MOSCOW: Daria, 17, was returning from the Tretyakovsky Gallery, one of Russia's best known museums. A native of Crimea, it was her first visit to the museum, so she spent four hours walking around. Having studied in an art school, she wanted to see up front the paintings by Repin and Vasnetsov that she read about in her text books. Daria said she studies philosophy and would like to become a speaker in her hometown. She said her shawl represents Slavic culture and religion.
TBILISI, GEORGIA: Anton, 32, recently opened a small pizzeria in a narrow alleyway right off one of Tbilisi's main streets. The spot is about 15 square meters in total and can seat two people. Anton, who studied cooking in his hometown of Kharkov, said he has been in the pizza business for about a decade. During the summer, he runs several pizzerias in Crimea with this business partner. However, he feels businesses in that disputed territory will be disappointing this year due to the economic and political crisis, so he decided to give Tbilisi a shot. Anton named his pizzerias Palermo 7. The seven signifies the day and month he was born: July 7 or 7/7. Anton said 7 is a lucky number and thus had his back tattooed with Roman numerals for 7.
MOSCOW: Daria, 29, moved from Crimea to Moscow eight years ago to study, but ended up staying to work. Employed at a printing plant, Daria says the Russian megapolis has worn her down. ''I want to go back to Crimea. Moscow is a very big, difficult place to live.'' She says she loves to motorcycle and that her and her husband, also from Crimea, both have Hondas. Moving back to warmer Crimea would allow her to ride nearly year round, she said. Daria said she goes by the nickname 'Fairy,' from her days cleaning dishes at camping events, using the liquid detergant Fairy. ''They called me that to tease me, but I liked it and it stuck.''
ROSTOV: Roman, 18 (center), was heading home after a day of skateboarding with two friends in Rostov. All three boys recently moved to Rostov from nearby Ukraine to study. Roman said his university plans changed after Russia annexed Crimea. A Russian by nationality, Roman grew up in Kerch, Crimea and initially planned to attend university in Kharkov, Ukraine. However, he became a Russian citizen in March 2014, opening the door to universities on the Russian mainland.He chose to attend university in Rostov, about 10 hours by bus from Kerch, where his parents still live. Roman, who would like to work as a programmer ''for a major company,'' said he thought the change in university plans was for the best. ''If I could study anywhere in the former Soviet Union, I would still choose Russia because the education and job opportunities are better.'' Roman said the skateboarding is better in Rostov than in Crimea. ''The streets are more level and there is more asphalt."
While walking around the shopping mall near my house, I was struck by a food stand near the elevator: ‘Bakery by Men’ it read. In a country where the president flies in jets, cruises on submarines, practices judo and rides horses, ‘Bakery by Men’ seemed bold. I stopped by to talk to the guy working the shop that day. Alexei said he had moved to Moscow in early March 2014 from Sevastopol…just days after Russia began the process of annexing the region. He said he was planning to come to Moscow at the end of February as he had fallen in love with a girl from Moscow that he met through social media network Vkontake.