terror, I started keeping a diary.

Rereading it from a warm country, already recovered and holding my daily samite and cappuccino, I feel the same fear. Perhaps it is preserved in the letters. Just as flies stick to duct tape and stay there, so the tension stuck to the letters. That tension lived in my body and didn't let go until the landing gear touched down on Turkish soil. 

February 24 | day 1 | day 31 before departure

I took out the documents for the Israeli consulate that I had gathered three years ago and put aside. Filled out the forms. Turned down a three-year static mountain in two days.

On the questionnaires I wrote the date - March 1. Not February 24, although I know from the repatriation chat that thousands of people also downloaded questionnaires on that day. There was panic and chaos in the chats. Even those who do not have foreign passports are about to leave.

Day 3

Checking my brother and his family every day. So far, it's quiet under the Dnepr. I didn't know that Dnepropetrovsk has been Dnepr for a long time.

- Will you be leaving?

- 40 years of building a life here, achieving something. I think.

They remembered their childhood, the huge field of corn behind their house, their grandfather with one arm and his rabbits. He lost his arm during the war. That one.

Day 5

Friends of the men who left said that in Moscow they check men's correspondence on their phones. They ask a lot of questions.

Let's all go to Telegram. After each conversation we erase what we have written. My friend from Switzerland writes to me cautiously, even though I didn't warn her about anything. People are beginning to be more tactful. And others remain clueless.

The pointlessness now has a fine line; if you cross it, you've already done a mean thing.

A. told me a week ago, "Don't write anything in the storis, in the chats, and don't discuss with your friends. I thought he was paranoid at the time.

Day 8

People are fleeing the country, wrapping up business in a couple of days. We are discussing the possible departure with A. for the third day. I shake with every discussion. Terrible panic. A feeling of danger. It is scary to run, and it is scary not to run.

After 5 weeks of pneumonia, I am slowly building up circles: from bed to rug, to kitchen, yard, cab. The trip to the doctor's office is a round-the-world trip. Flying out quickly and for an unknown period of time knocks the ground out from under my feet.

I don't even know what I'm most afraid of. Going to jail for what I said out loud outside the party line? Being behind the Iron Curtain?

At night we bought tickets for the end of the month. Everything before - at Maldives prices. And we're not going to the Maldives, we're going to Turkey. The sea, the air, we'll settle down there, we can work. Baku, A's homeland, is next door. The plan is logical. But there are a lot of holes. How to earn money, what to live on? Nothing is clear.

Hotel "Astoria" in St. Petersburg
Photo from Natalia's personal archive

Day 9

Russian airlines canceled all flights abroad. Our kind of reliable Aeroflot is at the top of the list. I returned the ticket. I roared.

I can't read the news anymore - every morning someone leaves the country, something is cancelled and banned. This does not surprise me, for ten years this clod has been accumulating. But the suddenness is like a slap in the face.

Day 10

It's getting hard to check on my brother. The strength to support someone isn't there at all. I happen to be checking on my younger brother and my sister on my older brother. I probably wouldn't be enough for two. I don't eat well, I keep losing weight.

Still on the hunt for dollars - there are queues at ATMs and the currency runs out quickly. People on Telegram are sharing their experiences of how they withdrew. They joke that it's time to pitch a tent.

Day 11

We buy a new ticket for almost the end of the month - Istanbul-Baku.

I wanted to go to Baku for a long time. But the tickets there always cost as much as a resort, and we chose other resorts. And now the tickets are for the price of four resorts, and we take them.

Every day I prepare to weep first and then find new ways, if anything. I think about what it's like for people in basements if their stomachs get sick. I cringe.

Day 13

Every evening A. and I have an hour to live. We agree and for the next hour we just live: we eat, drink tea, sometimes even watch a movie.

Today was an international day - I checked on my foreign girls. Natasha from Prague told me about the girls who fled Ukraine. Some got their bearings and came to their Czech admirers, with whom they were in correspondence. The relationship didn't work out, but they are alive.

