What Distinguishes the Russian Lifestyle?

These are a few of really many specific features of Russian lifestyle, which make it so unusual for the eyes of a westerner. We will discuss more in the future articles. The illustrations you’ll see here are scenes of Russian authentic life from V.Vasnetsov’s artwork.


1. Russians consider themselves a well-educated nation. They will be very surprised if you tell them you have not read Pushkin or Tolstoy, though, like everywhere in the world, the young generation tends to read less and devote more time to watching movies and killing time at computer screens.

2. The basic primary and secondary education programs in Russian public schools are unified by the Ministry of Education all over the country, so all kids of secondary and high school ages seem to have pretty similar knowledge about every subject they study at schools.


3. Every Russian (Ukrainian) city has at least one theater and a concert hall. Russians are very fond of live performances. In many cases, tickets are affordable (the prices in cinemas and theaters are comparable), so, once in Russia, you should certainly try attending an opera, or a symphony concert, or a musical, a ballet, a drama, etc. If you are lucky, you can see an amazing ballet or an opera with live orchestra music for as little as $5-$10. It will certainly be worth the time and expense.

4. Since the Soviet times, Russians have an unwavering community spirit, which sometimes goes a bit beyond the limits acceptable by the westerners, but if you would like to experience it, ask your Russian friends to take you to a big party, a picnic, or a celebration.


5. Russian culture is non-individualistic. The power of an individual in Russia is much less than in the west and most deals are pushed through family, friends and acquaintances. A famous Russian saying is, “One is not a soldier in the battlefield.”

6. To make things work in Russia, one needs to be acquainted with some people in power. This is why Russians tend to maintain more friendships than an average westerner. If you know the right people, you can arrange to have the most difficult tasks/situations resolved.


7. The majority of Russians belong to the Russian Orthodox Church. Religion, however, is not a real part of their life; many attend church once in a while just to “light a candle”, which is a way to ask God for something to happen (a business deal, an exam) or to remember a deceased person, but in fact, many Russians would rather pay attention to horoscopes than to the Bible.

8. A church marriage is not official in Russia. A couple has to register their marriage with local government authorities before they are allowed to have a church ceremony performed.


9. Health care and secondary education are free in Russia, though Russians joke that education becomes less and less free with every year. It is still possible to get a university education for free by passing the entrance exams, but the universities are decreasing the number of students who study on a free basis because of poor state financing.

10. The majority of Russians don’t have what the westerners call “good manners.” Most of the people in the streets and in offices look gloomy, and it is not common to smile to everyone who makes eye contact with you. In conversation, Russians do not hesitate to say what they think in a way that doesn’t leave room for any misunderstandings. Quite often , they do not mean to be rude, it’s just their way of doing things.


11. Russians are used to situations where everything is unpredictable and unstable. They have to adapt to new rules and laws quickly. So do not be surprised if you plan a dozen of meetings throughout a week, and only one or two of them will really happen. It is quite common for Russians to cancel a meeting in the very last moment under the pressure of some unexpected circumstances.

12. Nowadays, the majority of Russian people do not really understand the huge difference between life in Russia and in the West. Very few Russians have ever been abroad, so their image of the western world is quite different from what it is really like.


13. Russians love to complain about having a very difficult life, but still they do not consider their life miserable; many believe that things are changing for the better and “everything’s starting to work out” for their country.

14. Russians like to emphasize their different attitude towards material values and consider themselves as sincere, cordial, understanding, and unselfish. Do not be surprised if they ask you right in the face whether you like the Russians and how much you like them (expecting, of course, to hear some nice response). They like talking about the “specifics of Russian soul” or the “mysterious Russian soul,” and will certainly mention the famous phrase of a Russian poet, “You can’t understand Russia with your mind.”

15. Russians believe in the great mission of the Russian nation in this world. Even if you hear them criticize their country and life, you are not supposed to do the same, or they will start defending it furiously. They blindly believe that they are citizens of the largest county in the world, which has a very rich history, and they are proud of it.


