The Mystics Seeking Eternal Life Through Liquid Nitrogen

Tatiana Riabinina was at her mother Galina’s bedside in Bologna, Italy, the night last summer that she died of breast cancer. But the women did not say goodbye. Instead, mere seconds after Galina drew her last breath, Riabinina, a self-described transhumanist, began packing dry ice around her head, then the rest of her body, in hopes of resurrecting it.

It was August, with highs in the low nineties, and the apartment was warm. Riabinina refreshed the ice every six hours, a regimen she continued for four days. That’s when news of her unusual behavior spread. The police arrived to take her mom’s corpse to the morgue, where Riabinina received permission to continue tending it. She brought fresh ice to the morgue three times a week for the next four months while making arrangements to ship it to Russia, where the women are from, for cryopreservation. The process preserves the body in liquid nitrogen for revival in a more scientifically enlightened future.

“Maybe in five, 30, or 300 years, there will be a way to wake her again,” Riabinina says.

Riabinina’s story is among several that Italian photographer Giuseppe Nucci documents in -196: The Pioneers of Resurrection. His ethereal, atmospheric images respectfully capture the quest for immortality in Russia, home to a visionary gaggle of cosmists, cryonicists, and transhumanists who believe in a deathless future. They preach resurrection, wear high-tech cyber-suits, and deep-freeze the corpses of loved ones they hope to meet again.

“We are all scared of death,” Nucci says. “The idea that humans will one day defeat it is fascinating.”

The belief that science and technology can unlock the secrets of immortality has a rich history in Russia. In the late 19th century, the cosmist Nikolai Fedorov envisioned a world where humans would not only beat death, but they’d fly around the galaxy resurrecting the scattered particles of everyone who ever lived; to house them all, they’d colonize other planets. Though the Soviet Union banned Fedorov’s writings, they helped inspire its space program.

Fedorov’s cosmism lives on in contemporary transhumanism, which took off in Russia in the early aughts. Danila Medvedev and Valerija Pride helped found the Russian Transhumanist Movement in 2003, with the goal of becoming post-human and, according to their website, achieving “immortality for all the inhabitants of the planet.” That would, of course, take time, so RTM started the country’s first cryonization company in 2005 to preserve bodies in the interim.

KrioRus charges $36,000 to cryonize a corpse, or half that for just the head. The process is fairly straightforward: First, cryonicists drain the blood of the “patient,” and pump in a solution resembling antifreeze. The body goes into a cooling chamber beneath KrioRus’s 2,000-square-foot hangar in Sergiyev Posad, a suburb north of Moscow, for roughly a week. Then it’s immersed, head first, in a double-walled dewar of liquid nitrogen, where it hangs indefinitely until scientists figure out how to revive it. In this way, KrioRus has cryopreserved 61 people and 31 pets, including a cat, a goldfinch, and a chinchilla. At least 487 others have signed up.

‘We are all scared of death. The idea that humans will one day defeat it is fascinating.’

Photographer Giuseppe Nucci

Nucci got sucked into this world two years ago, when he heard a radio story about cryonics in Rome, where he lives. After researching the subject, he decided to focus his project on Russia, and the unique brand of it he found there. “There was this cosmism,” he says. “It seemed to me more philosophical and romantic.” Over six months in 2017, he attended cosmist and transhumanist meetings in Moscow and documented KrioRus’ headquarters and facilities. But the most surreal part of all was when he tagged along with Riabinina on her journey from Bologna to Moscow to cryonize her mom.

A transhumanist, Riabinina began seriously considering cryonization after Galina’s 2015 diagnosis with stage III breast cancer. She’d heard about it a few years earlier, while living in the United States. “I thought if there was a chance, why not try it?” she says. Her mom expressed interest, though she didn’t sign a contract with a cryonics company before her death. Luckily, KrioRus didn’t require she have one. Its fees were also lower than those of American counterparts like the Alcor Life Extension Foundation—they charge $200,000—and Riabinina could pay in installments. “And then they are Russians too,” Riabinina says. “It’s our language, our country.”

In late November, Riabinina was finally ready to take Galina’s corpse to Russia. A team of experts at the morgue packed the cadaver with dry ice inside an iron box and sealed it within a wooden coffin for transport. After their plane landed in Moscow, KrioRus drove them roughly 100 miles north, through a blustering snowstorm, to KrioRus’s hangar in Sergiev Posad. There, they opened the coffin, wrapped the body in a bag, and placed it in an underground cooling chamber to gradually chill.

That was the last time Riabinina saw her mom. But she believes it won’t be the final one. “I didn’t say goodbye forever,” she says. “I said, ‘I’ll see you again.'”

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