North Russia: Sergey has been teaching in a remote, northern Russian village for the past two years. A teacher by education, Sergey first worked in sales in his hometown of Ulyanovsk on the Volga. Dissatisfied both with pay and the work in this hometown, he decided to go back to teaching, but in a remote region where the pay is higher and housing is free. Sergey taught English and geography at the grammar school in a village of about 300 people. Sergey would sometimes have to escort children from the neighboring village on the bus back home. While Sergey said he enjoyed the job, the living conditions weren't adequate. The old wooden home he was given to live in had no running water. Getting to the nearest town - 40 kilometers away - was difficult. Only one bus made the trek daily. Sergey planned to travel around the Far East of Russia while he thinks about what he wants to do next.
MOSCOW: He was sitting in a courtyard in the center of Moscow playing a balalaika. He said he worked in a small company that makes balalaikas. The production is based in Ulyanovsk on the Volga. I was in a rush and didn't have time to speak more with him, but asked for a photo. He posed himself. I hope to go back to this spot in Moscow and find out more about the company and its plans.
St. Petersburg: As I jogged along a St. Petersburg street, a young Russian guy stuck out his hand as I passed to give me a high-five. He had a smile on his face. I was shocked. I don’t recall ever being randomly high-fived by someone on the streets in Russia. After 10 seconds, I decided to turn around and catch up with him. Mikhail, 23, said he grew up in Ulyanovsk, moved 7 years ago to study in Moscow, where he now works as a programmer. He came to St. Petersburg to take part in a marathon. Though he has liked running since youth, he gave himself the goal last year to complete a marathon. The longest he has run to date is 26 km, which he did a few years ago after breaking up with his girlfriend as a way to release tension.
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.
Maria, 25, who is finishing her 6-year degree in graphic design in Ulyanovsk, is one of the few Russians not keen about traveling to Europe, a destination cherished for its well-perserved, historical towns.
Maria said she is rather passionate about the world of the future, which inspires her graphic designs, and chose to visit Dubai and Hong Kong, two cities known for their modern skyscrapers, on her first overseas trips…
Vlad, 32, was taking a smoke break after work before heading home. He said he had just finished cleaning some buildings of snow. His backpack weighed about 20 kilograms, if not more.
Vlad said he bought equipment worth 25,000 rubles ($400) while others use equipment worth 15,000 rubles, something he considered to be risky. He said people without insurance or proper equipment are sometimes hired, including to clean government buildings.
”I sometimes see courtyard workers cleaning buildings with nothing more than rope. Officials only make noise when someone [without proper equipment/insurance] falls and dies.”
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: Marina is the director at the Lenin family museum, and if the communist leader were alive today, he would probably use her life story as an example of the deficiencies of the current Russian state.
A teacher for twenty years before becoming director of the museum 10 years ago, Marina lives at home with her 26 year-old son and several cats and dogs. Her son is unemployed and 1/3 of her very small salary goes to housing and communal services, she said, probably living her with next to nothing after food expenses.
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.