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Too Close for Comfort, and the Virus, in Russia’s Communal Apartments

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ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Through the thin wall separating her from her neighbors, Dr. Anzhela Kirilova began to hear the rasping cough associated with Covid-19 sometime in May. That was hardly a surprise, as a few weeks earlier her neighbors had heard the same cough coming from her room.

Dr. Kirilova, who works in a Covid-19 ward at a hospital, said she had tried to warn the single man and the young family with whom she shares the four-room apartment, suggesting they wear masks in the kitchen.

“They said, ‘We don’t care, and we’ll do what we want,’” she said with a shrug.

For residents of Russia’s communal apartments — a relic of the Soviet Union but still home to hundreds of thousands of people, most of them in St. Petersburg — self-isolation to fend off the coronavirus is hardly an option.

From a half-dozen to more than 20 people live in separate rooms within a single apartment, typically one to a family, while sharing a kitchen and bathroom in one large, usually unhappy, household. In St. Petersburg, about 500,000 people live in communal apartments, constituting 10 percent of the city’s population.

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Life in communal apartments has always bordered on intolerable. The rules for close-quarters living among people who may despise one another are delicate. Feuds are common.

“Because of a lack of privacy, people become very suspicious,” said Ilya Utekhin, a professor of anthropology at the European University of St. Petersburg and author of “Essays on Communal Life.”

Even in the best of times, which, to be honest, there have not been many for the communal apartment residents of this city, “they believe their neighbors want to inflict all kinds of damage,” he said. “They become afraid. They are sure that in their absence, their neighbors are looking at or touching their things.”

Some families keep their own toilet seat, usually hanging on a nail in the bathroom, which they swap out for the common seat. In another arrangement, several families that get along share a seat among themselves, but not with others. This is called a “toilet seat circle.”

The tensions have been compounded by the threat of the new coronavirus. Russia, with more than 500,000 reported cases, has the third-highest number of infected people after the United States and Brazil.

The health authorities have not released statistics on infections in communal apartments in St. Petersburg. But the slow burn of infection has served to heighten tensions between residents, shedding light on the lingering poverty and shabby living arrangements.

The idea of communal apartments sprang up right after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. In a process they called “creating density,” the Communists divided up the palaces and apartments of the rich, the noblemen and various lords and vassals of the czarist court and moved in thousands of poor families.

The resulting communal apartments, of which about 69,000 remain today, accounting for as much as 40 percent of the residential real estate in central St. Petersburg, became a blend of architectural opulence and everyday penury.

Millions of people in the Soviet Union lived in communal apartments. Most are now gone outside of St. Petersburg, where they remain because of the vast number of historic buildings that had been converted to communal apartments. On floors once walked by Russian aristocrats, residents argue over noise, unwashed dishes, demented or alcoholic neighbors, guests and germs.

Out on the streets, St. Petersburg remains, as ever, a magnificent tableau of palaces and beauty, now bathed in the eerie, round-the-clock light known as the White Nights.

But inside the communal apartments is a world of dank spaces with dangling wires, sepia-colored sinks, peeling wallpaper and strange smells, but sporting high ceilings and original 19th-century moldings, brass fixtures and parquet floors.

“It’s an amazing city,” said Maia Parkhomenko, a real estate agent who buys communal apartments for investors and resettles their residents in smaller, private apartments. “When I wasn’t working in real estate, it seemed monumental, beautiful. Then I went behind the facades and was horrified. People wait in lines for the bathroom, there are fleas and cockroaches.”

So far, there are no signs of pandemic-related unrest in Russia. But frustration is rising among residents of communal apartments.

In the complex social calculus of their world, inquiring about coughs or sneezes — no matter how vital during the pandemic — is still seen as violating a cardinal rule by intruding on what shreds of privacy remain.

When the coughing started in the next room, for example, Dr. Kirilova did not ask if her cohabitants had the virus, she said, lest she create what is known as a “scandal” by interfering in others’ personal affairs. “It’s not comfortable for me to barge in on their business,” she said.

And Ekaterina Melnika, who lives in a room near Dr. Kirilova, said in a separate interview in the apartment kitchen that she could not recall the doctor warning neighbors about her work in a Covid-19 ward, but added that maybe “I didn’t understand.” She said she was upset.

But, in a sign of how tightly residents guard their privacy, Ms. Melnika said she had not felt it was her place to ask why the couple next door, with whom she shares a kitchen and bathroom, spent two weeks or so in bed.

“Sometimes a person is just at home, but I don’t know why,” she said, adding that her husband coughed not because of the virus, but because he is a heavy smoker.

