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.
Vasya, 31, a Sakhalin native, said he started fishing to earn money at age 13 while still a school boy. He would do it in his free time, especially during the summer breaks. Vasya said that he ''loved having money in my pocket'' from fishing outings. Thus, he didn't bother pursing a higher education, either at a technical school or a university. He now says he regrets that decision. Job opportunities without a dipolma are limited. ''I would love to get a diploma, but I don't have time.'' He works mainly as a driver and fisherman, but would love to be a mechanic, even though it may not be an admired position. ''I like to work with metal, but people don't consider such jobs to be prestigious. Everyone wants to be a lawyer or an economist and work in an office. That is not for me.'' I asked him what he will be doing in five years. ''I definitely won't be fishing,'' he said. ''It takes a toll on your life. You don't notice that when you are young because all you care about is the money.'' Vasya said he is telling his younger brother to learn from his example and to ''study, study and study.''
He was riding a bicycle along the snowy and icy streets of Poronaisk, a town of about 15,000 on Sakhalin Island, with his fishing gear on his back. He was coming from the river, where hundreds of people were ice fishing. He said it was difficult to bike as the roads were icy. He described himself as a retired electrician that has been fishing his whole life. ''Fishing is in our blood,'' he said.
Yuri, 67, said his dad was from Ukraine and his mom from Siberia. They met and married in Vladivostok and moved to the Kuril Islands off Japan in 1947 after WWII to help develop the new territory. When he was eight, his family moved to Sakhalin Island. His parents had five children. Yuri said he played war games and cops and robbers with his siblings and friends. He also went fishing with his dad, something that has become a passion. ''I love fishing. If I can't fish, there is nothing for me to do.'' However, he said his younger brother, who still lives on Sakhalin, doesn't share his passion for fishing. Yuri said he was a construction worker on Sakhalin and built housing projects. Now he is a pensioner, spending his days fishing. ''Tell me, who receives a pension that is enough?'' he said, when asked about retirement benefits. ''Prices have been rising. The monthly communal housing costs are quite high. ''