KARGOPOL, NORTHERN RUSSIA: "First I wanted to study medicine, but then changed my mind as I am afraid of all that (injuries, blood)," said Irina, 16, in the center in the M&M-print with her classmates beside her. She was walking with her friends through the town in the late afternoon after classes. Born in a village in Northern Russia, she moved to a town (pop. 10,000) to study at a college with plans to become a teacher. She lives with her older sister and hopes to move further north to the city of Severodvinsk, military town on the White Sea. "There is no work in the village. I need to get into this world."
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."
Andrei, 34, was working on a computer in the kitchen of a hostel in Ulyanovsk, about 4,000 kilometers from his home town of Angarsk near Lake Baikal in Siberia. A father of four children, including two step-children, Andrei said he has completely changed his life over the last few years. He said he quit smoking three years ago, then drinking and his full-time office job as an accountant. He also said he changed 95% of the people around him to ensure he didn't resume the bad habits. ''Your lifestyle depends on the people around you,'' he said. ''I feel great now.'' Andrei now travels around the country to buy used cars from bankrupt or distressed companies and resell them. He said he prefers having the freedom of working for himself. Andrei, who regularly jogs in the morning, said his future plans include having another child.
ULYANOVSK: Ksenia and Alexandra, both 19, met each other in psychology class at university and started an acoustic duo five months ago. They play cover songs by groups like Cold Play and Armstrong in pubs and bars in Ulyanovsk. They call their duo 'Sunday.' ''We thought for a long time about what to call ourselves, but we couldn't find something that fit,'' said Alexandra, whose parents and brother play instruments. Then one day, they auditioned at a pub. The pub's art director commented positively about their music, using a Russian word that can be translated as cheerful or sunny. ''Therefore, they recommended we call ourselves Sunday, because our music is bright and warm like a sunny day.''
ULYANOVSK: Emilia, a psychology student, was leaving her university that lies directly across a square from the Lenin Museum. She was dressed in all black, except for her light-colored sunglasses.
Emilia said she got into hard rock and gothic music such as Marilyn Manson at the age of 15, something that has influenced her fashion style.
Raised by her grandparents, Emilia said she has about 6 tattoos on her body. She also has two small ones – a heart and bow – on her neck, which she says are meant to symbolize a friendship of 12 years. Her friend has the same two tattoos.
A Moscow metro pulled in and out of the station, but these two girls remained sitting at the back of the empty platform around midnight, playing with their phones as they waited for a friend. They said they were sisters, born in Kyrgyzstan but living in Moscow already many years. The girl on the left said she was studying humanities at a university. ''I want to be a choreographer. I love dancing, especially street dance.'' Her older sister was studying law.
I have passed a small antique kiosk nearly every day for the past year as I walk to and from the metro station. I finally popped in to find out about the owner and the business. Alexei, 25, said he first set up a website with a friend to sell antiques four years ago. The business has grown…
”We believed we had a good idea,” Yana said from her coffee kiosk near a major metro station that opened at the end of October. ”The most difficult thing was to take the plunge and leave our comfortable jobs. Our business has now become our life. It occupies us 24 our a day, even when we sleep.”
Elena, 32, is a single mother of a two-year old boy and runs her own small, independent translating agency in Rostov from an old apartment converted into an office. Due to the influx of Ukrainian refugees into Rostov, her company has been busy translating Ukrainian documents such as passports and marriage certificates into Russian. Elena said she rarely hears from the father of her child. He lives in the far northeast of Russia that lies across from Alaska. ''It is difficult to be alone, but I can't say that my life is hard. I always have someone that helps me, like my mother,'' she said.
It was one of those scenes that screams ‘Russia!’ An old, abandoned redbrick warehouse with no roof or windows stood along the Don River. Inside the building, up to the first storey, was relatively warm water. It was coming from an underground source. Graffiti was written on part of the inside brick walls. And inside the water, a woman was swimming despite the sign saying it was prohibited.