In one of the city’s more famous warrens of communal apartments, the Emir of Bukhara building, once a palatial residence built for a Central Asian vassal of the czar, Sonya Minayeva, an artist, has continued living much the same as she did before the pandemic.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 12, 2020

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


“I am not taking any precautions, on principle,” said Ms. Minayeva, 32. She refuses to wear a mask in the corridor or kitchen, she said, in the belief that people should enjoy life and not overly focus on the risk. The Russian authorities generally encourage mask wearing but have offered no specific guidance for communal apartments.

But one older neighbor, has taken to eyeing her suspiciously, she said. The neighbor has not yet confronted her directly, lest a scandal break out and disturb the peace.

“You feel the tension,” said Ms. Minayeva in an interview in her room, where the long dead emir’s choice of plaster molding, grape bunches and cherubs, still adorned the 12-foot-high ceilings. The communal shower reeked of mold, even through a high-quality N-95 mask. “There’s a silent paranoia,” she said.

Less dire inconveniences emerged as well during the lockdown, as residents found themselves stuck at home together.

“Nobody goes to work,” she said. “It’s impossible to know when you can take a shower. It’s become completely unpredictable.”

Russian cities began reopening after lockdowns this past week, though reported new infections have plateaued at about 9,000 a day. The city has set up 1,580 cots at convention centers for residents of communal apartments if needed, but few seemed to be aware of this option.

One day recently, under a bare incandescent bulb dangling from a wire in the kitchen, Aziz Eganudiyez, a migrant worker from Uzbekistan, busied himself frying an omelet.

He shares the apartment with a young family and other migrant workers. While the children’s mother fretted about risk, Mr. Eganudiyez, who was not wearing a mask, brushed off her concerns.

“I don’t believe in the virus,” he said. “Nobody I know has it.”

Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting from Moscow.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/13/world/europe/coronavirus-russia-communal.html

Publications

Security and Sustainability Forum-With Hazel Henderson and Claudine Schneider. 10/22/2020

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Steering Societies Beyond GDP to the SDGs

With Hazel Henderson and Claudine Schneider

October 22, 2020

1:15 pm to 2:15 pm EDT

The next webinar in the SSF series, with ecological economist and futurist Hazel Henderson, will address how the UN SDGs can and should replace GDP as the basis for valuing society leading to an economy based on planet protection and human wellbeing. Claudine Schneider is Hazel’s guest.

GDP accounts for all the public expenditures as “debt” while ignoring the value of the assets they created. If GDP were to be corrected by including the missing asset account, these debt-to-GDP ratios would be cut by up to 50% — with a few keystrokes! Learn why money isn’t what you think it is and why that matters to life on Earth in the next two webinars with Hazel and guests.

Register

Claudine Schneider is a former Republican U.S. representative from Rhode Island. She was the first, and to date only, woman elected to Congress from Rhode Island. She is founder of Republicans for Integrity, which describes itself as a network of “Republican former Members of Congress who feel compelled to remind Republican voters about the fundamentals of our party and to provide the facts about incumbents’ voting records.”

October 22nd webinar with Claudine Schneider and Hazel

Sincerely,

Ed.

Edward Saltzberg, PhD

Executive Director

Security and Sustainability Forum

www.ssfonline.org

[email protected]

Sincerely,

Ed.

Edward Saltzberg, PhD

Executive Director

Security and Sustainability Forum

www.ssfonline.org

Source: https://www.ethicalmarkets.com/63564-2/

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The Briefing: RVShare raises over $100M, Google disputes charges, and more

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Here’s what you need to know today in startup and venture news, updated by the Crunchbase News staff throughout the day to keep you in the know.

Subscribe to the Crunchbase Daily

RVShare raises over $100M for RV rentals

RVShare, an online marketplace for RV rentals, reportedly raised over $100 million in a financing led by private equity firms KKR and Tritium Partners.

Akron, Ohio-based RVShare has seen sharp growth in demand amid the pandemic, as more would-be travelers seek socially distanced options for hitting the road. Founded in 2013, the company matches RV owners with prospective renters, filtering by location, price and vehicle types.

Previously, RVShare had raised $50 million in known funding, per Crunchbase data, from Tritium Partners. The company is one of several players in the RV rental space, and competes alongside Outdoorsy, a peer-to-peer RV marketplace that has raised $75 million in venture funding.

