MOSCOW: When I exited the metro and saw Vasily and Nikita in their outfits, I thought I landed on a movie set about the 1920s. They said they were on their way to a blues concert. I asked if they often go and Nikita answered that they only met 3 days ago. I asked how they met and they explained that they were placed in one room in the university dormitory. Living meters from each other now, these two could probably not have come from further edges of the former USSR. Vasily, 17, comes from Komsomolsk-on-Amur in Russia's Far East while Nikita, 20, is from Vinnitsa in Western Ukraine.
St. Petersburg: Valeria was rolling down Nevsky on her foot scooter, a white bow in her hair. She said she moved July 7, 2014 to St. Petersburg from Kharkov, Ukraine due to the economic difficulties back home. She chose St. Petersburg as a friend from Kharkov region was here. Valeria, who has a 'V V' tattoo on the back of her legs to signify her name Valeria Valerovna, said she was able to find a job as an administrator at a hair salon within two days of arriving in St. Petersburg. ''St. Petersburg has been good to me,'' she said. As for the foot scooter, Valeria had wanted one for a half-year and finally bought one in June. She said foot scooters weren't popular in Kharkov.
MOSCOW: Sveta was riding a foot scooter on her way to Gorky Park around 7pm at night. She was sporting dreads and was dressed in a Superman t-shirt. Tattoos covered her legs. Sveta said she is a tattoo master and has a small workshop near one of Moscow's metro stations. Born in Ukraine, Sveta grew up in Siberia and then moved around Russia, eventually ending up in Moscow. She said she got her first tattoo as a teenager. She randomly made the decision while hanging out at a friends house, telling herself ''why the hell not?'' Since then, she says she has studied tattoos and works in her own style.
ROSTOV: Roman, 18 (center), was heading home after a day of skateboarding with two friends in Rostov. All three boys recently moved to Rostov from nearby Ukraine to study. Roman said his university plans changed after Russia annexed Crimea. A Russian by nationality, Roman grew up in Kerch, Crimea and initially planned to attend university in Kharkov, Ukraine. However, he became a Russian citizen in March 2014, opening the door to universities on the Russian mainland.He chose to attend university in Rostov, about 10 hours by bus from Kerch, where his parents still live. Roman, who would like to work as a programmer ''for a major company,'' said he thought the change in university plans was for the best. ''If I could study anywhere in the former Soviet Union, I would still choose Russia because the education and job opportunities are better.'' Roman said the skateboarding is better in Rostov than in Crimea. ''The streets are more level and there is more asphalt."
Ilya was among a few Ukrainians that packed their bags in January 2014 and headed to XX in the UAE to serve at new, luxury hotel catering in large part to Russian speakers from the former Soviet Union. It was good timing…a few weeks later, the Ukrainian President was overthrown,
It was a beautiful snowstorm…only slightly below zero, so the snow was soft. But it was coming down by the shovel full on this early January morning. Lyudmila didn’t mind as the snow stuck to her outfit and landed on the face – she was focused on exercising in the small stadium near her home in a small west Ukrainian town.
As I strolled near the outdoor food market in Mogilev-Podolsky, a small, west Ukrainian town, I passed 14 year-old Andrei, a high school student wearing a winter hat with the Ukraine coat of arms on it. I wasn’t too surprised to see someone wearing such a hat in this town considering there were Ukrainian flags all around town. Nonetheless, I wanted to ask Andrei why he chose to wear it.
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.''
It was one of those days that Pushkin raved about in poems….a cold, sunny, winter day. The temperature was close to -16c (zero F) in this part of Western Ukraine as I passed two high school girls sipping espresso in the outdoor seating area of McDonald’s. I had to ask them why they were sitting in such cold.
Dima said many young Ukrainians are leaving the country and he and his girlfriend may soon join the exodus. He says officials are asking people to be patient and ”wait to 2020” when things will be better. ”But I have plans and I want to achieve them.” Among his dreams – the same I hear from Russians, Belarusians, and Americans – is to have a house and a car.