Anna Karetnikova is a prison administrator in Moscow. She reflects on the nuclear alarm drills of her high school years in what was then the Soviet Union, and the panic effect of hearing an early morning siren in present-day Russia.
I work in the Moscow preliminary detention jail Sizo five, and often six, days a week from dawn to sunset and often even longer. I listen to the news on the radio in the car, for I don’t have much time to follow foreign policy matters. The radio is on in the background while I drive between our seven Moscow jails.
When I was in school a long time ago and we were still the Soviet Union, we were told all the time about nuclear war. It was shown everywhere in colorful paintings. We trained for such an event and I, an exemplary pupil, was preparing to be a paramedic in it. I knew the plan of action to follow upon hearing the nuclear alarm. I knew all the areas of evacuation by their numbers and codes.
But I had almost forgot about it, though I sometimes remembered it with laughter when I recalled, as if dreaming, how the war begins: The siren sounds and we grab the necessities and documents we have kept ready, and run somewhere, run to the shelter, to the subway.
It has been forty years. And today I think I resemble Lewis Carroll’s Alice, working as analyst of the “royal detention office.” I have a problem: I sleep through the alarm on my phone when I should wake up go to work at the jail.
I don’t hear. I keep oversleeping, time after time. It signals, it sings, and I keep sleeping. So I switched to another alarm and put it on my computer. I chose long and thoughtfully when deciding which ringtone to set on my new alarm—one that will certainly wake me up. I decided: Put on the siren of a nuclear alarm. I made sure that I would get more than four hours of sleep and prayed to hear it and not sleep through. And then I jumped under the blanket.
Sleeping, Alice forgot about her ringtone…
In the morning, I did not wake up at once when the alarm siren started wailing behind the black glass. The windows in the house across from mine were dark. Half asleep, the thoughts flew through my mind in this order:
First thought. ALARM. It’s clear, that’s because of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Don’t run anywhere, that’s artificial. The politicians are losing in the polls, so it must be a test. Let stupid people run. I will run nowhere, I will get up and go to work.
Second thought. But if it is not training? A bomb shelter, where is it around here? Where to run? I do not know at all. So, if not a training? No, I will not run anywhere in any case. Ukraine has no nuclear weapons, it gave them up in exchange for Russia’s guarantee of its national sovereignty. Russia deceived them, but just now that’s no matter. I am thinking, what to do with this alarm? Ukraine has no nuclear weapons. I will not run anywhere.
Third thought. However, there was something in the UN after this marine incident. The United States said something threatening. Ukraine has no nuclear bombs but the US surely does. Putin talked once about how a nuclear war with them would take place. He said it would be “our way to Paradise.” Maybe that has started so maybe I’ll force myself to wake up and run somewhere. Forget about my job.
Fourth thought. Where to run, if the missiles have launched? In seven minutes they will arrive but I need five minutes just to look for my glasses. Why make a fuss? Why should I wake up? We have our reliable pass to Paradise that President Putin gave us. I have decided. I’ll pull the blanket over my head and not think anymore. Let the politicians think. They are the ones who have done this.
Fifth thought. Nevertheless, I should wake up. At least switch off this computer alarm… I myself chose this software alarm, I myself installed it on my computer, and set it to sound loudly. To the kitchen, to drink coffee, to shower, then back to my room, to the computer, to download the latest news, then start to move to my workplace.
I stood up, put my glasses and my uniform, hurried downstairs to my car, and went to work. There, in Matrosskaya Tishina Jail, I went to the hospital to visit prisoners. Suddenly I saw there some Ukrainians who were being detained after this marine military incident. And I understood that war is really very close to all of us.
Anna Karetnikova lives and works in Moscow. She posted this on Facebook.