North Russia: As I walked around the North Russian village with my camera, a middle-aged woman walked up to me to ask what I was doing. When I responded that I was visiting a friend and taking photos of the village, she said she wanted to show me her living conditions...perhaps I could help her get the attention of authorities responsible for the state program to relocate people from poor housing. A mother of eight, she now lives just with her youngest son, 15, a student in the local school. The other children have already grown up and moved out, some living in the nearby town. She complained about the rotting wooden conditions of the entrance and stairs and the cold conditions in her home. She said he has been complaining to no avail.
MOSCOW: Rada was skating along the Moscow River as she pushed her 5-month old twins Adelinа & Angelina in a carriage. Over the past year, I have started to see people skating or running with a carriage, but never with two babies. Rada started rollerblading with the twins a month ago. Depending on the weather, she rollerblades 2 to 5 times a week. The round trip lasts about 5 hours with a 2-hour break at Gorky Park. Rada says its very convenient: The babies get a long-period outdoors while she gets a chance to exercise, tan & meet friends all without being away from the babies. ‘’5 years ago, it wouldn't have been possible to image this'' in Moscow, she said. People's reaction surprised her - they smile & give a thumbs up. Rada taught herself to skate at age eight. Those first skates belonged to her friend that lived in the same building, thus she only skated a few times during the summer. Now, for the first time, she has her own skates.
TVER OBLAST: This is probably the youngest of the nearly 200,000 visitors this year to the annual Russian rock festival Nashestviye. He is one month old. Mother Svetlana, 27, has been coming to Nashestvie for 6 years. This is her 3rd child. The other two were with their grandmother during the three-day festival. Svetlana stayed at a hotel near the concert grounds during the three days.
‘Siberia’ and ‘Yoga’ are two words that don’t seem to belong in the same sentence, so I just had to visit a yoga studio in the provincial town of Chita in Eastern Siberia. There, I met Anastasia, a mother of two girls.
Anastasia said she wasn’t happy with her physical appearance after the birth of her second child, having put on some 10 kilograms. So, at age 30, she signed up for Yoga classes.
She hadn’t regularly done a physical activity since gymnastics some two decades earlier and, at first, she was frustrated. ”Initially, I didn’t like it. I said, this is boring. Why am I doing it.”
Khabarovsk: Nastya, 19, who grew up in a small town near Khabarovsk in the Russian Far East. Nastya's mom divorced shortly after she was born and had to sell cigarettes on the streets in late 90s to pay rent. Her mom, who studied accounting, later got hired to manage the books in a convenience store. In 2000, Nastya's mom took a big risk, borrowing money to buy the convenience store. Her mom's timing couldn't have been better. Russia's economic growth was about to skyrocket over the next decade. Her mom quickly paid back the loan and eventually opened a second store. When Nastya entered university, her mom agreed to give her spending money only in her first year. "It was her principle," Nastya said. "She said she wanted me to be responsible and independent. She said I will thank her in 5-6 years." After a stint working in a cafe, Nastya is now trying to earn money after classes by doing manicures.
This 21 year-old mother (left) was pushing a child in a sleigh along the icy streets of Poronaysk on her way to the park with her friend. Many parents on Sakhalin were using such sleighs to get around town with their young children. Sakhalin has a very attractive financial package for young families with more than one child. Sakhalin residents, it seems, tend to start their families in their early 20s.
She was walking down a narrow street covered in snow, pushing a baby carriage as she passed the colorful wooden homes. She said he had given birth 11 days ago to her third child. Her other two are twin girls. She said her children are fourth generation Sakhalin residents. When asked if she would like her children to leave Sakhalin for mainland Russia, she said ''they will decide where to live,'' adding that Sakhalin ''is in any case better than the mainland. Everyone comes here to work.'' Sakhalin offers parents with three children one of the most generous housing packages in Russia in order to encourage people to have children and stay on the Island.
Sakhalin: Alexandra was walking down a road that lead from the sea as the sun shone bright and the snow stood tall in this small town in southern Sakhalin. I asked if it were difficult to raise children in this climate - with snow so high for so long. Alexandra, who has two daughters, said she grew up in the north of the island where temperatures get down to -40c and where the snow is even greater, so southern Sakhalin was relatively warm. Alexandra said she had no intention to leave the island for mainland Russia as she enjoys the nature and thinks the local people are kinder. As for her children, "I won't insist that they stay," she said. "It will be there decision." Alexandra said she hopes to have another child. "My husband wants another daughter, but I would like a son for a change.''
Rita, 18, was helping her mom at a convenience store in a town near the Sakhalin coast that also served hot food and drinks, including borsch, pancakes and instant coffee. Located near the inter-city bus stop, it had a decent flow of customers. Alla was born in Vladivostok and moved to Sakhalin with her family were she was about six years old. Rita, who is finishing high school, wants to attend university in Vladivostok. ''I have relatives there, so I am not worried about her leaving home,'' said Alla, who has three children in total. Rita said she wants to leave Sakhalin as there are limited career opportunities on the island, a complaint many young people have. She said she would like to study interior design, but doesn't have good enough Russian language scores to get into that department, so she may chose public administration.
One of the first things that jumped out as I walked around Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk was the number of people walking with baby carriages. This is most notable in the city's park, where I saw at least a dozen mothers and one dad walking their new borns. As one man told me, Sakhalin has been attracting young specialists from the Russian 'mainland' because of higher salaries and chance for an interesting experience. This young mother was walking her child in a baby carriage around sunset in the center of Yuzhno-Sakhalin. She said she was born on Sakhalin and has ''no plans to leave. I love the nature and life here is getting better. I think life on the mainland is more difficult.'' She also wants to be around her family and friends on Sakhalin. She said she didn't think about how difficult it might be raising a child - especially in a cold climate - until she had one. ''I probably won't have another child any time soon,'' she said. ''A baby needs constant attention. It is physically and morally exhausting.''