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BLAGOVESHCHENSK, Russia — With a contagious illness raging in China, just 600 yards away across the frozen Amur River, the Cathedral of the Annunciation in the Russian border city of Blagoveshchensk thundered with promises of salvation from the plague.
“A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you,” promised Dmitri Zhang, a Chinese Orthodox priest, reciting a psalm offering deliverance for those of faith from the “pestilence that stalks in darkness.”
“虽有千人仆倒在你的左边,万人仆倒在你的右边,但灾害必不临近你,”中国东正教牧师德米特里·张(Dmitri Zhang,音)承诺道,他诵读了一篇让信徒从“黑暗中蔓延的瘟疫”中解脱出来的赞美诗。
The special prayer service on Sunday, featuring pleas for mercy in both Russian and Chinese and attended by worshipers from both countries, displayed just how intertwined the fortunes — and now the misfortunes — of the two countries have become.
It showed as well how the destructive effects of the virus can be felt even in a far-flung outpost like Blagoveshchensk, where it has yet to infect a single person.
Until the virus started killing people in Wuhan, China, and spreading fear far beyond, Blagoveshchensk had staked its future on ever-closer relations with China, harnessing its economy to burgeoning cross-border commerce and a flood of traffic across the river, by boat in summer and over a pontoon bridge laid on the ice in winter.
在布拉戈维申斯克中心的三鲸市场中,只有少数顾客光临了大部分由中国商人经营的摊位。 Davide Monteleone for The New York Times
布拉戈维申斯克国立师范大学为俄罗斯青少年提供汉语教学。 Davide Monteleone for The New York Times
With the border now closed on orders from Moscow, this has all ground to a halt, leaving the city frozen in limbo. Businesses that depend on China are shriveling, hotels once full of Chinese guests stand empty and the local university, once a magnet for paying pupils from China, is struggling to cope as hundreds of its students who went home for the Lunar New Year holiday find themselves stranded.
A road bridge, the first across the Amur River and the 1,140 mile stretch of border it demarcates, was completed last November. But the huge structure never opened to traffic and now stands marooned in the snow and ice, a monument to hopes suddenly dashed, or at least delayed, by the spread of the disease.
Also suffering is China’s image as a benign force from which Russia can only reap benefit. This is slowly being eclipsed by anxiety over China’s new, unwelcome role as a source of disease, agonizing uncertainty and frustrated hopes.
“Everything is at a standstill,” said Julia Tavitova, the general director of Amurturist, a Russian company that had depended on visitors from China to fill a hotel it operates on the Russian bank of the Amur. “It is a chain reaction. One by one, businesses are getting killed by this disease.”
“一切都陷入了停顿,”阿穆尔旅行社(Amurturist)总经理朱莉娅·塔维托娃(Julia Tavitova)说,这家俄罗斯公司一度依赖中国游客填满它在阿穆尔河俄罗斯一侧经营的酒店。“这是一种连锁反应。一个接一个,企业被这种疾病夺去了生命。”
She has let go half her company’s staff.
讲俄语的中国女商人李丽华(左二)在她的餐厅“Omega”。自1990年代就在布拉戈维申斯克工作的李丽华说,这是她经历过的最糟糕的经济状况。 Davide Monteleone for The New York Times
在中央市场的一家中国人经营的商店,生意一落千丈。 Davide Monteleone for The New York Times
Blagoveshchensk’s biggest hotel, Asia, built to house throngs of visitors from China, is now a ghost ship, its 18 floors mostly empty of guests. Nearby shops selling jewelry, gold and other products popular with Chinese buyers have lost nearly all their business.
Fearful that the presence of Chinese guests at her company’s own hotel, the Druzhba, or Friendship, might drive away other regular customers, Ms. Tavitova last month decided to bar Chinese from booking rooms. “We could not risk losing everything,” she explained. The Kremlin last week made the same calculation, announcing that, starting last Thursday, all Chinese citizens would be barred from entering Russia. The decision slammed a lucrative tourism industry driven in a large part by Chinese visitors, more than 1.5 million of whom came to Russia last year.
Heihe, the Chinese city on the other side of the river, has several confirmed coronavirus infections in the district under its jurisdiction, while the surrounding province of Heilongjiang has nearly 500 officially reported cases and possibly many more.
Giant neon signs, clearly visible from the Russian side, flash constant reminders of the crisis, displaying the Chinese Communist Party’s rallying cry: “Go Wuhan, Go China.”
But the party’s message is written in Chinese so few Russians understand it.
In Blagoveshchensk, there is no sign of panic or even mild alarm, just anger at a spike in vegetable prices after deliveries from China stopped. Virtually nobody wears a face mask, despite an order from the authorities that this be done in schools and many other public places.
But the proximity of so much potential danger has, on social media, stirred a frenzy of fear-mongering and wild rumors — that the virus was created in a secret Chinese or, alternatively, American laboratory; that infected Chinese have slipped across the border; and that the Blagoveshchensk airport will soon be closed and the city sealed.
一座横跨阿穆尔河的新公路桥已于11月完工,但尚未通车。 Davide Monteleone for The New York Times
布拉戈维申斯克的中国学生坐在列宁雕像后面。边境关闭后,还有数百人被困在中国。 Davide Monteleone for The New York Times
“People call from Moscow and ask, ‘Are you still alive out there?’” said Andrey V. Druzyaka, an associate professor in history at the Blagoveshchensk State Pedagogical University.
布拉戈维申斯克国立师范大学历史助理教授安德烈·V·德鲁扎卡(Andrey V. Druzyaka)说:“人们从莫斯科打来电话,问‘你还活着吗?’”
