By Irina Yakobson
To my husband, the love of my life. May we always stay together…
It is said that the zone of infection increases in proportion to the human ability to mutate. You need to throw away the books and burn them, because they may contain larvae of dangerous insects and ancient artifacts in the form of remnants of borscht, snots smeared while thinking, skin particles and drops of blood. Everything needs to be burned. But how?
Books have always been much more to me than paper with letters on than pictures or interesting stories. They were my refuge in childhood, at school, and during the third world war III hid in a refuge with my family, and we read each other's favourite passages with meals, so even canned food seemed tastier. Bookmarks, it turns out, you also need to throw it away? My favourite: a ten-rouble note, with a chapel and a bridge, and under the chapel's signature with a title on: Krasnoyarsk. My native town. The city, the memories of which I tried to put into the most hidden closet of my subconscious. A city that is no longer on the maps and in the news. Today, the grandson comfortably fixed herself on my knee with her paws and rustled: “Grandmother, tell me about your childhood, and most importantly, tell me how the Great Smog came”?
(When he strokes my face with a moustache, it’s completely impossible to tell, even if you don’t want to remember). In October 2025, my ex-husband Vassya invited me and your dad to visit him, I'm sorry, Carl, it’s all so confusing, but it doesn’t work out otherwise. And although I did not welcome their communication, I could not refuse. Vassya told my son over the phone:
“I have always loved you. I’ve made so many mistakes in life. Not being in your life is one of the most terrible ones. But now I’m getting older and older. And I wish to see you for the last time, to say a proper goodbye”.
At the end of November, Leo and I bought tickets, packed our things, hugged the family and flew. I didn’t want him to make this trip on his own, I wanted to be there for him. If something went wrong, at least I was there. Usually, I like to fly, and but this time some shitty foreboding squeezed my heart. Already during landing, the plane was shaking, I tried to attribute it to normal turbulence, we were in such a dense fog it seemed that if you open the window and dip a spoon into it, you can eat it. As a result, the ship's captain managed to find a hole in this grey veil, we slipped and even landed, as they said in the news, with minimal losses.
Vassya picked us up for the airport, he had spared a room for me and Leo in his apartment where he lived with his new family. I missed my husband and the kids terribly. Seeing what was going in the city I felt forever grateful because I lived in Canada. People on the streets of Krasnoyarsk were protesting against working aluminum and coal factories, the hospitals didn’t have enough space for all the people dying from different types of cancer. There were camps organized by relatives near hospitals, they cooked food for all the people who needed care. My ex-husband was one of them. Of course, he hadn’t mentioned any of these over the phone, when he had invited Leo to visit. Well, I didn’t want to make any scenes in front of my already very upset son, so I thought to myself: “we will stay here these two weeks, and then we’re going to return home and never think about all of it again”.
We couldn’t just stay in the apartment doing nothing, we offered Vassya our help. He introduced us to the people in the camp, many of them were dirty, smelly, they looked very pale. They didn’t have even a blink of hope in their eyes. I figured I could write about it on Facebook, spread the word, tell people, get help, maybe. But the Internet was locked, with no Wi-Fi around the city. I tried to google using roaming. Also, locked. I tried to call my husband, talk to him. Phone lines were cut. I thought: “We need to go back home, to Canada”. I went to a place where they used to sell airplane tickets. Locked. With a small notice on the window: “The airport Emelyanovo is temporarily closed. Consider all the tickets for the flights cancelled”.
The people were running. I couldn’t figure out what to do next. Suddenly the Earth felt hollow…
I poured me and Carl tea in our cups. Too hard. He listened to me so attentively, he didn’t fell asleep, even his moustache didn’t move.
Krasnoyarsk was surrounded by forested mountains and had always been a world leader in smog. Whenever the wind was still, the city’s cars, aluminum smeltered, and power station pumped illness into the air. The result was black smog and levels of benzopyrene, a particularly toxic substance that can reach 114 times above recommended levels. Cancer rates were high.
A period of cold weather, combined with an anticyclone and windless conditions, collected airborne pollutants—mostly arising from the use of coal—to form a thick layer of smog over the city. It lasted from December 5 to December 9 2025 and then dispersed quickly when the weather changed. It caused major disruption by reducing visibility and even penetrating indoor areas, far more severely than previous smog events experienced in the past. Until 8 December, 6,000 people had died as a direct result of the smog and 200,000 more were made ill by the smog's effects on the human respiratory tract. That was the time when mutations began to spread among the people. More and more babies with six fingers instead of five were born, three-eyed boys and three-nippled girls. Hundreds of uniformed officers took up strategic spots surrounded the city. People were not allowed to leave Krasnoyarsk anymore. Probably, Putin decided that it would be better if we all just died here on our own.
Leo met your mom next year, she was one of the survivors. All her family died when the Great Smog came. Miraculously, she stayed alive and met my son in camp, while they both cooked food in the camp for those who needed it. And that’s my darling, how you were born – a product of love in difficult times.
“But, grandma, when papa and mama are coming back home?” – said Carl. And I didn’t know what to answer. Leo and Camilla are in the resistance movement, fighting every day against Putin’s officers. I don’t even know if they are alive. I only have hope. A hope that lets me think that my children are alive and that one day I will see my husband again. Hope…
Written on December 6, 2019