The Soldier


At the crack of dawn, when the park was slowly waking up after a long frosty night, Pavel was already sitting in his usual place under a large chestnut tree, on the third bench to the left from the main entrance colonnade. Right above his head, two magpies were chirping, in front of him, a busy rook was examining an island of dirty snow, chilly air smelled of melted water, and in it, busy tits were scurrying to and fro in search of a breakfast bite. Pavel shivered, glanced at his watch, and buried his freezing chin into the camo jacket collar. His eyes fell on the unfinished bottle of beer, he picked it up from the bench with numb, sluggish fingers, and remembered that he was hungry. He sighed, took a sip of bitter liquid, grimaced in disgust, then ruffled up like a sparrow, and prepared to wait on, when at a distance, behind the bars of the park’s forged fence, yellow and blue spots of the familiar tracksuit loomed joyfully against gloomy grayness of the murky morning. Pavel stretched out his neck. A moment later, she turned up between the columns of the main entrance and immediately, joyful spots of yellow and blue livened up the colonnade, colored the semicircle of a bare flowerbed, invigorated the whole park, mocking the black, rimy spring for its lack of colors.


Pavel had known her route like the back of his hand. At first, she was going to run straight at him: she would skirt around the flowerbed, pass the island of snow, and head into the alley toward his bench. For only a few seconds would he watch how she approached, rhythmically and gently pushing her sneakers into the rough asphalt. As always, she would be looking under her feet quite intently, trying to avoid the insidious ice crust under her feet, her eyelashes would be lowered, so Pavel, as usual, would frown to a thought that after a month of watching her, he was still unable to say what was the color of her eyes.

There. She approached him – serious, focused, austere. Her lips, trembling slightly with each silent breath, released tiny clouds of steam that dissolved right behind her in the crisp bluish air.

Wow, she is awesome,” he whispered, and forced himself not to stare.

She had no hat on that morning, so Pavel could finally see her hair; it was long and surprisingly fair for her tanned complexion, it fell on her shoulders and dashed to the sides at each step – playfully, tirelessly, somehow childishly…

Enchanted by beauty, Pavel sank into blissful oblivion, so it was not until she had run past him that he realized what had happened – that morning, for the very first time, she had given him a glance! Two incredibly bright chestnut eyes had studied him head to toe, looked at Pavel’s pink, sluggish fingers, glanced at his bottle of beer, met his eyes, and returned to the road, to focus on running again.

Oh, that was an event! He was happy: she’d noticed him, she’d acknowledged his aimless existence, she’d been thinking about him for a second or so, albeit not very flattering, yet she had! Finally, for the very first time in a month he was able to touch her life, too!

Bit by bit, timid sun rays spread down and covered the alley. Bluish shadows of branches, chased by the wind, danced on the ground. Ignoring the chill, Pavel finished his beer and squared his shoulders. Hunger gripped Pavel’s stomach, but his mind fenced it off. Lack of money, abjection, bitter cold, wind and hunger were of no importance, neither the general hopelessness of his grim situation. Nothing mattered that morning, compared to his major, exciting, insatiable desire to see her again and again.

He knew almost nothing about the girl: just the fact that she was incredibly pretty. She must be a model, he thought, or an actress, or maybe a television announcer…one of those who pin their fortune since cradle: rich, beautiful, lucky, and smart…Just look at those clothes, that skin, that thick shining hair…no doubt she’s been feeding on someone’s continuous care.


Pavel glanced at his own hands and pants and frowned.Look at you, dirty beggar,” he said out loud, “got to clean up and shave by tomorrow.” He studied his short, skinny legs in shabby, tucked up camouflage pants, and his heart turned over inside, spilling anguish and making him scowl.

Shave!” he mimicked himself. “What for? Why would you, dirty idiot, need to clean up? You don’t go to work, you don’t go anywhere! You can’t walk like the others, you have no feet!”

Bitter anger rolled up to his throat, hurting it, squeezing it so that he wanted to scream. Never, never again will he spring to his feet to chase a girl across a meadow, never again will he catch her or hold in his arms, never again will he carry her to a hayloft and…

Stop it! Enough! Shut up. Idiot!” To calm himself down, Pavel closed his eyes and started daydreaming. “Suppose, we will finally talk one day,” he resumed the monolog with himself. “Sure, why not? She just looked at me, didn’t she? Which means, I have hope. I would compliment her, I would tell her how much I enjoy watching her run every day. Of course, I could easily catch her when I had legs, but… All right, what will I tell her then? I mean nothing to her: just a crook from a park, a desperate, bold, silly lad, a perfect material for the war, a classical cannon fodder, so masterfully used by politicians, wasted, and thrown out of life… Aww, I’d better died on that mine! There would’ve been no anguish, no looking at her lovely legs, no bench, o park, no her… nothing!

