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.
NOVOSIBIRSK REGION VILLAGE: "I hope to train at least one great athlete," said Daniil, a Siberian village school basketball coach. He was taking his 2.5-year old daughter to day care on a sleigh. The number of parents taking their children around on sleighs (some are dual usage with wheels) in Novosibirsk region caught my attention. Daniil said he got into basketball as a young boy while watching Jordan, Kirilenko and later Kobe. If Daniil manages to produce a great athlete, it would be the second to come from this small village after 1984 winter Olympic medalist Sergei Bulygin.
KYRGYZ COUNTRYSIDE: ''He was the only veterinarian in the village. Now there is no one,'' said this 50 year-old woman about her husband, who passed away 1.5 years ago. She has six children and lives in a village with a population of about 850. Her two eldest daughters are married. She spoke the best Russian among the people in the village I met and I asked if she had studied or worked in Russia. The woman said she studied at a military school in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Now she cleans the village school while taking care of her children. ''What else can I do [in the village]'' she asked?
GEORGIAN COUNTRYSIDE: I met these three about an hour outside Tbilisi when I stopped to buy cheese and fresh bread from them. The woman on the right was baking bread inside at roadside building. The woman on the left said she was the director of the local village school, which has 180 students. She started working there 41 years ago as a 17 year-old teacher. The director said the school used to have more than 400 students, but people are leaving the village for the city (as is the case in most countries). I asked if she had any famous students. She said one of the current Georgian ministers attended the school. The woman in the middle said her daughter died of illness several years ago and thus she wears black as a sign of mourning.
CHITA, EASTERN SIBERIA: Denis was one of those lucky Russians that made a killing during the 2000s, when Russia's economy nearly doubled. A programmer from Chita, he was asked to help with a some local political agitation work. He said that led to a full-time job from a solid company, lucrative salary, hard assets and lots of leisure travel. We could fly to Sochi for a day to swim. We didn't care about money.'' He said the ''easy money spoiled'' him. Now, Denis is putting his money to work in the Siberian service sector despite rising unemployment and recession. Denis recently opened Chita's first barbershop. He plans a similar woman's shop and then a restaurant with bar. His target audience is people 25 t0 40 that work, have families and ''can spend money 1 or 2 times a month on their looks and an evening out.'' ''People still need to eat, relax and take care of their looks,'' he said, referring to the recession. Denis said Chita is experiencing an influx of people from surrounding villages and an outflow of native city dwellers to bigger, Siberian cities like Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk. That is leading to a growing ''village mentality'' in Chita. ''We need to change the mentality in the city,'' said Denis, who regularly jogs and gave up drinking. ''People are waiting for something from the government. How does change begin? With yourself.'' He said he hopes his barbershop will bring a bit of culture to the city in addition to profit.
I took a 3 hour train ride to Vladimir region recently to visit some so-called 'dying' villages. After getting off the train, I hitched a ride a few kilometers to a church that was halfway to my final destination. There I met Nikolai, who was chopping wood with a friend in the church yard. He said there was little money to do a proper upgrade to the church, which, despite its poor condition, still held service for the surrounding villages. Nikolai said he grew up in the area, but moved during Soviet times to Siberia near Lake Baikal, where he worked in construction. When he stopped getting paid during the economic turmoil in the 1990s, he returned to Vladimir region. He said the village he now lives in - which is located 2 to 3 km away from the church - had a collective farm that used to employ many people. Now, just a few work there. As he escorted me for a small fee to his village to find a cab driver, he asked where I was going to stay. I told him I didn't know, and asked if he knew of a place. Nikolai said he didn't know, adding he would offer me to stay at his place, but felt it wasn't in good condition and apologized. Nikolai found me the driver after a 30 min walk and I paid him what we agreed upon. He thanked me, said it was interesting to talk to an American and then headed back to the church. (For full set of village photos, see the gallery page at toddprincephotography.com)
Visited a farm in a village about 120km from Moscow. After the farm visit, I took a walk around the village and saw about 8 children and teenagers playing what seemed to be war games in front of their home as their parents worked nearby. Quite a few of them were brothers and cousins. I will post a few portraits of them. He was probably the youngest - and perhaps therefore the shiest - of the group of kids playing in the village. I didn't initially notice the toy gun in the top pocket (left side of photo). Another of the boys from the village 120km from Moscow. He chose the pose himself...begs the question what he watches. Another boy from the village doing his best job to fulfill the old stereotype that 'Russians don't smile. This boy from the village wanted to show me his gymnastic skills. He was the most outgoing of the group snd practiced a few Englidh words with me, He was playing what seemed to be some sort of 'cops & robbers' or war games with his friends, using a concrete cylinder as a hiding place. You can see his friend in the background with a toy machine gun as well as the concrete cylinder.