Day 15

Mourning the collapse. Feeling of refuge for the first time in my life. Thoughts separate from the body. The body is no longer here. I do not understand why I have the feeling of finality. We are not emigrating, we are even discussing opening a business between Baku and Russia. New shuttles. We just need to exhale. Let's exhale, I'll gain weight, and we'll come.

The Griboyedov Canal in St. Petersburg.
Photo from Natalia's personal archive

Everyone is leaving. Irochka, my doctor friend, called. They recently bought an apartment, had a son, she spoke at doctors' conferences and talked to doctors in Barcelona, London, Oslo. She said they had all these avenues closed to them.

"That's what they wrote in the official letter: "You are no longer welcome. Believe me, I don't want anything, and after all, I'm a patriot and always wanted to live in St. Petersburg," she says.

Covid was not so scary, because the whole world was united against the natural enemy. Against the elements. And now the enemy is scarier - he is a man.

The atmosphere of that summer, when the World Cup was held and the whole world flocked to St. Petersburg, and the city became one peaceful community, will not be repeated. The black dust from the red-covered passport will follow us everywhere. And it will eat up all our summers and May Day celebrations.

Day 17

Two large suitcases.

- Why don't we take one and the essentials? Why the summer stuff?

- Will we be back before summer?

There are already 96,000 people in the channel about relocation, and I signed up in the first few days and it was 6,000.

Our flight from Istanbul to Baku was delayed by 2 hours, which means we will be in Istanbul for two days. Insta reminds us that we were there for the first time together exactly three years ago. On the same dates.

Then I fell in love with Istanbul, the city of chaos, a boiling cauldron of East and West. A. and I were having an affair, and we weren't going to get married. And now we're going as a refugee family? If they don't close the borders and turn us away at customs.

Day 18

I admire the psyche of people who now have cats, relationships, and even children. My maximum is a new neurosis. 18 days of body tension. Total mobilization. The to-do list is my salvation. I wake up, look at it, go and do it.

My brother is doing more or less well, my daughter is even studying remotely. Vegetable garden. Cats. Not evacuated.

Days 19-20

It's a good thing we didn't run away in the first few days. It would have been hysterical. What would we have done now in Turkey with our depreciated budget. At times like this, I think it's a good thing that A. is not an atheist-he always has someone to ask, unlike me.

It's like there's no panic now. Suddenly spring, sunshine, ice melting. In the evening saw a red not bloody sunset. It smells like summer St. Petersburg, with water, rock, yachts and boats, friends, bubbly and walking the night away. All that summer magic comes back when you forget the horror of November on the banks of the Neva.

Summer terrace of St. Petersburg cafe in March
Photo from Natalia's personal archive

But should I leave? Now leaving, even for a couple of months, and even for the sake of health, seems like fleeing, emigration. A line. I have lived three lives in three places: the Urals, Moscow, St. Petersburg. What's next?

Day 28

I went to the doctor. I don't believe it will ever be okay again. But for the first time in three months I'm just glad - because there's nothing fatal, and I'll see the Bosphorus and the seagulls and be able to breathe. I'm allowed to fly.

I was in the subway, I saw the letters Z made of St. George's ribbon. It was displayed on the screen, so it was a centralized action. Creepy.

In the evening I saw my best friend from school in the Urals. She said that there is still a normal life there, no propaganda, no letters; you won't sit on the neck of the Urals


Day 30

Before the airport we stopped at my parents' house. Talking to my dad in front of the TV. This is the end. Like in the movies - the non-partisan heroine leaves the Union, and the party considers her... We did not continue the conversation.

Passport control at Pulkovo. I hadn't been abroad for two years. During the covid, we first explored Gelendzhik and Krasnaya Polyana. Instead of Helsinki, we went to Vyborg for coffee.

Before customs we deleted some of the social media and were ready for questions, but we were not asked any. And we left without a return ticket.

Day 31

In Istanbul, A.'s friend, a Baku resident, met us and took us to breakfast with another friend, an Istanbul resident. For the first time I'm not scared. I even eat. We arrived at 7 a.m., and at 8 a.m. we had breakfast with a view of the Bosphorus. We were walking around like crazy, I remembered how they used to send children to the rear - to Tashkent, for example, and there the sun and fruits.

