TUTAYEV, Russia (Reuters) – Russian women flocked to their small town’s “banya” or public steam sauna when it reopened after the coronavirus lockdown, for the luxury of hot water after going without for six weeks.
The public banya is the only way for many Russians living in smaller towns to wash themselves in comfort as older homes do not have central heating or hot water supplies.
In Tutayev, a town some 300 km (190 miles) northeast of Moscow on the Volga River, only 71 percent of the 40,000 strong population have all the conveniences, official data shows.
“It’s a necessity for us as we couldn’t wash ourselves,” one of the first banya visitors, Svetlana Travnikova, said. “How is it possible (not to wash), pandemic or no pandemic?”
Another visitor at Friday’s first session, Irina Kutavtseva, said going to the banya was a festive occasion for her.
Receptionist Tamara Bryukova, donning a mask and clad in rubber gloves, said calls from those in need of a hot steam were coming non-stop. Naked bathing means separate days are set aside for women and men and next week is fully booked, she said.
People had to book in advance to limit numbers for social distancing and have their temperature taken at the entrance, administrators said, and the hall-like steam room was disinfected after each 90 minute session.
Public banyas in many other Russian regions remain closed as the decision on easing lockdown measures is taken by local authorities according to the situation on the ground.
Local officials in the Yaroslav region, where Tutayev is located, had recommended banyas work “without visitors or online” to prevent the spread of the virus, a decision which caused a public outcry at the time.
“Banyas working remotely without visitors is a joke,” Tutayev resident Vladimir Kolomenskiy said, “and when people can’t wash it’s a health risk too.”
Editing by Philippa Fletcher