Pavel sat for a while, studying his empty beer bottle and throwing slow glances at the turn in the end of the alley, where she had disappeared from sight a few minutes before. Why do I keep coming here every morning? I know I am not going to get her. She is a fine, elegant breed, so graceful, so perfect, so flawless, and I-

Come on, brother, admit it,” he addressed himself in full voice, “you enjoy torturing yourself by watching how she runs past you every morning, tapping on asphalt with the ease of a tennis ball, teasing you with her healthy body, killing you by the rhythm of her steps… Of course! Sitting here and pitying yourself is so easy! So much easier than pulling yourself together and making your way in the world.”

Obsessed with his monolog, he nearly missed her on her way back. When she caught up with him, he fell silent abruptly, and she suddenly slowed her pace, looked him over from head to toe, shook her head, frowned a little, and ran on without saying a word. Again, a pair of dazzling brown eyes pierced Pavel’s heart like an arrow, blocking his breath, stinging him right in the chest, making something inside him break and spill like a bottle of beer.

Pavel sighed. When the bright yellow spots of her tracksuit disappeared behind the park fence, Pavel pulled himself forward, slid off to his homemade cart, and pushed himself forward, away from the park. His ugly handmade cart, converted from an old rusty stroller, creaked and rattled at each revolution of its wry plastic wheels. Unshaven and thin, in unwashed army uniform, sweaty like hell from continuous effort, Pavel rolled down the street. He could sense how people disdained him. Guys would glance at his uniform jacket and lower their eyes as they passed, mothers held their kids, children tried to avoid running up to his cart. Alas! In the times of wars people grow self-centered. If you managed to lose your legs, this is nobody’s business, but yours! Do your best to survive, Pal. Who cares?

The cart rattled down the pavement, shaking and jumping on each asphalt crack. At the end of the block, as always, Pavel stopped to buy a new bottle of beer from a red-faced tobacco kiosk vendor. He liked this simple daily ritual, it brought trivial round into Pavel’s life. Human life is a trivial round, he was thinking as he pushed himself forward along grainy asphalt. A rich man begins his day with massage, delicious foods and ablutions, while this fat kiosk vendor is occupied with his own little chores, doing maths, summing up daily earnings, counting boxes with goods and the goods in the boxes, estimatin his monthly sales, doing tax calculations…just daily routine, repetition of actions. Everyone’s life is an endless chain of repeated actions.

What is she doing right now?” Pavel mumbled, pushing himself around a car parked on the sidewalk, “I wonder, does she have daily baths or just takes a quick shower after her run? Aww, stop it, shouldn’t think about this now.”

Breathing with effort, he entered a rough spot of gravel near the kiosk. The cart started bouncing like a young unbacked stallion. This made Pavel remember two years before, on the day he turned eighteen, when he came to the kiosk for his first legal bottle of beer. The unpaved gravel spot had already been there, he’d been wearing slippers, and his feet could clearly feel every sharp gravel edge.

Hmm, that’s funny. No feet anymore, but I still remember how it felt.”

His street had not changed very much since then. Thankfully, real war had not reached the city; it was now about a hundred miles to the east, where Pavel had seen real hell, learned about pain, loss and fear, and where his feet dressed in black army boots had remained lying in the thick grass forever. Everything had been different there, at the front line. Smells were heavy, the air was viscous and kind of dusty, full of fine metal suspension, like a different planet’s atmosphere. Now, when that hell was over for Pavel, it seemed no more than a hideous dream. The worst there was the absence of trivial round, everyone had attested for that. People tried to create the trivial round for themselves; they would find a shelter in a broken-down house, at least for a short time, they would make the place livable, find a nail in a wall, hang a towel on it: they intended to use it routinely the next morning by splashing cold water on a wind-bitten face, reaching out for the towel, like at home, putting the face into it, feeling the soft, tender cloth, and inhaling the air through the towel…If they found a bedroom, they would fall on the bed right at once, to relive awesome moments of pleasure, when your ass gently touches the featherbed, sinks into it and bounces up, thickly enveloped with its softness.

