One thing that surprised me about Kursk was the number of foreign students there. Kursk is the home to one of Russia's top medical schools with classes in English language. Jeevith An, the first Malaysian I have ever met in Russia in more than 10 years living here, studies at Kursk Medical University. He said it is attractively priced, about half the cost of med school in Malaysia. With the recent fall in the ruble, the school has become even cheaper for foreigners. Jeevith said he wants to be a heart surgeon and will intern back at home during the summer.
Dmitry and Polina, music students, were sitting on a bench on ice-covered Lenin Street on a late December night. There were few people about in this weather and late hour. I asked about the biggest event of 2014 and he started talking about the many concerts he took part in. Polina, who was sitting on his lap, then whispered something in his ear. Dmitry looked up at me and said the most important event was proposing to Polina. He said they met a year ago and will get married next year before he goes into the army.
Vladimir Ivanovich stands by the Kolomna Kremlin in Moscow region dressed in an old fashion Russian police uniform. He is as much a tourist attraction as he is a city worker. Before becoming a guard by the Kremlin, he said he was a senior engineer and traveled occasionally with work. Like tens of thousands of other engineers, he said the economic turmoil of the 1990s forced him out of his job.
Another photo of juggler Garich in his apartment. He lives on the ground floor of a 19th century building that was damaged by fire two years ago. His 'apartment' has no shower room or heating, though the electricity works. It reminds me of images of squatter housing in NYC in 80s. Garich built a fire place and is making a shower. He often sleeps on a hammock. The walls are bare except for some drawings by his school aged daughter, who lives separately with her mother. Garich said his daughter comes over occasionally and likes the unusual settings. He is hoping to find more juggling students in Moscow to incease his income, but his real goal is to have his own performance. He practices juggling to music by The Kinks, The Stooges and Thamusement in a bare room across the hallway.
He said he had a good life - an apartment, car and his own small store - until fighting erupted in his hometown of Luhansk. A bomb damaged the roof of his store and he left for safer territory in Moscow, where he now sells boiled corn-on-cob at popular Moscow park. Half Russian, half Ukrainian by nationality, he will get Russian citizenship and says may end up settling in Russia, but he misses his home town and previous, stable life.
The ruble decline impacts nearly the entire former USSR, not just Russia and Russians. Akram grew up in Kyrgyzia, lives in Chelyabinsk and currently works in Moscow like many of his former countrymen. He regularly sends money to his parents, who are raising his two youngest children in Kyrgyzia. Akram said his parents now get 20% less for each ruble he sends them. Akram said he is getting Russisn citizenship and hopes someday to build a home outside Chelyabinsk, where is wife is raising their eldest child.
Inga was standing on a main street in Voronezh selling her paintings starting at 150 rubles ($4), her husband at her side. She said that her pre-revolutionary ancestors were aristocrats and that also had Latvian roots, which explains her Scandinavian name (Inga). She said she has been selling paintings on the street for more than a decade, so I asked Inga for the most interesting moment, expecting to hear something about a big sale. Instead, Inga said she used to be quite attractive 10 years ago. One day, a pimp noticed her and tried to get her into the prostitution business, promising large sums of money. When I bought a small painting, she took out a pen and signed her name on the back of it.
Misha, a cameraman, and I discussed playing sports in our youth. He shared an anecdote that reflected how unstable the 1990s were in Russia post the collapse of the Soviet Union. He mentioned that sport clubs or teams would often form only to disolve a year later for a lack of funding, leaving young people searching for a wsy to continue a sport they started.
Maria said the 1990s were a very difficult period economically. Thus, she - like many others in Russia - decided to only have one child. She said she regrets not having a second child, adding her son may not be so egotistical if he had other siblings.
Another photo of Maria from St Petersburg. Maria, who has Serbian roots. said she studied foreign langages at university after her grandparents dissuaded her from studying acting. Nonetheless, after talking to her for 5-10 minutes, it was clear she has the spirit of an actress.