Then we were lodged in an authentic neighborhood where it was like little Italy, the outskirts of Rome after the war, when many children had already been born, there was already peace, and just no gloss, and the sun-smelling laundry was hanging out of the windows.

A.'s friend refused to take money for the room. Even though it's just Oriental hospitality, I feel like a refugee, and one who is kind to the whole world. It's the first time I've ever felt that way.

Istanbul is again a window to Europe, a century later. The irony of ocaianism.

April 2 | 7th day outside Russia

We've been in Baku for almost a week. Another world. Another life.

There is a feeling that we still ran - we are just as welcome and willing to help, although I am not used to this, because in the Urals and Moscow since childhood are taught independence.

But I was no longer (or not yet) sad. But it became clear that I was mourning t h a t I really don't have it anymore-the peaceful summer St. Petersburg, where everyone comes, where you can hear speech in all European languages.

Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku
Photo from Natalia's personal archive

April 30

A month of euphoria has passed in Baku.

After the daily sunshine in the crazy wind (28 m/s against the St. Petersburg breeze), after getting to know A.'s relatives. (parents, uncles, children of uncles, families of children of uncles) and their hospitable iftars, after tons of tandoor, köfte and dushbara, the tenderest baklava that leaves honey trails on my fingers, after the conversations (covered women and uncovered me, East and West, and intercultural language, which any woman from birth, if not pretending to be someone else).

After all this, and also after the daily smell of the sea, walks through the old fortress, olives underfoot and pomegranates overhead, I was sad.

Fizuli Park in Baku
Photo from Natalia's personal archive

I desperately wanted a contrast - a simple European conversation, maybe a shot. I relaxed so much that I started to say and write what I thought everywhere.

At first, the Baku respect, the tact, the addressing as "You" from men, even from my husband's friends; from strange women. Everywhere, as in a Turkish TV series, they say "Hanim" (respected) to you. You buy some housewares in the "Hoziaushka" store, and the consultant says to you: What do you want, Hanim?

But then suddenly and greedily I want something else. And so yesterday I met in a local chat room (relocation chat rooms are a new tinder, including for friendship) with girls from Riga and Nizhny Novgorod. We chatted for a few hours on the same wavelength and parted with the words: "We are so cool, let's meet".

We also moved today, this is my 4th bed for the month. Now I have a closet, a chandelier, and a rug.

May 1 is the day of spring and mental labor

Baku is warm and beautiful, I see the sea and relaxed people every day, I am tucked in with clean sheets, I have delicious food and lots of love. Even without the stability of tomorrow, all this is a luxury today.

But every day here we talk about war. It didn't disappear with the border crossing, because it happens to everyone, it's just that some people are lucky not to be right there.

I don't try to shield myself from those who think differently, I even seek them out, because I don't want to find myself in a bubble of like-minded people. Yes, I'm not close with those who think differently, but if I observe them, I don't tear my hair out "How come?!" (after covid, by the way, there's almost nothing to tear up).

I'm not unsubscribing, I'm not cutting ties - I'm trying to understand why people think that way. Motives for the position.

And I see a lot of fear there, which prevents me from acknowledging what is happening. Well, it's scary when the world is unpredictable, when things are not what you thought they would be, when people are capable of any darkness and any miracle - everyone, and even yourself.

Natalia. Photo from personal archive

May 9 of any year

My grandmother Dusya, 22 years old with M., fought from 1942 to 1945, was a signaller and a nurse, reached Kaliningrad. She managed the morse code, took the wounded out of the battlefield.

When they forced a crossing of Lake Sivash, which seemed foreign to me as a child, it turned out to be where the Sea of Azov was. There she had to sit in a trench knee-deep in water. Her feet were swollen, and when they brought her to the hospital, the boots could not be removed. She had to cut them off. At first she had to have her boots cut. And then they wanted to take away her legs. But Dusya categorically refused. She liked to dress up, and how could she do it without lacquered shoes?

