SAMARA, Russia. – He broke into the hospital morgue, the bodies were everywhere, about a dozen of them on black stretchers with black bags. He went straight to the autopsy room, asking the guard in a black jacket. “Can I talk to the doctor my father opened?”
Olga Kagarlitskaya’s father was hospitalized in the coronavirus department weeks ago. Now he has no other cause of death. “Viral pneumonia, unspecified.” Kagarlitskaya wanted to know the truth while filming with her smartphone. But the guard, hands in his pockets, sent him.
Thousands of such incidents took place across Russia last year, according to government statistics. Last year, the coronavirus epidemic killed at least 300,000 more people than reported in Russia’s best-cited official statistics.
Not all of these deaths are necessarily caused by a virus. But they refute President Vladimir Putin’s claim that the country has been ruled by the virus better than many. In fact, the New York Times analysis of mortality data shows that during last year’s epidemic, deaths in Russia were 28% higher than normal, which is higher than in the United States and many European countries.
“People did not know the objective situation,” Kagarlitskaya said. “And if you do not know the objective situation, you are not afraid.”
For most of the past year, Russia has focused more on public relations and the economic aspects of the epidemic than on fighting the virus itself. After a rough two-month blockade last spring, the government largely lifted the restrictions last summer, which boosted public opinion and the economy, even as the disease spread faster.
In the fall, Russian scientists developed the COVID vaccine, widely regarded as one of the best in the world, but the Kremlin focuses more on using the Sputnik V shot to gain geopolitical points than on immunizing its own population.
Ironically, the strongest sign of state priorities is the reduction of coronavirus mortality, a move that many critics say has left much of society in the dark about the dangers of the disease and the importance of getting the vaccine.
Asked to sum up his 2020 year-end press conference in December, Putin mixed up statistics showing that Russia’s economy has suffered more than many other economies. Indeed, even when Europe imposed blockades in the autumn and winter, the Russians were largely free to pack nightclubs, restaurants, theaters, and bars.
But Putin did not say anything about the human victims of the epidemic. A case that is only now fully visible in the monthly dry data publications of its own government statistics agency.
Official television պաշտոնական The official death toll from the official coronavirus reported to the World Health Organization at 102,649 on Saturday is much lower than that of the population-adjusted population in much of the United States մեծ Western Europe.
However, the official statistics agency Rosstat tells a very different story that increases the cause of death. Russia has seen more than 360,000 deaths from last April to December, according to a historical analysis by the Times. Rosstat data for January-February this year show that the number is now over 400,000.
In the United States, where Russia has more than double its population, there have been about 574,000 such “extra deaths” since the outbreak began. By that measure, considered by many demographers to be the most accurate way to estimate the total casualty, the epidemic killed 1 in 400 people in Russia and 600 in the United States.
“It is difficult to find a worse developed country in terms of mortality from KOVID,” said Alexei Raksha, an independent demographer in Moscow. “The government is doing everything possible to avoid revealing these facts.”
The Russian government says it is counting only deaths that have been confirmed to have been caused directly by the coronavirus, its official victims. Additional cases confirmed by autopsy are part of separate monthly calculations published by “Rosstat”. 162,429 at the end of last year, և more than 225,000 in February.
But the large regional discrepancies undermine the view that the reason for the low official duty is simply methodological.
According to Rosstat, 28,233 deaths were registered in Moscow in 2020, according to Rosstat, 11,209 confirmed coronaviruses were reported as official victims. The Samara region, a relatively prosperous area where the Volga River flows through oil rigs as it approaches Kazakhstan, has lost 10,596 lives, a 25 percent drop from the 2019 death toll. Last year, the region reported deaths from only 606 official coronaviruses.
“The published numbers are reliable,” said Samara Minister of Health Armen Benyan. “And they are what they are.”
He acknowledged that most deaths in his region were due in part to the epidemic. For example, a patient suffering from coronavirus would not have a heart attack among the official victims.
The low official figures have contributed in some cases to the Russians’ oblivion to the dangers, and in others to their deep distrust of government reports of an epidemic. A poll conducted last October found that most Russians do not believe the government’s calculation of coronavirus cases. Half of those who do not believe in the calculation think that it is too high, and half think that it is too low.
Another poll in February found that 60% of Russians said they were not going to get the Russian Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, which most believe is a biological weapon.
The mother of obstetrician-gynecologist Inna Pogozha in the Samara region died in November after being hospitalized with a COVID-19 referral based on a CT scan. Muslims in rubber boots and hazmat suits carried their mother from the morgue to the hall in a sealed coffin and then flushed each other with disinfectant.
But there was no word on COVID-19 on the death certificate.
Pogozha said he did not know what to believe about the epidemic, including whether the Gates Foundation, along with the conspiracy theories, could be behind it. But one thing was certain, he said. He will not be vaccinated, even after witnessing the devastation of COVID. After all, if he can’t trust his mother’s death certificate, why should he trust the Russian government with vaccine safety?
“Who knows what went wrong there?” Pogozheva said. “You can not trust anyone, especially when it comes to this situation.”
Pogozheva appeals to reconsider the cause of her mother’s death. One of the relatives of the health worker who has been shown to have died of COVID-19 while on the job is entitled to a special payment to the state. Kagarlitskaya, whose father was a health worker, managed to change the cause of his death after COVID-19 became viral on Instagram, and the governor of Samara personally intervened.
Despite all the deaths, there has been little opposition in Russia, even among Putin’s critics, to the government’s decision to keep businesses open last winter and autumn. Some compare it to Russian stoicism or fatalism or the lack of alternatives to minimal state assistance to the economy.
Rakshan, an Aks demographer, noted that the high death toll from the chaos and poverty of the 1990s was even more deadly than the general victim of the epidemic after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“This nation has seen so many injuries,” Raksha said. “A nation that has lived through so much has a very different relationship to death.”
In the Samara region, according to surplus mortality statistics, the epidemic killed one in every 250 people. Victor Dolonko, editor of the cultural newspaper in the city of Samara, says that about 50 people he knew, many of whom are part of the region’s thriving arts scene, lost their lives during the epidemic. But he does not believe that Samara should have closed his cinemas. It is currently allowed to replenish 50% of their capacity to slow the spread of the disease.
According to him, the deaths during the epidemic were tragic, but he believes that they mainly occurred in people who were very old or had other health problems, not all of which were related to the virus. Dolonko, 62, said he wears a mask in crowded places, often washes his hands, regularly visits gallery openings, and exhibits.
“You can choose to continue to feel your life carefully, or you can stop living by fencing,” said Dolonko. “Unlike you.” “Russians know what it means to live in extreme conditions.”
Recently, at the Samara church service on Sunday, His Holiness Sergey Rybakov preached: “Let us love one another,” the congregations hugged and kissed. A 59-year-old woman, leaving the service, explained why she is not afraid of catching a virus there. “I trust in God.”
In the Orthodox Church, the website following the deaths of the coronavirus has seven members of the Samara district administration. Rybakov knew some of them well. He said he imagined that Russia had lifted the coronavirus restrictions because there was no end to the epidemic. He quoted Dostoevsky. “Man is used to everything, scoundrel.”
“We are used to living in an epidemic,” Rybakov said. “We are used to deaths.”