Goodbye to The Moscow News: on riding off into the sunset yet again

“Again the well-worn saddle creaks,
And the wind chills an old wound;
Monsieur, where in the name of hell have you wound up?
Can it be you can’t afford a bit of calm?”

After nearly four years, I am leaving The Moscow News. Now that our owner, the RIA Novosti agency, has been liquidated, the paper has been put on hiatus, all of our social media channels are frozen, and the audience we have worked very hard to build has been left wondering what’s going to happen next. I will not be with TMN in the next chapter, so I will not be the one answering that question.

I do sincerely hope that the paper will be reopened – and that it will thrive.

I also have words of advice for everyone interested both in the media and in Russia.

To say that the future is uncertain is to say that the celestial void is somewhat daunting to behold. What’s especially hard to accept is that with regard to Ukraine, nothing may ever be the same again. It’s a scary, painful time. And it’s almost bizarre to observe how the stuff of headlines and news reports also has to do with your family and fate.

Personally speaking, I have been asking myself whether or not I would change anything if given the chance to go back. The answer is “no.”

I’ve also been asking myself how I really feel about everything – and in the end, all I can think about is how grateful I am for every single day I spent in the company of amazing people, doing something I loved. 

So here’s to love. And to the past. And to the future.

the musketeers agree

It gets personal: a dispatch from the Buguruslan Central City Hospital

Patients in Buguruslan

Patients at the Buguruslan Central City Hospital: note the window on the left. The blanket is hanging up there to protect the sick woman from the cold. The sick woman is my mom-in-law. Yep, they have to use blankets on some of the windows in the winter – as you see on the right, some windows have clearly been fixed up, while others have not. 

As a journalist, I frequently write about both problems and breakthroughs in Russian medicine. I write about the need for the humanization of Russian medical culture following decades of Soviet rule in particular. I also write about funding problems.

Every once in a while, this topic gets personal – extremely, painfully personal.

My mother-in-law, Tatiana Zhiryakova, is currently hospitalized in Buguruslan, Orenburg region. She was originally supposed to get gall bladder surgery – but got peritonitis after a blood transfusion (we are not sure what happened there, we are still trying to figure it out). She’s been in the ICU unit twice. Right now, she remains hospitalized – and she is not doing great.

Bulat Raigaleyevich Diusenov, the head of surgery, seems to be doing everything he can for her – but he’s just one man. The hospital’s head physician, Alexander Pavlovich Remin, has a good reputation too – but once again, he’s just one man. And the truth is, in hospital such as this one, most of the staff just doesn’t seem to care much.

Buguruslan is far away from Moscow (in Moscow, a lot of money gets pumped into medicine). Far, far away. In fact, it could almost be on another planet – or so I’m told. The funding for hospitals is not great. Hospital staff are frequently overworked and underpaid. There is hardly any public oversight.

I try to be as sensitive as I can when approaching this issue. I know that there are plenty of people trying to help. But there are some issues – such as the state of the hospital in general – that you can’t overlook, or write off, or explain away.

The Buguruslan Central City Hospital can’t even afford to have toilet paper in any of its bathrooms. When my husband asked a staff worker why this is the case, she snapped: “The hospital can’t afford medication, and you’re going on about toilet paper!”

This is bad, you guys.

P1020897

The holiday garland somehow makes the entire scene look even sadder

This is the reality we have to deal with today. It is, once again, personal. This isn’t just some abstract topic I get to briefly engage with before jetting off into the relative comfort and safety of a privileged lifestyle somewhere in the West (not that I would have that kind of lifestyle back there these days anyway – but, you know, whatever).

This is happening to people I love. It’s like something out of Dickens – except it’s not comfortably buried away in literature, cushioned by the years. This is the 21st century. This is here. This is now.

A non-statement on what is happening to RIA Novosti

In case you haven’t heard, RIA Novosti, the owner of The Moscow News, the paper that was the original reason for my move to Russia – the paper I currently run, that is – is being liquidated by presidential decree. And RIA, in my totally biased opinion, is not just the biggest Russian news agency – it is also the best.

I’ve been tweeting about what’s happening, but I am not currently ready or able to write anything profound on the matter.

The only thing I can say, or want to say, is that I have been really lucky these few years, because I had the best damn colleagues in the entire world. Whenever I think about them, the theme music from “American Beauty” starts playing in my head. Then I get the urge to start prattling on about how grateful I am “for every single moment.”

This has made me realize that the time for analysis will come later. You can’t do much analysis while still technically in shock, while the gears of the very process you are set to analyze are grinding you down.

On the plus side, I finally know why it is I identify with Captain Mal Reynolds (captain of a perpetually endangered spaceship) so much.

You may think I’m joking right now, or making a pop culture reference because it’s cool to make pop culture references in the age that we live in – but understanding your inner Mal Reynolds is a special kind of privilege. Almost as special as working at RIA, come to think of it.

weve done the impossible

Young women, stay away from Hugo Schwyzer

Older women too.

Middle-aged women, this is about you as well.

Men of all ages. Children. Other intelligent life-forms out there.

Everyone, just stay away from Hugo Schwyzer, OK?

Took me long enough to see what a dangerous, unhinged man he is, but I’ve finally seen it.

I sincerely apologize to those of you who have been saying it for years – many of your comments I had missed, others I just chalked up to a two-sided conflict of sorts. You know, people fighting on the Internet, the usual stuff. I never bothered to look closer. I have never imagined that he had been purposefully targeting his critics online, WOC bloggers in particular. Of course, having lived abroad for years now, I’ve had many other things on my mind instead of the feminist blogosphere – but it is also my old stomping ground, and honestly, the fact that we, all of us, let him run there unchecked means that we failed.

I sincerely regret linking Schwyzer approvingly in the past and being chummy with him on Facebook. I had bought into the notion that now that he had his beautiful wife and children in his life, the man HAD to have changed. Who would honestly screw a thing like that up? Stupid of me, I know.

I know a thing or two about what happens when scary men are allowed to run unchecked, which is why I’m saying it now:

People, stay away.

I have an “Idiots on Parade” category for posts on this blog. The idiot, in this instance, is me.

Watching Boston in sadness

Watching the manhunt unfold on Twitter, I’m struck by the fact that I have nothing clever to say.

When I first heard that a policeman had been shot at MIT, there was no impulse to tie it to the marathon bombings. I thought these guys would be smarter, somehow, and that they would have left the city right now.

I keep coming back to that photo of Martin Richard, a little boy watching the marathon – one of the alleged bombers looming behind him.

These guys were kids themselves recently, is what I keep thinking. They most likely cried over scraped knees and took lunchboxes to school. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was born in 1993. He’s a 90s kid, for God’s sake.

I keep thinking that having a city on lockdown is normal and reasonable. No one is questioning that decision and I don’t question it myself. But background checks for weapons, though? Totally irrational and out-of-this-world.

As a P.S. to all of this – while everyone was watching Boston, a coffee shop bomb in Baghdad killed 27 people.

There’s nothing good to report. Days like this make me want to do nothing – just shut off the phone and sit on a park bench somewhere with Lev, and watch him chase pigeons around. It’s finally warm in Moscow, and he is wearing his new little keds.