Funding news

  • BrightFarms closes on $100M: Indoor farming company BrightFarms said it secured more than $100 million in debt and new equity capital to support expansion plans. The Series E round of funding was led by Cox Enterprises, which now owns a majority stake in the company, and includes a follow-on investment from growth equity firm Catalyst Investors.
  • Anyscale inks $40MAnyscale, the Berkeley-based company behind the Ray open source project for building applications, announced $40 million in an oversubscribed Series B funding round. Existing investor NEA led the round and was joined by Andreessen Horowitz, Intel Capital and Foundation Capital. The new funding brings Anyscale’s total funding to more than $60 million.
  • Klar deposits $15M: Mexican fintech Klar closed on $15 million in Series A funding, led by Prosus Ventures, with participation from new investor International Finance Corporation and existing investors Quona Capital, Mouro Capital and Acrew. The round brings total funding raised to approximately $72 million since the company was founded in 2019. The funds are intended to grow Klar’s engineering capabilities in both its Berlin and Mexico hubs.
  • O(1) Labs rakes in $10.9M: O(1) Labs, the team behind the cryptocurrency Mina, announced $10.9 million in a strategic investment round. Co-leading the round are Bixin Ventures and Three Arrows Capital with participation from SNZ, HashKey Capital, Signum Capital, NGC Ventures, Fenbushi Capital and IOSG Ventures.
  • Blustream bags $3M: After-sale customer engagement company Blustream said it raised $3 million in seed funding for product usage data and digital transformation efforts for physical goods companies via the Blustream Product Experience Platform. York IE led the round of funding for the Worcester, Massachusetts-based company with additional support from existing investors.Pillar secures another $1.5M: Pillar, a startup that helps families protect and care for their loved ones, raised $1.5 million in a seed extension to close at $7 million, The round was led by Kleiner Perkins.

Other news

  • Google rejects DOJ antitrust arguments: In the wake of a widely anticipated U.S. Justice Department antitrust suit against Google, the search giant disputed the charges in a statement, maintaining that: “People use Google because they choose to, not because they’re forced to, or because they can’t find alternatives.”
  • Facebook said to test Nextdoor rival: Facebook is reportedly testing a service similar to popular neighborhood-focused social Nextdoor. Called Neighborhoods, the feature reportedly suggests local neighborhood groups to join on Facebook.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

Venture investors and leaders in the fintech space can visualize a future where such startups will move toward again rebundling services.

Root Inc., the parent company of Root Insurance, launched its initial public offering and is looking at a valuation of as much as $6.34 billion.

Clover Health posted rising revenues and a narrower loss in its most recent financial results, published in advance of a planned public market debut.

Crunchbase News’ top picks of the news to stay current in the VC and startup world.

Source: https://news.crunchbase.com/news/briefing-10-21-20/

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Crunchbase

Syte Sees $30M Series C For Product Discovery

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Online shopping has become the norm for most people in 2020, even coaxing traditional retail brands to up their presence to stay competitive. However, now that shoppers can’t see and touch products like they used to, e-commerce discovery has become a crucial element for customer acquisition and retention.

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Enter Syte, an Israel-based company that touts creating the world’s first product discovery platform that utilizes the senses, such as visual, text and voice, and then leverages visual artificial intelligence and next-generation personalization to create individualized and memorable customer experiences, Syte co-founder and CEO Ofer Fryman told Crunchbase News.

To execute on this, the company raised $30 million in Series C funding and an additional $10 million in debt. Viola Ventures led the round and was joined by LG Technology Ventures, La Maison, MizMaa Ventures and Kreos Capital, as well as existing investors Magma, Naver Corporation, Commerce Ventures, Storm Ventures, Axess Ventures, Remagine Media Ventures and KDS Media Fund.

This brings the company’s total fundraising to $71 million since its inception in 2015. That includes a $21.5 million Series B, also led by Viola, in 2019, according to Crunchbase data.

Fryman intends for the new funding to be put to work on product enhancements and geographic expansion. Syte already has an established customer base in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and will now focus expansion in the U.S. and Asia-Pacific.

Meanwhile, Syte has grown 22 percent quarter over quarter, as well as experienced a 38 percent expansion of its customer base since the beginning of 2020.

“Since we crossed $1 million annual recurring revenue, we have been tripling revenue while also becoming more efficient,” Fryman said. “We can accelerate growth as well as build an amazing technology and solution for a business that needs it right now. We plan to grow further, and even though our SaaS metrics are excellent right now, our goal is to improve them.”

Anshul Agarwal, managing director at LG Technology Ventures, said Syte was an attractive investment due in part to its unique technology.

“They have a deep-learning system and have created a new category, product discovery that will enable online shopping in a way we never had the ability to do before,” Agarwal said. “The product market fit was also unique. We believe in the strong execution by the team and the rapid growth in SaaS. We looked at many different companies, and the SaaS metrics that Syte showed are the strongest we’ve seen in a while.”

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias

Venture investors and leaders in the fintech space can visualize a future where such startups will move toward again rebundling services.

Root Inc., the parent company of Root Insurance, launched its initial public offering and is looking at a valuation of as much as $6.34 billion.

Clover Health posted rising revenues and a narrower loss in its most recent financial results, published in advance of a planned public market debut.

Crunchbase News’ top picks of the news to stay current in the VC and startup world.

Source: https://news.crunchbase.com/news/syte-sees-30m-series-c-for-product-discovery/

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