But alas! There was anything but routine at war. Once you got used to keeping your towel on that damned rusty nail, a shelling would start, so you’d run like a rabbit, saving your ass, screaming obscenities, praying for life, while something got cracked and fell right behind you, something burned, stank and smoked, flashed and pushed you to hell; something soared with blast waves and scattered in hail of ruinous fragments, something collapsed and shifted, blowing up your trivial round…and the wall, where your towel had been, would transform into jumble of stones. Then again, in a new place, in the moments of calm people found a wall with a nail, and a towel, and a bed, and restored their trivial round…at least for an hour or so.

Hu-huh, our life is a trivial round, Pavel sighed. Breaking trivial round leads only to death.

At last, Pavel’s cart reached the kiosk’s back door. He rolled up to the vendor, who was smoking right outside of his small, cluttered store. The guy’s fleshy face was morose. Pavel coughed to attract his attention, but the latter glanced up rather coldly.

Kinda windy today,” Pavel said, meaning, “Hey, be a friend, just respond for the sake of routine.”

I just lost weekly income because of this wind,” said the guy through his teeth and spat.

Why? What’s up?” Pavel asked with sincere curiosity.

See that branch? It fell down on my roof, smashed it up. Bitch.”

Really? Wow.”

Deep in his mind Pavel was happy: the dialogue worked, the vendor talked to him! A simple human talk, the thing that can overwhelm you when you have normal legs, but that is so deficient when you are a cripple.

Happen to know anybody to repair it for me?” asked the vendor.

Pavel’s eyes caught the face of his watch. Eight fifteen. She is probably having her breakfast right now, in a beautiful dining room with fantastic china and magnificent food…she also could be dressing in front of a mirror…or combing her hair…

What? Ah, wait! I can do it!” he cried, waking up. “I can fix it! You just help me to get on the roof and I’ll fix it. I did roofs in my village before the war.”

You?” The vendor glanced at him as one looks at an insect. “Come on! You’ll fall down from there. No way.”

Pavel moved himself forward. “Listen, I can do it for minimal price. Look at me, I have arms and my head is all right.” He chuckled. “Legs are of no use on the roof, anyway.”

He really needed money, but more importantly, he needed the job! It was something to make him feel useful, something to help him return to life!

Leave me alone.” The vendor waved him away. “Lame duck.”

Pavel was stunned. Come on, you think I am good for nothing? You think if I lost my feet, I can’t work with my hands?”

Listen,” the vendor’s voice became heavy. “Go away! Cripple.” He bent over some boxes with merchandise, preparing to resume his calculations.

Dumbfounded, Pavel pulled the lever, the cart dashed forward.

Cripple? You, bastard! I’ll kill you! I lost my legs protecting your fat ass there, and you–”

Pavel did not finish his sentence. Blinded by rage, he lurched forward. A beer bottle appeared in his hand, he crashed it against the door jamb, and it turned into a terrible weapon. The quick-witted vendor immediately leaped into the shelter of the kiosk, but it was too late to slam the door: Pavel had already blocked it with his cart. The cart hit the threshold, Pavel lost balance, his weapon slipped out, made a wide semicircle in the air and fell on the floor.

You crazy?” yelled the vendor, but the cart was already inside the kiosk, it hit carton boxes and pushed Pavel forward on them. Someone’s shadow soared over his head, two big hands gripped his elbows and clenched them from behind. Myriads of black dots flashed in front of Pavel’s eyes, something fell on his head, and time started creeping slowly like honey that leaks from a pot. The kiosk turned over, showing Pavel its ceiling with a big hole in it. The second blow hit Pavel’s neck, something cracked in his ears, everything became quiet, Pavel sagged, and immediately calmed down. The last thing he could hear before he fainted was the vendor’s muffled voice, “Idiot! You want to go to prison?”

* * *

The morning was gloomy. Early spring advanced on the city gradually, like a field kitchen, producing each day just a tiny portion of sunlight, yet generously giving out loads of mud, fogs, and freezing rains. The bench was wet. Pavel shivered in violent wind gusts, his fingers became swollen and red, but no force could drive him away from his observation post, because that morning, another incredible thing had happened: she’d smiled and winked at Pavel that morning!


