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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

WEIRD MOSCOW




Frequenters of the Belorusskaya metro station will know Ivan Mironichev. Twelve hours a day for the last 15 years he has sat in the box at the bottom of the escalators, overseeing passenger safety underground.


It isn't just his gender that singles him out from the hundreds of women, mainly pensioners, who work the Moscow metro every day. It is his silvery voice, something between Edith Piaf and Papa Smurf, that brings smiles to the faces of even the gruffest of metro riders.


"Esteemed passengers!" he purred, each word rolling lovingly across his tongue. "Take care when you reach the end of the escalator. Do not linger, but take your children by the hand and move forward!"


He looked over both shoulders before turning back to me. "And sometimes," he added sotto voce, "if my supervisor is not around, I will say, 'Move forward in the name of the Motherland!'"


Born in 1920 in the Tulsky region, Mironichev was the oldest son of a cobbler. When World War II broke out, he was posted to the western front in Belarus.


"They say 22 million Soviets were killed during the war," he said. "I don't remember much about it, except that my neighbor, Misha, was killed."


Mironichev was wounded three times during the war, leaving him with permanent scars. When he walks, he does it slowly and deliberately, his stiff legs hardly bending at the knees.


"I have found the perfect job in the metro," he said cheerfully. "I just sit here all day and watch Muscovites go by."


After the war, Mironichev worked as a coal miner and then a fireman. In 1963 he came to Moscow to get treatment, and he has been here ever since. He lives alone in the town of Krasnogorsk, half an hour north of the capital. His wife died this winter, and he has no children.


At the stroke of 10 o'clock, Mironichev's replacement appeared. "How are you this morning, Ivan Romanovich?" she asked, straightening one of the medals on his lapel. He has 18 altogether, the most recent a shiny gold one emblazoned with the number 850. "We were all given medals for the city's anniversary last year," he said.


We made our way up the escalator, past two men who were riding the trains to beg for money. One had no left leg; the other had lost both, and sat awkwardly on a makeshift skateboard. "That's Vadim and his father," Mironichev sighed. "He was wounded in the Afghan war. I am supposed to report them, but they get so little pension. What can I do?"


In the tiny room at the top of the escalators, Mironichev unwrapped his breakfast. With a salary of 700 rubles ($120) a month, he can't afford much more than a hard-boiled egg, half a loaf of bread, a scoop of meat in jelly and a mug of tea.


"They say there are five dangers for metro workers," he said. "Drafts, noise, dust and bad air. But I don't notice any of them."


"What's the fifth?" I asked him.


"I can't remember," he said.