Capturing Russia from white to black, north to south, east to west

Ildar: Journalist, Cafe Owner

KAZAN: "My idea was to move away from the typical Russian cafes with their glamorous and pretentious designs, forced courtesy and water pipes (hookah). Our cafe is from recycled materials, my friends helped and we designed it ourselves,’’ said Ildar. A freelance journalist, Ildar opened a co-working cafe because he enjoyed making coffee and wanted a place to work. ‘’I killed two birds with one stone by opening this place. I sometimes work there as a barista, sometimes I am writing articles or editing photos and video.’’ However, regular cafes are more popular than co-working spots. ‘’I understand that local freelancers are seemingly still not ready to work in the same space alongside unfamiliar people.''

Eduard: Longing for Europe

KAZAN: "I would like to move to Europe. I lived there almost eight years and know well, what is European life. People are more relaxed there. Here you can't always express yourself from your heart. There will always be someone that criticizes you," said Eduard, who lived in Spain during the 2000s from age 8 to 16. Eduard said he used to have long hair, which wasn't common in Kazan. He stuck out from the crowd and felt disapproval. ''Everyone just wants to be normal and fit in. People here don't use their potential to experiment and discover new things.'' Eduard works and hangs out at Chop-Chop barbershop, where he says he feels comfortable. It is a safe haven for him. He would like to move to the Netherlands partially for the music and fashion scene. Young Russians are moving closer to western styles and are changing "step by step," but Eduard - perhaps like many others - doesn't want to wait long for the desired change. 

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Danil: Searching for Happiness

KAZAN: "I am trying to find myself - what i will love to do everyday," said Danil, 26, who is training to become a barber. He said he is looking for a job that will not just bring financial satisfaction, but emotional as well. His mother, a professor of Russian, is sympathetic to his search and calls him regularly to find out how he is progressing at the barbershop. I asked Danil, who traveled around the US and speaks good English, what he would like to change in his city. "I wouldn't change something in the city, rather I would change something in our minds and behavior. The world today is far from being an effective system and it ain't hard to see that. Just look at the wealth distribution for example. It looks like a game of chairs, where we have 12 players, 12 chairs and 1 person occupies 11 of chairs. The real problem is that we believe that the world can't be better." He apologized for such a philosophical answer from a young man that hasn't achieved anything, but he said he wanted to get this point across to others.

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Marat: From Dancer to Bartender

KAZAN: ”When I moved to Kazan, I randomly met a girl on Russian social media who studied at the same university as i did in Perm and who also now lived in Kazan. I sent her a message, we began to write each other and then we met. We have been together ever since,’’ said Marat, who is now married with a child….

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Alexei: Public Service to Barber

KAZAN: "I was studying government service, but as I finished my degree, I realized it was not what I wanted to do. I knew I needed a profession and I wanted something connected with fashion," said Alexei, a barber in Kazan. He first worked at a beauty salon before joining one of the barbershop chains that has been rapidly expanding around Russia over the past few years. Alexei works in Chop-Chop, the largest chain with about 55 stores across Russia in more than 40 cities. He said he chose to join Chop-Chop as he liked the concept.

Dima: Craft Beer Producer

KAZAN: "We were producing the same beer over and over and it got a bit boring," said Dima, who has been runing a small brewing business in Kazan, Russia making a lager for many years. "But I started to see more and more information about craft beer on the Internet and social media and thought this would be a profitable niche." So, last year, he and his partner used their existing capacity at their lager production facility to start Republic Brewing Co, Kazan's first craft beer brand. Craft production was as easy as expected, so the partners invited specialists to help them with the recipes. "The most difficult thing is to make an interesting-tasting beer," he said. "Better to share the profit then get burned." Dima, who does yoga and jogs in his free time, thinks craft beer will continue to gain in popularity in Russia. Dozens of craft beer bars and brewers have popped up in Russia over the past few years. "In two years, every restaurant will offer craft beer."

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Lilia: Irish Dance Instructor

KAZAN: Lilia runs Sonas, the only Irish Dance school in Kazan. Her Sonas, which means ‘happiness' in Gaelic, has 5 groups totaling 30 dancers ranging in age from five to 45. Lilia said she knew at the age of 6 she would pursue a dance career, but it was would be another decade before she would fall in love with Irish dance. It was in 1998, that she accidentally got her hands on a VHS tape of River Dance. Friend brought it back from Moscow to Bashkiria. ‘’I didn’t even know the existence of River Dance,’’ said she. But when she watched it, she was blown away by it. She used that tape to teach herself Irish dance before attending master classes years later. Lilia's school is part of the Russian branch of the John Carey Academy. Carey, a famous Irish dancer, comes over to Russia a few times a year to give master classes to the teachers at this various schools. In addition to Kazan, the Carey Academy has branches in Ufa, Samara, Tolyatti, Izhevsk, Magnitogorsk and Chelyabinsk.

Elya: Kazan Programming Student

KAZAN: "I usually dress very bright: a red t-shirt, blue shoes and green pants for instsnce," said Elya, 17. She was returning from the aviation university, where she studies programming. Elya wanted to study landscape design, but she could not get a scholarship for that department, so she chose programming instead. "I realized I like working with computers and understanding how games are made," Elya said, explaining her choice of majors. She said she loves Kazan, but would like to see the city take care of the run-down buildings.  

Rinat: Driving Instructor, Bicycle Rider

KAZAN: Rinat, 56, was dressed like a stereotypical motorcyclist - from head to toe in black leather. However, he was getting around town and to work on a bicycle. I asked what his job was. Driving instructor. He said he had a car but didn't use it much. "Why do I need a car? I don't have young children. Stores are nearby. I find it comfortable on a bike. I get a thrill out of it." His wife, though, doesn't like to bike. Rinat also likes to dance. He said if you see a bicycle in front of a night club, it is likely his.

Elina: Escape Room Game Fan

KAZAN: As I walked in the center of Kazan, I noticed three or four clastrophobia quest locations. Elina said that their popularity has spiked over the past year and more quests continue to appear. She plays a few times a month with her friends. ‘’I used to play computer games and quests give me the feeling of being inside such games.’’ She also participates in a stand-up comedy team, having first created her own as a young teenager in school. Elina enjoyed watching the stand-up group comedy competitions on TV and decided to give it a shot herself. One of her favorite comedy groups heard about her and invited her to join them. ‘’I was so surprised and happy, I agreed with great pleasure.’’ She has traveled with her team to other cities to compete and last year they won the Tatarstan league competition. Considering her ability to perform before the public, it is not too surprising to hear that Elina would like to work on TV.

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