MOSOCOW: Ivan, 27 and a Vladivostok native, hand makes chocolate in a former Soviet factory in Moscow with his girlfriend Dasha, who was doing the evening shift after him. Ivan, who was raised my his mom and older sister, said he moved to Moscow for a second time in 2013 to pursue music. He explained that he fell in love with rap as a teenager in Russia's Far East after having randomly bought an Eminem cassette at a kiosk some 15 years ago while bike riding. Ivan said he then met Dasha, also a Far East native, through social media in the autumn of 2013. They only met in person in 2014 as she fly through Moscow on route to India. She would later that year move across 7 time zones to be with him in Moscow. Dasha loves making pottery and found work in Moscow producing ceramic vases and dishes. Ivan said he came to visit her at the shop, enjoyed the process and gave it a shot. Dasha then found the job making chocolate at the factory and brought over Ivan. The two switch shifts, overlapping two hours during the day. Ivan still pursues music after his chocolate shift....and occasionally makes pottery with Dasha in their free time. When I asked Ivan what he will be doing when he turns 30, he said "definitely making chocolate and music."
CHITA, EASTERN SIBERIA: Dasha, 21, works in a barbershop in Chita, but grew up near Barnaul and lived briefly in Novosibirsk. I asked how she ended up in Chita...Love took her there, she said. Dasha said she met a boy via social media back in 2010. In 2012, at the age of 18, she moved to Chita to be with him. I asked Dasha what her mom, a school English teacher, thought about her move. "She said if that will make me happier, then I should go [to be with him]. Dasha said she prefers Novosibirsk to Chita and will decide where to live when her boyfriend finishes university. Dasha said she wasn't in a rush to tie the knot. "Many girls get married at a young age and then divorce shortly thereafter."
SAMARA: Dmitry and Sveta were walking along the frozen Volga River on Woman’s Day, far from the rest of the holiday goers that were enjoying the beautiful sunset. Dmitry, who works for a local power company, said he met Sveta at a New Year’s eve costume party in the Samara suburbs to ring in 2014. He was dressed as a martian and she was dressed as a robot…
Vladivostok: Sergei and Lyubov were walking together in the center of Vladivostok on Valentine's Day, both wearing what looked like hiking backpacks. They said they met a month ago in Vladivostok via friends and ''have many things in common, including biking, hiking and outdoor tourism.'' They plan on visiting a cave in the region later this month, while their longterm plans include visiting Kamchatka, Sakhalin and Tibet.
Vladivostok: It was unseasonably warm on Valentine's Day in Vladivostok with the temperature breaking above zero Celsius and the sun shinning bright. That didn't seem to worry these two young lovers, who walked, ran, hugged and kissed on the ice for a good half-hour. They said the ice normally remains thick enough to stand on until the end of February. They exited the ice safely.
Artem and Yulia were slowly strolling along the seaside in Vladivostok at sunset on Valentine's Day eve. Yulia was carrying a bouquet of nine roses. They said they met via Russian social media about two weeks ago and had been writing each other since them. Today was their first date. ''I don't normally meet people through social media,'' Yulia said. ''He was lucky.''
Nadezhda was walking through the Yaroslav railroad station around 9 am on a Saturday morning, slightly ahead of me. I was on my way to a town outside Moscow...she was on her way to see her boyfriend Igor before he took a suburban train back home. Igor said they met four months ago through a friend and that they were a perfect match. I asked what they had in common - besides an apparent love of music (both were wearing headsets). ''Everything. We are the same person, just different sexes.''
She was born in 1926 in Western Ukraine into what would become a large family. WWII devastated her country and may have contributed to her mother's premature death in 1944 from pneumonia. She took one of her younger brothers under her wing and helped raise him in her home. But, she never had any children who could care for her in old age. So, nearly 70 years later, roles have reversed. Her younger brother has taken her into his home to care for her. ''It is my moral obligation,'' he told me. ''She did so much for me as a boy.''
Nastya, 17, was walking around the center of Minsk taking photos with her school friend. She said she is interested in Japanese culture and has begun studying the language. The biggest event in her life last year was developing a relationship with a Russian youth. She said they first met 3 years agoand mainly kept in touch via Skype, only seeing one another a few times over ghe years. In February 2014, he moved to Minsk to be closer to her.
Starbucks in Moscow tends to attract a colorful, younger Russian crowd, which was where I randomly sat across from Grigori. A guitarist and recent college drop out, he says he likes the music at Starbucks and is trying to learn to play Jazz. Grigori said one of his favorite groups is 1990s American experimental group Deli Creeps, which had one of the best guitarists in his view. He said he was discussing the Deli Creeps guitarist with a Russian girl via social media and the two are now dating. He called their virtual connection a 'wonderful, random coincidence.' She lives 400km away and he travels to see her.