After a year of not seeing his family in Blair and the Omaha metro area due to COVID-19, Nathan Hunt was able to pack his bags and take his flight from Moscow, Russia, back home.
Hunt has lived in Moscow for 29 years and speaks fluent Russian, but frequently visits home multiple times a year to see his parents, siblings and in-laws. Hunt worked in the food import business for many years, and after the government shut it down, he began doing side projects, mostly in the real estate business.
The past year proved to be a difficult year for Hunt as he was locked in Russia, which had many more restrictions than the U.S. as it dealt with the coronavirus pandemic.
Pandemic sweeps country
Being a Russian citizen for almost 30 years, Hunt said he was aware Russians had fewer freedoms than Americans.
"I gave a talk to the (Blair) Rotary Club and I talked about how the political systems are very different," he said. "Russia has never really valued personal freedoms or privacy to the extent that Americans do. Of course, they do value some freedoms and privacy to some extent — there are laws protecting privacy in Russia, protecting personal information, but it's nowhere near to the degree that we have in the United States."
Hunt said COVID-19 further restricted many freedoms Russians had, and his city went into complete lockdown for a few months beginning in March 2020.
"In the U.S., you have people demonstrating or rioting because they don't want to wear a mask, because they don't believe the government has the right to control their activities during the pandemic," he said. "In Russia, no one would even be able to consider that. The government, in very strong and serious fashion, restricted activities just as they did in the U.S. But in Russia, nobody considered complaining about it."
During lockdown, people in Moscow weren't allowed to leave their homes unless they needed to travel one or two blocks to buy groceries, medicine or alcohol, Hunt said.
"Of course, you had to wear masks and gloves when you're out," he said. "And if you wanted to leave for any other reason, you needed to have a pass. If you wanted to continue to go to work, for instance, you needed to have someone certify you're necessary at work. The type of control Russian citizens experienced, there's no way any American citizen would tolerate it."
After the pandemic ceased travel, Hunt was left in Moscow alone, as he had returned from a visit to Blair in March 2020 and his wife, who is from Russia, was headed back a few weeks later, when lockdowns first began.
"It's been difficult being apart, but at the same time, we speak every day, we have Zoom and we have ways of staying in contact. It's not as hard as it would have been 30 years ago," he said.
Hunt also contracted COVID-19 twice. The first time, he said he didn't experience any symptoms, but three or four months later, he fell extremely ill.
On top of staying home for the recommended time of around two weeks, Hunt said "virus police" came to his door and had him sign papers promising he would not leave his home, or he would be fined.
Hunt's photo was also taken from various angles and put into the city database so if he were to leave his home, the government could track him from cameras around Moscow.
"If they catch you walking around anywhere outside your house, you will be fined," he said. "If it's repeated, you could be imprisoned."
A mobile app was also installed in the homes of many sick citizens, where four times a day, an alarm would go off and they would have two minutes to take a photo of themselves proving they were inside their home.
Hunt was able to be exempt from this rule by telling the government he was "technologically incompetent."
A year later
Now with restrictions lifting, Hunt hopes to continue his yearly visits home.
"It's nice that there are no barriers," he said.
Hunt runs many errands while visiting, including eating Godfather's Pizza and purchasing clothes for himself and other requested items from friends in Moscow.
Hunt said returning to Blair reminds him of the hometown friendliness he always looks forward to.
"Blair is so compact, clean and orderly, and to me, it is intimate," he said. "Blair to me is very native, dear to my heart.
"Blair is good people. Blair for me symbolizes simple, decent, honest and hardworking people. I'm proud to say I'm from Blair."