No, she did not stop to talk to him, she ran by like she had always done, but this time she intentionally greeted him like a friend. Oh, Pavel was jubilant! He looked after her, smiling sheepishly, thinking that she was flawless, as always. Pavel’s old friend – the blue and yellow tracksuit – was gracefully twining her slender body, as if it had been tailored specifically to fondle her. With each step, smooth fabric resiliently tightened up on the one breast, then on the other, then bounced lightly together with them, and instantly flowed down and backwards to tighten again on her thighs – one, two, one, two…Oh, what a terrible effort it was not to stare at her as she ran! Pavel wished he could turn into fabric himself, to absorb the warmth of her breasts, stroke her thighs, let them go for a while and gather in folds on her waist…

When her slim, chiseled figure disappeared behind a turn, Pavel leaned back, closed his eyes, and froze in blissful oblivion, smiling to his secret thoughts, hoping to see her again on her way back in about half of an hour. This time he had nothing to do, no beer or cigarettes anymore. So he sat for a while, massaging a bump on the back of his head – a memory of the disgusting incident in the kiosk. His thoughts streamed on randomly, first reproaching him of stupidity, then accusing him of stubbornness, suggesting late answers to trivial questions, bringing up scenes from childhood, scattered visions of war, and on top of all those was her gaze: quiet, confident, even bold. It imprinted in Pavel’s memory and kept testing his mind. It bore no compassion, yet it had no reproach. He could sense no pity, no rue in her gaze, and for that – just only for that – he was grateful almost to tears. She was one of the few, who treated him as a normal man. She wasn’t the one to clatter her tongue saying, “Oh, poor boy! So young and already a cripple!” No, her gaze had the energy which Pavel lacked – the power sufficient to knock Pavel’s spleen, kick his butt, inspire him with healthy anger, and get him engaged into something worthy at last!

Just look at it plainly,” he pondered. “They chopped off one fifth of your mass. So what? You still have your head on, haven’t lost a gram of your brains. Look at your healthy hands, at your chest, at the thing in your pants – you are strong like a bull! You can’t fight anymore, that’s a fact, but you can do an abyss of jobs! You can draw, you can sell, you can learn something new. Only try!”

Pavel glanced at the end of the alley, it was time for her to run back.

Yes, I’ll do it,” he whispered, “I’ll show her! I am going to get a new life. She will see: I am strong. Yes. I can.”

He sat thinking it over for another ten minutes, and amazing new life started looking quite real. As he waited, a cold, clammy rain started drizzling, people hurried away from the park. Pavel shivered, but stayed. He leaned forward, pressed down to the bench and kept waiting, waiting stubbornly, like a lover on a small station platform, waiting faithfully, like a hungry, abandoned dog, but alas! She did not turn up on the alley that day.

* * *

She did not turn up the next morning either, and the next, and the next. Days dragged on one after another. The spring grew mature, the trees and the grass became painfully green, busy bugs started running on heated asphalt, college girls started showing their pink juicy legs, as they hurried across the park to their school, but Pavel, pathetic and lonely, kept sitting and waiting for God knows what on his bench. After two empty weeks, hope died out: he no longer believed he was going to see her again. She could’ve moved to a different place, could’ve left the city entirely. She could’ve changed her routine and be running in different places, and some other guy was probably secretly watching her as she did. Still, Pavel kept coming back to the park every morning, by habit. His days were empty and dull. No job had come up, no friends, no plans, no routine, no hope, no life.

Abandoned!” he mumbled, biting his lips. “Like a sick, scabby dog. Just a worthless, pathetic, wretched piece of– nothing. Just trash.”

Well, the end was quite close, he knew it. His money was running out, disability payments were scanty, and getting a veterans pension required lots of standing in lines, which – how funny! – required having legs. Pavel grinned as he pondered on that. Well, suppose I will get the veterans pension, then I’ll stand in a line to prove that I need and deserve a new cart – a wheelchair instead of this shameful rattle on wheels, then a new set of lines to get disability benefits as a war vet, and then…ah, to hell with that crap! It was easier simply to die. He remembered the words, “Death solves all problems – no man, no problem.” I wonder, who said that? Never mind, but boy, he was right! If I die, society will sigh with relief.


The sun warmed his back, and he felt a bit sleepy. His stomach growled for a while, but soon stuck to the backbone and pacified, enjoying the calories of the sun. Knowing that hunger would not return until he moved, Pavel hunched, shut his eyes, and dozed off.

How old are you?”