She was cured, came out of the hospital and tore up all her medical certificates. Her legs hurt all her life, but after her return to Sverdlovsk, Dusya wore crepe dresses, red lipstick, and Red Moscow perfume. Powder in a crystal powder-box, flying fabrics in emerald tones, her lively laughter - that's how I remembered her. I also remember her with a notebook where she wrote her poems. Unfunny ones.

There was a whole life after the war. Her future husband, our grandfather Fischel, was also an aesthete. They met at a dance where he stained Dusya with his shoes during a waltz (he painted over the scuffs on his old shoes to show off). During the Holocaust in 1939, he and his brother escaped from occupied Warsaw and ended up in the Urals.

Twelve years after the Victory, on May 9, Evdokia and Fyodor (no one could pronounce Fishel in the Urals) gave birth to their daughter Alla, our mother. She gave birth to my sister and me. And their eldest daughter Luda had two sons. They grew up and live in Ukraine. We remembered together with them grandmother's dumplings with mannik and especially - batteries of delicious condensed milk. Well, how can you do without warm knitted socks in a parcel?

May 16

Garrison travel ceases to be an adventure. Russia, with its heating, doctors, beauticians, ozone, my own home already seems like something pleasant. I begin to understand the returners. Fatigue dulls vigilance.

Yesterday a deluxe room and coffee for 7 manat (= the price of a meal, 2 soups or 3 doners), today a basement in the hostel area. Like Bulgakov," I console myself. Tomorrow again deluxe, and the day after tomorrow in Baku Formula 1, so Moscow and so prices for housing multiply by 3. And the income is down, and this is not a resort. Hotels in Baku often change their names because of bad ratings. They ask for reviews and worry about ratings instead of working on service and not being stupid.

Flame Park in Baku
Photo from Natalia's personal archive

All around prestige, boutique, luxury, exclusive. Everything in the city is exclusive - tea, mobile operator, meditations. But until we moved to a real boutique, I washed the windows myself in the hotel.

In short, I have more and more gray hair, and there is no one here to entrust it to. The masters in Baku salons are all men, but not the ones we are used to. Those are for beauty, and these have buttery eyes.

There is a spoonful of oil in every barrel of euphoria, and it is black. There was a huge stain on my barrel.

May 22 | a week before the 90th day of the war

Constantly anxious. Baku is called the city of winds; I thought it was a metaphor, it turned out to be chemistry. This wind changes the composition of blood and mind, so did the St. Petersburg one, but the Baku one makes it stronger.

My head is full of uncertainties. We only plan for the future for 2 weeks, pay rent, and so every 2 weeks.

"Lying sobbing on white sheets," is what every woman in sudden emigration can say about herself now. Every day is on my schedule, too: to cry. Quickly I cry and go about my business. Sometimes I don't have time, I have to put on my glasses and cry on the way.

"It's hardest for atheists right now," I say in a conversation with N. (one month in Turkey, she's fine, going to Russia to sell a car). I say, and I realize it myself: if you don't believe in the outer space now, you will be quickly swallowed up by the inner one.

My mom called from our apartment in St. Petersburg, looking for documents. I think if only she didn't turn on the video, I wouldn't be able to see the apartment, I'd burst into tears. And I dreamed of escaping from there, and I'm not at home.

Those who have left can already be used to create a new Israel.

May 23

In a week my 60 days in Baku will be over. I can be here for 90 days, and then I have to leave (this is called a visaran). But the land border has not opened yet after the covid, and flying even to Georgia now is unprofitable. We decided not to fly out, but to make a residence permit, which should be done no later than 60 days from the moment of entry.

There seems to be no bureaucracy in Baku, although there is a cult of personality and "blat. But in Russia, when A. obtained citizenship, they sold the queue at the MFC for money. Here we did everything in 15 minutes.

Could I have thought that instead of Israeli citizenship I would get a document of Azerbaijan this year and it would be appreciated and coveted?

June 1-2, realism in Baku

They gave me an "Ambassador" badge in the emigrant Facebook group. And I still carry emigration questions, not answers.

