Chernova and Sokhryakova were evacuated from the Indonesian holiday island at the end of last week as part of efforts by the Russian authorities to ensure citizens stranded abroad could return home.
The duo had headed to Bali on March 18 and intended to return home on April 2, but the increasing coronavirus crisis scuppered those plans as Russia locked down its borders completely.
Finding themselves stuck in such an idyllic lockdown location and at the mercy of Russian rescue efforts, Chernova and Sokhryakova made headlines in their homeland and also became the target for online attacks which accused them of foolishness in going ahead with their trip and even of whining at their fate.
But Chernova has dismissed those claims, saying that she and her teammate had paid their own way back on the evacuation flight and had not complained of their ordeal.
“For some reason, a lot of people think someone paid for us and that we were complaining. That’s not true,” Chernova told Russian outlet Sport-Express from her quarantine base just outside Moscow.
“We flew out [to Indonesia] on March 18 and were supposed to return on April 2. In some countries the pandemic was approaching. But we’d bought tickets a long time in advance.
“Yes, we could have assumed that everything would get tougher, but it didn’t frighten me. Many people can blame me now. I understand, they decided to stay at home. But we had no other options for a holiday, so we decided to go ahead with it,” the former Sochi Olympian added.
Chernova said there had been no major feeling of panic when the pair found out they were stranded on the island following Russia’s border closures.
“Of course there was a slight sense of panic, ‘what do we do, where do we turn?’ But we met some Russians in the same situation.
“We found out that through state services you need to fill out forms. We called the Foreign Ministry… We received daily support from the speed skating federation.
“After five days we’d already calmed down and were just monitoring the situation. Where’s the sense in worrying if nothing depends on us?”
Describing the situation on the Indonesian island of around 4.2 million people, Chernova said things had remained “civilized.”
“We initially moved from place to place, we wanted to visit different parts of the island. But it’s obvious that no one will let you stay with them for free, so we found cheaper options. A lot of hotels were closed…
“Everything was civilized. You go to the store, they check your temperature and ask you to disinfect your hands. There were no problems with food. 80 percent of places were closed, but takeaway places were working. [But] then the beaches were even closed, the military patrolled them.”
Chernova said she understood the anger, but that reports of them crying out for help and complaining were simply not true.
“Of course [I understand the criticism]. We were near the ocean in the sun, and people are sitting at home. But to make out that we were complaining and asking for help, that’s wrong.
“I remember we were talking online with a friend, and afterwards I didn’t even have time to have a cup of tea before a journalist from some obscure publication picked out a phrase to make it seem we were whining. But it was nothing like that.
“I understand people need to talk about something. Our swimsuit pictures near the ocean have been published without our permission.
“But I already went through hatred after Sochi [Olympics in 2014], when people wrote to me saying that finishing ninth out of 16 was nothing. So now I just don’t pay attention.
“But there were a lot of words of support and offers to help. I’m grateful for that.”
Chernova also stressed that the pair had funded their own way home and had not called for state assistance.
“They included us on the list [to fly home]. Four hours before the flight we were in a different city, they called us and said, ‘Head to the airport, they’ll try to fit you on a flight.’
“We got in a taxi and rushed off. Elena saw the consul at the airport and they managed to add us to the list, but we bought the tickets for 35,035 rubles [$470].”
Both speed skaters are currently in quarantine at the ‘Krugloe Ozero’ training base for Russian athletes just outside Moscow, where Chernova said she was observing strict conditions.
“We are in total isolation and cut-off from everyone. We aren’t even allowed to go into the corridor for 14 days…
“I’m trying to train as best I can, it’s not easy in these conditions but it’s important to keep my spirits up,” she said, adding that she hoped to head home to Kaluga, around 200km outside Moscow, on May 2.
By then, the unlikely media attention Chernova and travel companion Sokhryakova have received may even have died down a little.