It came from behind Pavel’s ear. He wanted to turn around and look, but didn’t. An ember of hope loomed and faded at once in his mind, replaced with sarcastic, “Calm down, you, fool! Miracles never happen!”

Still, he responded without turning around, “Twenty. Turned twenty last Monday.”

Why would he need to know who was asking? What good could come out of that conversation? Hope had misled him hundreds of times! No, I’ve had enough, he thought to himself, no more pain of false hope! People never do good to each other. If you’re crippled and still alive, it’s your problem. Count on yourself, stay alone till you die.

The question was very unusual, though. Who would care to know my age? Pavel thought, guessing whose voice it could be. It was young, very sharp, female voice. A teacher? Ah, sure, a teacher! He had seen how a group of fifth graders proceeded toward the playground. She must have returned to torture him with questions. Now, she will ask me about the war, shake her head, then call up all her class and say, “Children, look! This man is a veteran, injured at war.” Then she’ll take them away to tell them the rest of my story, because hungry, crooked, squalid soldiers can’t tell little kids about war with sufficient patriotism…

You have no right!” Pavel heard from behind.

Wow! This bitch is about to teach me here!

A fire of rage started glowing in peeved empty stomach. Pavel turned to look up.

* * *

It was her. She was standing behind his shoulder. Two bright chestnut eyes were staring directly at Pavel’s, her ravishing lips elastic and tense; they also looked angry like hell. He saw a dazzling red dress, shapely and graceful, gentle and tender, so tender that Pavel felt dizzy at once. Her perfect long legs in black shoes were graceful like hell, and her hands were covered with gloves – very thin summer gloves of a cloth, the name to which Pavel had never known.

She walked around the bench to face him…and changed all at once. She did not look tall anymore; the velvety chestnut eyes were only a little higher than Pavel’s.

Gutta-percha baby, flashed through his mind. Not an aristocrat, not at all! Looks like a gymnast, or maybe a dancer.

You have no right,” she repeated, “to sit here all days, killing your time.”

Wow, what a statement! No, not an aristocrat, I was mistaken. Rather, a teacher or…well, I don’t know, but boy, she is bossy!

Am I bothering someone here?” he asked, smiling stubbornly in her face.

Yes, you are. You are bothering me, other people, your friends, and yourself.”

Here it comes: The one who I quietly dreamed of, who I loved like the world’s biggest treasure, is standing in front of me – beautiful, perfect – and trying to tell me what I should do! Not an aristocrat, Pavel thought, not at all. There is no shadow of arrogance in her look, even more, she is trying to hide her grace, it embarrasses her…And she’s young, not older than me. A student? Yeah, maybe.

You – must be a teacher, right?” Pavel asked, to gain a few seconds of time. He was still very stressed.

No,” she said, “doesn’t matter. What matters is what will happen to you if you don’t stop sipping your beer and pitying yourself all days long.”

Her eyes continued to drill him like hell.

I haven’t had beer in weeks,” Pavel said with offense and immediately bit his lip, growing ashamed of having to justify himself.

Were you drafted into the army right after the high school?”

Pavel nodded. He was completely lost now. He could not understand why she was asking those questions, and even more – why the hell was he answering her?

Listen, what do you want?” he asked.

Have you been to the front line?” she demanded without a break.

He nodded again and sagged, feeling totally ruined; his magnificent dream, which he’d nurtured for months and for which he’d been sitting on this hateful bench, broke in no time, like a crystal cup thrown to the floor by her restive, ungrateful hand.

You were wounded, right?” she enquired, as if trying to check his answers with some information she had.

Pavel nodded again. “I stepped on a mine.”

She sat down next to him on the edge of the bench. So, what are you going to do?”

He grimaced. Here it comes again! Stupid sermons!

Nothing,” he said and fell silent. He wanted to leave.

She sat studying him for a while. Then she reached for her case and flopped it, quite awkwardly, on Pavel’s lap.I brought this for you, my old laptop. You will need it to prepare for the entrance exams. But remember, you only have time till the middle of June, so you’d better try hard. Hey, do you know how to use computer?”

Her words left Pavel stunned again.I know how to use computer, but…what makes you think you have the right to tell me what I should do?”

This is your chance. Maybe, the last one. Do you understand?”

Pavel experienced a desire to burst out and yell, but his throat got dry, he could not utter a word.