The drama continues on social media. Embarrassment, guilt, pain, laid out in the wrappers of intolerance and the impossibility of putting up with it. Mostly those in the rear are tearing their hair out. Those under the sirens seem more adequate, wanting to live, dealing with issues. Their philosophy is a practice: live. It commands respect. Whining doesn't. Like if you don't tear your hair out in public, you're bad.
Streets of Baku
Photo from Natalia's personal archive

I asked my brother near the Dnieper, saying that people started coming back to Kiev. So it is becoming safer? "People have nothing to eat, they need to earn money. You get used to the war," he answers.

The second brother's family returned from evacuation. Seems upset by this fact, as it was safer there. "The mood of the women is not good. They came from the village from their mother on administrative matters - school, to buy sandals for the child. I understand women: to live and survive is not always the same.

And I still want to be beautiful. To see beautiful things: shabby houses, stylish interiors, a sunset, wine, a person's heart. And to live life to the death.

June 19-22

Russian literature was banned in Ukraine. Rage. After all, this is how fascism breeds fascism.

More. Ukrainians are helped by activists from the Russian Federation, they rally, they sit for peace, and there they ban the culture, which in these activists has grown this kind of morality, which makes them fight. This is the absurdity of war. But for a country where war is rhetoric, it is understandable.

June 24 | the first house in Baku

Checked into an apartment for a month - the first home after 3 hotels in 3 months in Baku. Own kitchen. The refrigerator is huge. We started cooking: first pasta, first choban salad. Tomatoes smell of childhood, basil as if giving shade in the summer heat. Got the tablecloth. Got the saucers. First guests. Rug handmade by mom A. Home.

I used to think I would have lived my whole life in hotels. But no. A temporary corner and a bourgeois swamp (even for a month) comforted the mind. The panic is gone. I can work. I can lie quietly in shavasana. I have written down a plan of things to do. I put it in one place so the maid won't come and move it. I won't go anywhere for a month.

End of June wind in Baku

I saw a new term in A.'s posts from Kiev - "war life balance. We observe it in the home front, too - we live as long as we live.

I'm wearing a polka-dot dress. A. says, "Your style is postwar. It was as they wore it in feast and in peace. Because there wasn't another one. I feel more collected in it. I keep red lipstick in my pocket. It is a dangerous weapon here. A city of men, but not the kind who will think, "How pretty!"

There are always a lot of things to do, the rhythm in Baku is Moscow, the city center is crazy Asia, whose rumble reaches up to our 8th floor. I began to forget to admire the sea in the window. Among the emigrant affairs, apart from the existential and financial, there is everyday life. In off-line Baku it is like this: kettle burned out - find out where to buy a new one cheaply, then go buy one, two hours have passed.

Photo from Natalia's personal archive
And for stress I have a second instagram, and there I subscribe to bloggers who have no war, but only summer, beautiful Moscow, partying, Maldives, Lazurka, and all of them write how happy and some are even proud of their homeland. I go to that account to be high, in an illusion, and to relax my brain.

Called L., many months in Asia, then the Emirates, Turkey. Now she is back in Yekaterinburg. She says she feels uncomfortable, wartime signs all around: the bank advertises a deposit for pensioners "Our heroes", the letter Z is on the architectural academy. And the architectural was a stronghold of charismatics. But I guess I'm too sensitive, he says, because everyone around me doesn't see any such signs.

Brothers from Ukraine send photos of beautiful daughters on summer lawns. We have a regular roll call in our chat room. When I read the news about Dnipro, I'm afraid to write to them. But then they send girls and cats, write about the garden and piano lessons. And until the next time we live.

End of July | kovid (?) in Baku

Sick. The stress of uncertainty, the Baku wind and the change of cold and hot dishes - the baking of the street and the ice of the air conditioner. Or maybe it's covid again? Googling "centaur," it's a new strain of mosquito - doesn't fit. Googling covid British - all symptoms fit.

My hair only recently stopped falling out. I can't bear it a second time. But I don't have the energy to panic, the financial project was ruined. We agreed with A. not to make any more jokes about elite homelessness.

You can't call a doctor here, only an ambulance. I ask locals, they treat children with baking soda. Any kind of angina. It hurts to swallow, I start coughing, everything reminds me of January's covid pneumonia hell. Gargles don't help, there is a barbed wire in my throat. Looking for a doctor from friends, they send the name and number, but we have to go to the clinic ourselves.

