SOLOVETSKY ISLAND: As I walked to one of the few stores on Solovetsky Island, I stopped to take some photos of sheep and a cow nearby. This older man walked over and began to chat with me. He said his family moved to Solovetsky Island from Belarus more than 50 years ago. Consequently, he grew up here. Now 55, he said he is retired. When the conversation ended, I excused myself and said I was headed to the store. He said he was going there as well to get a bottle, but quickly explained, "I will not drink tomorrow. I am going into the forest." I asked if he was going to the forest for some sort of part-time work. Timber after all is one of the main sectors of the North Russia economy. ''I am going to gather mushrooms," he said. Autumn is the season to pick mushrooms, which are plentiful in the northern forests.
ARKHANGELSK: ''I don't give myself a specific goal of, say, 5 kilometers to walk. I just walk back and forth along the seaside while I enjoy it,'' said this grandmother and retiree living in Arkhangelsk. She was out walking on a Sunday afternoon using her Scandinavian walking sticks. Several others were walking with such sticks in Arkhangelsk. She said it had become more popular in recent years. This retiree said she also goes to the gym a few times a week to exercise with machines and weights, something her doctor recommended. I asked her what she thought of it. ''I really like it. I feel good each time I go.''
ARKHANGELSK: It was like a scene from a movie or a magszine. A couple walking along a sunny, empty beach onevweekend morning. Except, this beach was about 250 km from the Arctic circle. Ilya, who met his girlfriend Ksenia this summer, said he likes Arkhangelsk and has no plans to leave. "Each street reminds me of my childhood or youth. All my relatives are here. I met my best friends and girlfriend here. I love this city for its history, architecture and nature," said Ilya, 25, who works for a diamond mining company outside Arkhangelsk. As he works on a two-week rotation basis, he doesn't see Ksenia, 23, every day, but they communicate regularly via social media he said.
ARKHANGELSK: "A person is like a book - each one of us has our own story. A book about me would be a melodrama. I didn't have the happy childhood that others had," said Elizaveta, an Arkhangelsk university student. She was sitting by herself in a cafe drawing a boy with big eyes. She said she draws to express her thoughts and feelings and was inspired by the Hollywood film 'Big Eyes.' Elizaveta is studying to be a speech therapist. She said she grew up in a town where mоre people than usual have health issues and that partially influenced her decision to chose such a profession. "My dream is to go to Germany to see how speech therapy is done there and in general learn more about their medical practices. I am trying hard to reach my goals."
ARKHANGELSK: "I served in the armed forces in Armenia and the smell of coffee is everywhere there. People there drink coffee in all situations. It was there that I learned understood what coffee is," said Alexander, 29, who was working the coffee-to-go kiosk he owns on the pedestrian street in Arkhangelsk. Such freshly-brewed coffee kiosks can now be found in most major Russian cities, but three years ago they basically did not exist. Since then, they have sprung up like mushrooms after a rainstorm, to use a popular Russian expression, from Vladivostok to Ulan-Ude and Irkutsk to St. Petersburg and Moscow. Alexander opened his in Arkhangelsk three years ago. "I made a lot of mistakes - from the professionalism of the baristas to tge quality of the coffee," he said when I asked why he didn't yet expand. "You can't give up," he said. "He who gives up doesn't achieve anything."
SOLOVETSKY ISLAND: "I want to die here. I have lived here so long. This is holy ground," said this 87-year old grandmother, who lives about 700 meters from the walls of the Solovetsky Monastery in the White Sea. She has been living here more than 50 years and now spends her days watching the people pass by her home. Born in a village in the north of Russia in 1928, she recalled building a bomb shelter during WWII. "Hunger, cold" was what came to her mind when I asked about the war days. She said she decided to move to Solovki in the 1960s after receiving a letter from her sister, asking her to come. Her sister has since passed away. She worked 27 years at the Island's school as a cleaner. Her daughter now lives in Ukraine and has asked her mother to join her. But she doesn't want to leave Solovki.
ARKHANGELSK: ''My twin sister and I are planning right now to move to Moscow because of the job market here. People of my age are leaving, but they are choosing St Petersburg, not Moscow," said Daria, 25, who works in real estate. "There isn't much work and the salaries are disappointing. I was working as an engineer, but left because I was earning a very small salary. I now earn three times more." According to local people, the median salary is around 15,000-20,000 rubles ($250-$300 based on the current ruble-dollar rate).
ARKHANGELSK: The sunny autumn Sunday morning brought quite a few people to the partially refurbished seaside in Arkhangelsk. Some jogged on the asphalt, others ran along the sandy beach, while these two friends and first-time mothers took their newborns out for a walk.
ARKHANGELSK: "We are not alike in character. I am more creative," said Nastya (left) about her twin sister Vika. They were walking in Malye Karelya, a park on the outskirts of Arkhangelsk city filled with historical wooden architecture from Northern Russia. Nastya said she loved to write poetry and would read it to Vicka, but she didn't show strong interest. "She is far from [poetry]," said Nastya.
KARGOPOL, NORTH RUSSIA: "There was a leader called Brezhnev - the period was great," said the 78-year old retired engineer (left) about Russia's recent history. He was fishing for pleasure by the river around sunset time as he spoke about the late and post Soviet periods, a friend popping by at one point to see what the caught. Although "cars were a luxury" during the Brezhnev years, food was ecologically sound and people could earn a salary that enabled them to take a vacation, he said. He said salaries are low in the region and many people just get by, pausing to ask rhetorically how salaries could be so low in a country so rich in natural resources.