So she spoke first again.Our university has started a program for people like you and me. We’ve got to apply before May 15. I have already applied.”

Pavel grinned. For people like you and me, repeated his mind. You and me! Are you joking? What can we have in common? This bench? He turned to her sharply. “Listen, who are you? What do you want from me?”

She stood up. He sensed that he’d offended her. Her lips became thin as she said, “It seems you have difficulty understanding things today. Still, think about my offer, stir your brains. Maybe, you’ll finally grow smarter.”

Now, Pavel felt ashamed. He was nearly sick. For God’s sake, who are you?” he hissed in a threatening whisper.

The tiny black shoes shuffled over the asphalt. I recognized you at once, the very first day,” she said. “Argh, I was so enraged by your glassy eyes and your nasty beer!”

Do we know each other?”

They brought you to our hospital right after the injury, you were unconscious. I treated your wound. I’m a nurse. The next morning the hospital got shelled, and I got my portion, too.”

Pavel was still processing her words, when she moved to leave.

Okay, you may sit here and think,” she said. “You have lots of free time, but I need to work. Take a look at the laptop when you are at home. If you have any questions, give me a call, my number is there.” She nodded at the suitcase. “But please, do not sit here anymore, okay? I hate when you stare at me like a…” She paused. “Give me my umbrella.”

Not daring to disobey, Pavel handed her the umbrella, but she turned a bit awkwardly sideways and took it with her other hand. Pavel saw that her right hand was oddly motionless.

Okay, bye,” she said simply and the tiny black shoes pattered toward the colonnade. There, she turned to the right, moved her arm, the glove on her right hand slid down, and for one single moment Pavel could see the unnatural glitter of the motionless, daunting, prosthetic arm.


A Legendary Marshal and His… Women


Semyon Budyonny (1883 – 1973) was a legendary cavalryman in Russian army, who became famous for his bravery during World War I, then defected to the Bolsheviks, continued his glorious military career to become an iconic figure of revolutionary Red Army, and later, he became a friend of Joseph Stalin and was promoted to the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union in 1935. In World War II, he took the blame for many of Stalin’s misjudgements, but was retained in high command because of his bravery and popularity. He was a notable horse-breeder, who declared that the tank could never replace the horse as an instrument of war. However, Budyonny’s brilliant military career did not fit with his love for the family hearth, so he managed to find family happiness only on the third attempt.

The Kossak


He married for the first time in 1903, at the age of twenty. His wife Nadezhda, a kossak’s daughter from a neighboring village was the first beauty throughout the district. They married in winter, and in autumn of the same year Budyonny joined the army. His military career progressed rapidly. The best rider of the regiment quickly earned the respect of superiors and was promoted to an officer rank. During World War I, Budyonny was awarded St. George Cross four times. But real fame came to Budyonny with the Bolsheviks. When the Civil War broke out in 1918, Budyonny organized a Red Cavalry force in the Don region, which eventually became the 1st Cavalry Army. This Army played an important role in winning the Civil War for the Bolsheviks, driving the White General Anton Denikin back from Moscow. Budyonny joined the Bolshevik party in 1919 and formed close relationships with Joseph Stalin and Klim Voroshilov. «I decided that it was better to be a marshal if the Red Army than an officer in the White Army», he used to joke later.

During the Civil War, his wife Nadezhda was always with him. Since 1917, she was in charge of the infirmary in his squad, helping to produce food and medicines for the soldiers. After the war they settled up in Moscow, in an elite multi-apartment house where only government families resided. Some rumors of that time said that “first class” life in Moscow did not work in favor of Semyon and Nadezhda’s relationship. Surrounded by the glitter of Moscow elite Nadezhda looked a bit too rustic. But the real reason was the fact that the young family did not have children, and Semyon passionately wanted tohave kids. Nadezhda used to accuse her husband of having some health problem, and finally both started having little affairs on the side and became quite indiferent to each other. An absurd tragic accident put an end to their relationship. In 1924, during a home party, Nadezhda accidentally shot herself from her husband’s gun. The tragedy occurred in the presence of several witnesses. Budyonny was deeply shocked by the death of his wife.