Usually this uncivilized scheme is annoying, but this time it saved me: my local fairy A. sent me the name of the doctor, told me which floor to go up to and from which khanum to say hello. Fifteen minutes later I was in the chair at the ENT. The diagnosis: not angina, but bronchitis. They sent me for an X-ray.

The nice old man at the fluoroscopy office said that CT scans give you dangerous radiation.

- But in Russia they do a CT scan right away, so they don't miss pneumonia," I whisper scientifically through the bronchial film.

- People are deceived," states the radiologist, "CT scans are only for indications, if there are tumors. So why do you need radiation? You have to eat well.

Shows a fresh pear and says that through 2,000 sick in two years never got sick.

- Covid is artificially created, people are being tricked again," he added. - There have always been these coronaviruses, a hundred years old.

I feel like I have a fever of 40. My shirt is wet, not only from sickness, but also from scientific indignation. But I have no strength. I whisper to them to give me a picture. My lungs are clear, bronchitis, - confirms the specialist.

Lor prescribes medications and sends me for a test. With 90% confidence in the covid, I take it. In an hour the result came in the mail.

August 4 | Baku without power

The house now has a thermometer, the family has a sensible ENT, and I, Mrs. Covid, have met my annual quota. One week of quarantine. Express apathy for two days. Antibiotics, breakfasts and lunches from A., amino acids for the downtime, and a doctor on call.

While I was sick, the Jewish Sokhnut was almost banned in Russia, and monkeypox was declared a disaster. There was also the problem of grain. But even without this hunger, I have a panic. 1-2 months ago we were criticizing local service, comparing hotels. Those were the times. Now it's gone back to basic needs: food, lodging.

Sometimes I think of giving up everything and giving up. And then I see myself as a resident of Baku, who tolerates, saves, suffers, denies herself everything, complains and forgets that the world is a big place. In March, we joked about how I hang my laundry on a rope, and A. comes home late from the teahouse. Is it a joke now?

All inclusive without illusions, comparing Europe with Russia. By all parameters Russia was the best: medicine, housing and utilities, services. Yes, everything except winter weather, safety and atmosphere. Then in the film I saw shots of Moscow winter, slush and heard the sound of creaking snow. I remembered the ice and how tired you get while you walk from your apartment to the cab in a pile of clothes and shoes.

I remembered the feeling of wet snow: that mixture of winter darkness, coziness, vulnerability, and nostalgia. A mixture of childhood in the USSR, wet mittens, and something gone. Without which there is no me, but which often eclipses all joy. And I realized: no, I'm better off here.

End of Summer | Nerves in Baku

For the first time I received a letter from the bank demanding an explanation of the economic feasibility of my banking operations. I googled the number of the law, and it is about money laundering and promoting terrorism. Just the right thing to do when you live legally, pay your taxes without pleasure and don't even have credit debts.

And then we will have to close the accounts, because this is no longer the free bank that helped us and made money for us. A big bank has a lot of fear and mows down its customers.

Then I caught a panic attack near the barn, which is the name of Aliyev's palace in Baku. I sat down on the steps and told A., "I'm going to faint" (although I can't). I can't do it. I panic, let's breathe, says A. We breathed and went home. In the evening I uncorked the balsam from Riga, which was given to me by a woman in Riga. I made up my mind to ignore everything that was going on in the era of instability.

And today the former mayor of Yekaterinburg was taken, the city respects him. On Facebook they are discussing: is it a sacrifice or the duty of a politician? And I think: what is freedom, the most precious thing to me? And is it what I thought it was? Is freedom to remain myself and go to jail, or is freedom to stay on the outside (ha ha) and help people but remain silent?

Someone else is marketing while everything is falling apart. Destination? A calling?

A. just makes money for food and shelter by selling anything that needs to be sold, from computers to upholstered furniture. About the vocation later, now about the bottom of the pyramid. And I'll be doing the tulle laundry. These apartments have tulle, and it's dusty. That's my destination for the next half hour.

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