The Patient Zero series, which ends next week, was immediately compared to the American Chernobyl, which is quite understandable by many – and not just because of the plot parody of this world’s bestseller (when filming begins in the fall of 2021, “Patient Zero” will be released on the international streaming service Netflix. planned, but the situation has changed). But also because all Soviet disasters followed the same scenario. The ensuing emergency was first hidden from the public for a long time, then they quietly tried to eliminate it, hiding all the troubles associated with it, then dealing with the unrest caused by rumors and assumptions, fighting them to varying degrees. success. And years later, when information about the real situation came to light, versions, assumptions, distrust of the authorities were reborn with him.
The story of the AIDS epidemic in Elista in 1988, though worth considering even for personal safety reasons, went unnoticed to me personally. But when I was younger, the safety of sex was only concerned with the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy, if only to be taken lightly. My generation hardly ever used condoms, they saw abortion as an inevitability: if it flew, it had to be interrupted. The resulting AIDS was discussed, but the information remained vague – I remember conversations, for example, about whether it was possible to drink water from soda machines. Little was known about infection through the blood, but very soon disposable syringes appeared, at least in Moscow. However, while AIDS remained (and still is) exotic, the public consciousness did not understand the seriousness of the situation.
It turned out that the scandal at the Elista Children’s Hospital was connected not only with the fact that there was the first mass epidemic of the deadly disease at that time, but also with the fact that no one understood how this infection happened – there was a persistent opinion that only homosexuals and drug addicts were in danger, and then suddenly the children fell ill. The commission, sent from Moscow, concluded that the problem, apart from the economy, was the lack of sterilization of the syringes used to inject several children, simply by changing the needles.
But this version has its opponents, who state that this practice was common in Soviet healthcare, but that so many victims do not appear anywhere else, and it is difficult to explain this simply by staff neglect. For example, a strange version arose about an infected batch of immunoglobulins. There were also very vague suspicions about the figure of the then chief epidemiologist of the USSR, Valentin Pokrovsky, who allegedly developed a new vaccine, the tests of which were carried out precisely in the regions where cases of mass infection were observed. All these conspiracy theories arose from the lack of a coherent official explanation. The criminal case, which was subsequently opened by the Prosecutor’s Office of the RSFSR, lasted more than 11 years, but did not actually come to a decision. During this time, half of the infected children died, almost all victims faced exclusion from society, children were hid, special kindergartens were created, transferred to other regions, but suspicions increased due to lack of information. As far as witnesses recall, there was a time when all inhabitants of Kalmykia were treated with care. In general, as always, in cases of specially protected state secrets, the obvious pressure from the investigation, the press, the participants from the authorities, the facts were buried under assumptions. It’s unfortunate for the community, but it provides good grounding for the show.
The main character of “Patient Zero”, played by the charming Nikita Efremov, Dmitry Goncharov, whose figure is easily guessed by a real person, was Dmitry Goncharov, head of the Moscow laboratory of the Epidemiological Research Institute – his son Vadim Pokrovsky to Elista with a commission from the Ministry of Health to study the situation. from the chief epidemiologist of the USSR, who really came.
Then Vadim Pokrovsky became the head of the federal AIDS center, but in 1988 he already had the necessary experience. It was he who managed to trace the path of development of a nosocomial infection from a male donor. After that, the blood of the donors began to be checked, a special laboratory was created, so Vadim took the blood of patients from Kalmykia. Already on arrival at the scene of the tragedy, he determined how AIDS ended in a children’s hospital and found the patient zero. This search became the basis of the plot.
The well-known screenwriter Oleg Malovichko worked on the series, which divided the story into several subsections and showed the main problems of Soviet society, from which, as experience shows, we still have not got rid of. Here, fear of authorities is more important than sympathy for children and parents, and for humanity in general. And the aggression of ordinary people who are afraid of everything in the world and do not trust anyone. And archaic traditions in the family and at home, where violence is considered the norm. All this is recognizable, but frankly not new and briefly illustrated – moreover, it seems cliché.
The second mainline was more successful, in which the novice doctor Kirsan Ayushev was the very lone hero whose belief in the importance of truth and honesty started the investigation mechanism. The young actor Askar Ilyasov was played convincingly and attractively by a Kazakh working in Moscow theater, if not Kalmyk. In Russian serials, the action is often transferred from Moscow to the provinces to avoid the global nature of the conflicts, but the province is often presented in abstract, unrecognizable, central Russian. Therefore, any localization, even conditional, looks attractive. Kalmykia in 1988 was a small autonomous republic, steppe and peasants, and the city of Elista was small: about 80 thousand people lived in it. And although the city was shot not in Elista, but in Volgograd, the atmosphere of dusty steppe life with a special way of life helped the series take a special place in the general flow.
The series was directed by former cameraman Sergei Trofimov and actor Yevgeny Stychkin, the latter also playing the role of journalist Igor Karakhan, a strange character invented just so Stychkin had something to play. The whole series of relations between Goncharov and Karakhan seems artificial and does not play a significant role in the plot, but TV shows are supposed to show love lines and beautiful women, which is probably why the screenwriter came up with such a friendship-competition. However, in the scene where the journalist, who accidentally hears the workers discussing the infection of the children in the hospital, encourages them to protest, he manages to inform about the Stalinist expulsion, along with the Kalmyks and Chechens.
But the most important thing for me in this series was that it showed an accurate diagnosis of the political mentality of Russia, where the heroes are not their rivalry and even AIDS, but the people in power (whatever they are). time) are convinced that people have no subjectivity.
Troubles should be hidden from the public, should not tell the truth, should not be listened to, he himself does not know what he wants, and not what is absolutely necessary, if he wants to. He is childish, illogical, impulsive, should be wary of him, not offend, but not give him free will: people need constant control and cannot do without guidance. By default, it is assumed that the elite understand the situation and know what needs to be done and are responsible for the fact that what is done will benefit the rest.
The show tells the story of AIDS in Elista (in fact, there were epidemics in the area), certainly not to prevent this disease. The creators simplified or ignored everything related to certain details of the situation and the operation of the viral infection. According to the script technology textbook, viewers’ attention can only be sustained by sympathy for the characters, which is why the series is filled with melodramatic events from the love of a Kalmyk boy and an AIDS-infected girl from Dagestan. Conflict between a gay engineer and a thief foreman. Relying on an audience that also needs tolerance proves that arrogant contempt for the common man still exists at all levels of Russian consciousness.
The author expresses his personal opinion, which may not coincide with the editors’ position.