St. Petersburg: Alisa, 29, was sitting on her foldable bicycle, waiting for her friend Sasha. Alisa was carrying her painting gear on her back. She said she was going to paint the St. Petersburg cityscape with her friend. Born and raised in Rostov, Alisa moved to St. Pete several years ago in part because of the city’s beauty. Alisa is an architect as are both her father and brother. Sasha is also an architect as are his sister, dad, aunt, grandmother and grandfather. Sasha said his dad and grandfather also paint because they were limited in their architectural creativity during Soviet times.
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.
Alyona was walking back from the grocery store wearing poker-dot stockings, black boots and a New York winter hat. Alyona, who works at a sports betting company, said she loves writing poetry and dancing. Her dance interests range from Russian folk to industrial. Alona said she comes from a creative family. Both her mother and sister sing and dance. ''My mother has a wonderful opera voice and I am very proud of her,'' 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.
Katya, 28, was taking a break outside the high-end fashion showroom in Rostov that she works at. She said they offer European fashion for the city's wealthier inhabitants. Katya said she would like to become a 'buyer' for her company and travel to Europe to pick out the clothing that will be displayed in the showroom. I asked her about the latest fashion trends in Rostov. ''Over the past few years, people have become more fashionable - with their own individual style - especially young people. Four years ago, there were just a handful of such people.'' ''Lately, I have seen a lot of hipsters, girls are starting to wear various, interesting layers. And I often see people wearing military style and sometimes grunge.''
Vadim, 40, opened Bukovsky, named after the German-American author, in a former Rostov tobacco factory, one of his 11 restaurants. He doesn't plan on stopping there. Vadim plans to open a 12th dedicated to Belgium beer with the dishes corresponding to various beer brands. He says the most difficult thing about running a restaurant is getting through the first 18 months.
Voldemare and Tanya were having a smoke outside their store in Rostov, where they sell clothing and accessories from India and southeast Asia. Voldemare said he got into the business accidentally....During a trip to Asia, he bought a bunch of goods and gave them away to friends when he returned home. Two and a half years later, he opened up the store. One of his customers was Tanya, who stopped in because she liked the bright colors. ''I bought something and we started to talk. We found a lot in common.'' A few weeks after I met them on the street, they flew to Southeast Asia...where they got married.
Polina was sporting dyed red hair, a green jacket, green necklace and green nail polish as she headed home along the Rostov streets with her friends - and a cat - to have tea. Polina said she and her friends have been spending a lot of time at her apartment lately listening to music, talking and drinking tea. A first-year architecture student who works part-time in a cafe, Polina said she is passionate about her studies. ''I love it, it is my favorite activity. I have an unusual teacher and we draw some crazy things.''
The son of an engineer and doctor, Ivan studied medical engineering as a compromise between his parents' wishes. Yet, he decided to pursue a creative career, first going into design. ''I thought I would save more lives if I didn't do [medical engineering]'' he joked. When he got fired during the 2008 crisis, he used the event to change careers and become a photographer. Seven years later, he runs his own studio and is in demand as a fashion photographer. He is using the latest economic crisis to expand his business into stock photography. One of his photography 'mentors' has been David Hobby, who runs the very popular site www.strobist.com. Ivan said he recently received an email out of the blue from David asking to use one of Ivan's photos for a project. ''I thought, oh my god, this is one of the best days of my life.''
He was walking in the center of Rostov with a shirt that read ''Fucking Sports.'' ''It's my style - a mix of classic, street style and hiphop.'' He said he wants to open a small bar someday.