Yaroslav uses his summer break to reunite with his daughter in Russia and bring her back to Switzerland.

“What are you doing for the summer break?” is a common question to hear around IMD campus in the last week of June and first week of July. For me, the answer was simple: I am getting my daughter from Russia, where she was stuck for five months since February. The kid forgot English, celebrated her fourth birthday without her parents, and talked to Mommy and Daddy on Zoom – in other words, she had to be rescued.

If COVID-19 made buying groceries more complicated, why would picking up your child from another country be spared from complexity and uncertainty? The first, and main, challenge in the “rescue mission” was to find information we could trust. We knew we couldn’t really trust SWISS Air because those lovely people sold me a nice convenient non-stop ticket to Moscow – only to cancel the flight a few days later. I can’t blame SWISS though. It’s not their fault that Russia at the time was registering 10,000 confirmed COVID cases per day with no sign of relief. Still, it was amusing to see how online platforms that sell air tickets seemed to exist in some parallel reality. Book a flight? – Sure! Will it fly? Probably not…

No flights and official sources say that the “border is closed”. What are the options then? As usually happens, the solution (or the best version of it) came from a friend of a friend. Don’t underestimate the power of your network, kids! Through some channels, we find out that while Russia is closed for flights, its younger sibling – Belarus – is open! And that’s my chance! I still had no idea what would happen at the border but if there is anything COVID-19 has forced us to do, it is to think in the “now” and make decisions based on scant information which may change tomorrow. Now I can really put VUCA experience on my resume.

And so it went: train from Lausanne to Milan, a flight to Minsk, a night in the hotel with no hot water (welcome to Eastern Europe!). Next on the menu was a bus to take me from Minsk to Russia. Looking at the passengers, I had an impression that coronavirus took a vacation – only two or three people with masks while social distance meticulously kept to a minimum. But the wheels on the bus went round and round… Midnight. Russian customs checkpoint, moment of truth… I’m in! So, the border is not sealed after all!

The best part about the adventures above is that 24 hours later I had to do all that again (except the cold-water part), but this time with a child. My daughter and I arrived in Lausanne late at night, after a bus, a plane, huge line-up at the airport, and two train rides.

I am writing these words while serving the last couple of days of my quarantine. It was mandatory to notify the canton authorities that I arrived from a high-risk country. I should have said I came from Chernobyl – just to see the reaction.

I suppose the point of my story, if there is one, is this. There are times when each of us needs to just buckle up and do what we must. And since we are jumping through loops, we might as well do it with a smile and have fun. In the end, things work out – and the joy of family reunion is surely worth it.


Banner image: Milan, river in the Navigli district where I went to kill a few hours.

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