Global nomad, and former IDF sniper, Arina Merkulova. credit: Arina Merkulova

Former Israel Defense Forces combat sniper, and Adult Third Culture Kid — Arina Merkulova, 29, shares the Russian wisdom and resiliency that she learned from her family’s traditions and culture to survive and thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic “stay at home” order in Calif., USA.

Merkulova — now a citizen of the United States and a former member of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan — a Central Asian nation and formerly part of the United Soviet Socialist Republic. Her hardy cultural heritage and experiences offer valuable lessons for thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A young woman and her two dogs sitting on a bed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Arina Merkulova and her dogs — Wilson (L) and Stanley (R).
credit: Arina Merkulova

(My advice is to) build out a mental plan of action just in case things go further south. Take advantage of this temporary gift of free time to do the things that we have always wanted to do but never seemed to find the time in our regular lives to do them …. Because in the end, as my mother always used to tell me, ‘everything passes and this too will pass.

— Arina Merkulova

Bread is the staff of life

“My grandmother would wake up before sunrise to stand hours on end in long lines for a few (loaves) of white bread and some milk. There is an old Russian saying, ‘bread is the staff of life,’ so if you have bread and salt, life will go on,” she says.

Even now, in Russian culture it is a “huge faux pas,” to throw bread away — according to Merkulova.

Before moving to the United States, Merkulova’s mother recalled that families would begin buying food for New Year’s dinner celebration in the summer of the previous year because there were constant food shortages.

“It was hard for me to fully grasp this because I was raised in America — land of the plenty. Anticipating this, my mother taught me simple life skills like growing our own food, tending to livestock, making our own bread, cheese, etc. My father taught me to fish, hunt, build shelter, survive.”

COVID-19 food insecurity

Food insecurity, unrest and social disruption were familiar challenges for Arina’s grandmother. Worries about the availability of food to buy and long lines were just part of the experience in the former USSR.

The Republic of Uzbekistan gained its independence from the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union to become an independent nation in 1991. However, then and now people still think of themselves as Russian according to Arina.

Women in Uzbekistan performing a cultural dance
Women in Uzbekistan performing a cultural dance. credit: Uzbekistan Gr

The same sort of food insecurity experienced in the former USSR can be seen in much of the world today where the new coronavirus pandemic caused similar circumstances.

“My family instilled in me the concept of, ‘wake up every single morning being thankful for the place you slept in and everything that surrounds you because nothing is guaranteed tomorrow.’ If you are always prepared for the worst possible scenario you will never be caught off guard.”

— Arina Merkulova

John H. Tyson—Chairman of one of the United States’ largest meat producers — Tyson Foods, made an announcement about food production at Tyson plants on Apr. 26, 2020:

“There will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed. In addition to meat shortages, this is a serious food waste issue. Farmers across the nation simply will not have anywhere to sell their livestock to be processed, when they could have fed the nation.”

Supply chains unable to keep pace due to panic buying, long lines to get into grocery stores to maintain social distancing, food production factories temporarily closing to combat the spread of the virus, and citizens protesting the continued “lockdown” have some feeling stressed and anxious.

COVID-19’s impact on mental health

Nearly one-in-five U.S. adults … say they have had a physical reaction at least some or a little of the time when thinking about the outbreak.”

— Scott Keeter, Pew Research Center

Many like Merkulova are using lessons from their cultural heritage to stay grounded in these difficult times.

A sniper’s sage advice

A young female Israel Defense Forces sniper holding an TAVOR/TAR21 rifle
Former Israel Defense Forces sniper — Arina Merkulova, holding a TAVOR/TAR21 rifle. Courtesy of Arina Merkulova.

Having a safe and comfortable space to sleep at night amidst the pandemic, is something Merkulova does not take for granted.

Time as a sniper serving in the IDF and her Russian heritage prepared her for finding ways to thrive regardless of the situation, dangers or surroundings.

Merkulova served in a coed, combat unit — the Caracal Battalion — 33rd Battalion. According to the IDF, the 33rd Battalion is one of only three fully combat units.

Having known military service in a combat unit, high stress situations and international travel to Israel, Russia and Uzbekistan — as well as her Russian and Israeli heritage causes Merkulova to express gratitude for even the small things in life.

“My family instilled in me the concept of, ‘wake up every single morning being thankful for the place you slept in and everything that surrounds you because nothing is guaranteed tomorrow.’ If you are always prepared for the worst possible scenario you will never be caught off guard,” says Merkulova.

This kind of attitude helped me through my military service … and still helps me to this day. I believe that in the current global situation it is essential to keep some perspective, especially for those of us living in America.”

Merkulova advises: “Let’s take this time we have to reevaluate our lives, our priorities, our needs.”

You can read additional articles in this six-part series by clicking the links below:

Part I – Thriving Amid Pandemic — Italy

Part II – Thriving Amid Pandemic — USA


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