Nikita Merkulov is a lawyer, and was once a child in the care of our sister charity Podari Zhizn. In 2008, Nikita was treated for lymphogranulomatosis in the third haematology ward of the Russian Children’s Clinical Hospital.

Nikita comes from Sterlitamak, the second biggest city in Bashkortostan, and is currently living in Moscow. He’s no stranger to London either: on January 13, 2018, Nikita came to the Gift of Life Gala in London to share the story of his recovery and thank everyone who supports children with cancer. We talked to Nikita about the second most serious quarantine of his life, and learned what he’s come to value more during his time in self-isolation.

Where and how did you spend your self-isolation?

I spent almost all of the quarantine at home together with my cat Tsar (a Tsar can’t have a nickname, only a name). But I wasn’t alone. My friends and I had frequent Skype calls, watched films in parallel, and talked about various legal matters. My parents helped me a lot. We called each other nearly every day, and gave each other moral support. Work was very helpful too. Over the course of the quarantine, I sorted through tons of materials for an academic article on the problem of competing civil claims in criminal proceedings, and co-authored my first paper, on the regulation of cryptocurrency in criminal law, with my MSU colleagues.

Nikita holding his picture as a cancer ward patient 

How did you feel?

At first, I was casual. Having replenished my supply of port, I took it as an opportunity to rest from office work and finally read all the books I couldn’t find normally find time for. Once I ran out of books and port, I found myself reflecting on my life. I asked myself, “What did I do to end up here?” and “What am I dissatisfied with in my life?” Having sorted through that, I turned to creative work: I went jogging at night, and tried to take photos of everything I found interesting. And I continued to write academic articles.

So you were able to keep up with your photography hobby?

That’s right. It was tricky initially, but firstly, I went jogging late at night and didn’t have any trouble taking photos then, so it wasn’t too bad. Secondly, I remembered about pinhole photography, which is done over periods of days, weeks or even months. I found a couple of places in our district which seemed suitable for that kind of experimental filming, and set up homemade cameras. The experiment isn’t over yet. I’m still filming, and maybe I’ll end up with something interesting.

Nikita finds inspiration in everyday life 

This isn’t your first forced isolation. Did these two and a bit months remind you of your time being treated at the Russian Children’s Clinical Hospital?

Yes and no. Yes, because it was a little frightening, with no way of knowing what to expect from tomorrow. No, because it’s been over ten years since I recovered, and in that time I’ve come to have a different sense of time, and myself within that time.

What did you learn during self-isolation?

I learned to value time. I realised that making your plans into reality depends on you, not on external circumstances, work, family, or studies. I’ve started running at night and now have a morning jog before work. I’ve started to cook new dishes and can delight my loved ones with something unusual and delicious. I’ve also learned to let go of people and be open to something new.

Self-isolation is over, but many people are still anxious. Do you have anxious thoughts, and how do you deal with them?

I’m afraid for my loved ones, since I’m a thousand kilometres away, and can’t help them if there’s a sudden need. I’m afraid for my future, as the quarantine has had a severe impact on my work. How do I cope? I try not to sit still, and keep busy.

Nikita and Chulpan Khamatova at the Gala 2018 in London 

What are your plans for the near future?

This year, I’m going to become a qualified lawyer, with the right to serve as a defence lawyer in criminal trials. I want to sort out my foreign languages, as right now I have serious problems in that regard. I want to gradually monetise (not commercialise) my hobby, and I’m thinking about a personal photography project.

What wish would you like to make for the children in our care who are receiving treatment and are still in isolation?

Time is a resource. Such isolation means time and opportunity to find yourself and understand what you really want. You can try, make mistakes, and try again. Most people don’t have time for mistakes, but you do. So try, make mistakes, but don’t stop.

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