Li Lihua, a Russian-speaking Chinese businesswoman, has been working in Blagoveshchensk since the 1990s, surviving repeated economic and political crises to build up a small empire of restaurants, factories and real estate projects.
The current paralysis, she said, is far worse than previous trials. The Chinese laborers she needs to finish building four 10-story apartment blocks on the outskirts of Blagoveshchensk cannot enter Russia, and nobody in Russia, she said, wants to get involved with a venture so dependent on China.
At Three Whales, a big market in the center of Blagoveshchensk, a few customers recently roamed stalls mostly run by Chinese traders. Wang Wencheng, who sells Chinese-made sports gear, said sales had plummeted. He wears a face mask to reassure his few remaining customers.
With many fellow traders stuck on the other side of the river, their stalls have been shrouded in blue tarpaulins that make them look like a crime scene.
Tatiana Kapustina, who runs a business with her husband exporting artisanal honey, mostly to China, said sales, which last year reached metric 50 tons, had fallen to “a total of zero” this year.
塔蒂亚娜·卡普斯蒂娜(Tatiana Kapustina)与丈夫经营蜂蜜生意,主要出口到中国,她说,去年的销量达到了50吨,今年的销量“总共为零”。
“China is not going to collapse, but nobody knows when and how this will all end,” Ms. Kapustina said. “Uncertainty is our biggest problem.”
Just three months ago, Blagoveshchensk and Heihe were celebrating the completion of the bridge connecting the two countries across the Amur, a tangible example of how Russia and China have overcome the suspicion, fear and outright hostility that flowed for decades along the river and even led to a brief war in 1969.
在三鲸市场里销售中国制造的运动装备的王文成(音)表示,销量直线下降。 Davide Monteleone for The New York Times
三鲸市场人迹寥寥。莫斯科中央政府禁止任何中国公民入境俄罗斯。 Davide Monteleone for The New York Times
Suspicion is now creeping back, fanned by strident nationalist voices on social media and gossip on the street.
In Volkovo, a poor village outside Blagoveshchensk, the regional health authorities have turned a two-story clinic into a quarantine center for Chinese who crossed the border after the outbreak.
The head of the village administration, Dzhasur Samandof, said he had no problem with the quarantine center but was tired of fielding angry questions from residents in a panic over untrue rumors — of sick Chinese wandering village streets, and of a school canteen next to the quarantine center sharing cutlery with possibly infected Chinese.
村长扎苏尔·萨曼朵夫(Dzhasur Samandof)表示,他对隔离中心没有任何意见,但恐慌的居民在听说谣言后提出愤怒的问题让他不胜其烦——这些谣言包括生病的中国人流荡在乡村街道,以及隔离中心旁边的一所学校的食堂在和可能受感染的中国人共享餐具。
Nikolai Kukharenko, a co-director of Blagoveshchensk’s Confucius Institute, part of a Beijing-funded program to spread the teaching of Chinese abroad, said social media had played a particularly noxious role in spreading fear, noting that a 2003 outbreak of the more lethal SARS virus in China had stirred little concern in Russia.
布拉戈维申斯克孔子学院联席院长尼古拉·库卡连科(Nikolai Kukharenko)说,社交媒体在传播恐惧中的作用尤其有害,并指出2003年中国暴发的更具致命性的SARS,在俄罗斯引起的关注很少。孔子学院属于北京资助的向海外传播汉语教学计划的一部分。
瓦西里·罗曼诺夫的画作描绘了1858年《瑷珲条约》的签署,现代中俄两国的大部分边境是由该条约确立的。 Davide Monteleone for The New York Times
中国东正教牧师德米特里·张正在主持一场应对冠状病毒暴发的特殊仪式。 Davide Monteleone for The New York Times
Mr. Kukharenko was appalled this month by the reaction online to photographs he posted of face masks he had collected for delivery to China. Self-proclaimed Russian patriots assailed him as a “traitor,” who, as one zealous critic said, had forgotten that “China is not an ally but our most important potential opponent and enemy.”
Such views don’t represent mainstream opinion in Blagoveshchensk, but a relationship whose momentum had seemed unstoppable is suddenly stuck. Whether it can start moving again will depend largely on how fast China’s idled economy starts up — and starts consuming the oil and gas that underpin relations between Moscow and Beijing.
Power of Siberia, a new 1,800-mile gas pipeline that opened in December to carry natural gas from Siberia to China, passes under the Amur in Blagoveshchensk. North of the city, Gazprom is building the world’s biggest gas processing plant, largely to serve China.
A more immediate problem, however, is getting the border open again.
Of the more than 200 Chinese students enrolled at the State Pedagogical University in Blagoveshchensk, only a few are now attending class.
Luan Bohan, a 22-year-old Chinese student who stayed in Russia over the Lunar holiday, said he had encountered no overt discrimination. But, he added, children who see him on the street with his face mask sometimes point and shout “Chinese virus, Chinese virus” before running away.
Some residents, though, particularly those who see China as Russia’s best hope of resisting the West, blame the United States for the outbreak.
Aleksandr Kozhin, a Russian who lives mostly in Heihe but is now stuck on the Russian side of the river, is such a fervent admirer of China’s economic and political model that he thinks a secret American laboratory could have created the new coronavirus as a weapon to undermine China’s success and image.
俄罗斯人亚历山大·科任(Aleksandr Kozhin)大部分时间生活在黑河,但现在被困在河的俄罗斯一岸。他极为仰慕中国的经济和政治模式,认为有可能是美国一个秘密实验室将这种新型冠状病毒制成了武器,破坏中国的成功和形象。
And regardless of where the virus comes from, he added, Russia has nothing to fear: “Two hundreds grams of vodka will kill any virus.”
在布拉戈维申斯克可以看到黑河灯火辉煌的大厦。 Davide Monteleone for The New York Times