The Actress


A few months after the death of his wife, a new mistress turned up in Budyonny’s home – an opera singer (at that time a student of the Conservatory), Olga Mikhailova, a beautiful, elegant young woman who knew very well what she wanted from her life. She wanted to become a famous actress, to shine and conquer all around her. She reasonably decided that a famous husband was exactly what she needed, and very soon she became a prima at the Bolshoi Theatre. But this was not Budyonny’s dream of a family life: he wanted a cozy, friendly home, with quiet evenings and, of course, children. To Olga, however, kids were a catastrophy, which would men a long break in her singing and acting career, she could not even think about turning into a housewife. And again, Budyonny was accused of inability to have kids, and the old story repeated itself. They lived together for almost 14 years, though. They would probably live longer, but suddenly, politics intervened in the case.
In the winter of 1937, Stalin called for Budyonny. He told that Olga was not behaving appropriately, compromising Budyonny and the Revolution itself. Stalin recommended Budyonny to meet with the NKVD (former name of KGB) Head, Nikolai Yezhov. Yezhov announced that, to his knowledge, Olga Mikhailova was having an intimate relationship with the artist of the Bolshoi Theatre Alexeyev; she had also been frequently seen around in the foreign embassies of Moscow, and noticed gambling at the races. Yezhov insisted that it was necessary to arrest her, interrogate and find out the details of her relationships with foreigners. Budyonny tried to intercede for his wife by saying that it was not a political case, but rather a relationship issue, but the KGB officers decided otherwise. In August of 1937, while Budyonny was away from Moscow inspecting military districts, Olga was arrested.


She was sentenced to eight years in labor camps. Budyonny did not try to get her out of prison anymore: what he had learned about his wife from NKVD officers must have been really bewildering. During the whole time in imprisonment, Olga was treated very badly. She was hated by both, the administration and the other prisoners. In their eyes, she was a traitor, who deceived people’s hero and even more: attempted to slander him. In 1945, they added three more years to her imprisonment, and in 1948 she was sent to Krasnoyarsk region (Siberia), where the former prima of the Bolshoi worked as a cleaner in a local school.

In 1955 (after Stalin’s death in 1953), Budyonny sent a letter to KGB requesting to review the case of his second wife. Olga was released, and in 1956 she finally returned to Moscow. But after 19 years of prison she was not the same person anymore – she was old, very ill, weak, and mentally unhealthy. Her stories about how she had been raped by whole groups of NKVD officers due to the accusations of attempting to poison Marshal Budyonny, Semen always felt very uncomfortable. Olga rarely visited his house after her return to Moscow.


The marshal himself was lucky to escape Stalin’s repressions. Once, there was an attempt to arrest him, but the brave commander opened fire, shot the officers who came to arrest him, and immediately dialed Stalin’s number. “Josef, there’s the counter-revolution taking place here! Some people just came to arrest me! I am not giving up alive!”. After this, Stalin ordered to leave Budyonny alone. He said, “This old fool is of no danger to us.”

Semyon Budyonny had never been a fool, though. He was smart and inventive enough to get along with colleagues who hated each other. He was smart enough to pretend being a fool when facing Stalin, because he needed to take care of himself and his family.

The True Love


Right after Olga’s arrest in 1937, Budyonny took her mother Varvara Ivanovna to Moscow. It was probably the feeling of guilt for Olga which made him settle his mother-in-law to live under the same roof with him. Now and then, Varvara Ivanobvna had a guest – her young niece, Maria, who was a medical student then. From time to time, she used to help her aunt with housework. Semyon was enchanted by the girl and soon, despite the shocking difference in age (34 years), proposed to Maria.

Their marriage turned out to be surprisingly happy. At fifty, Budyonny finally got what he had always wanted: the quiet family happiness and a friendly, cozy home. When a year later, Maria gave him a gift of the first son, Semyon was literally going crazy of happiness; having been accused of inability to have children by two previous wives, he had stopped dreaming about ever having kids at all.

Another year passed, and a girl, Nina, was born. By Semyon’s 60-th birthday, Maria made him another wonderful gift – the second child, Mikhail.


Budyonny literally dotted his wife and kids. He took all possible care to protect them, and never took Maria to the Kremlin receptions and parties. The happy family life made him youthful again. Till the end of his life he remained resilient, energetic, and healthy. At sixty, he could go down a stairs on his hands and he always remained an excellent rider. The legendary Red Army Marshal lived a long life, he died at 90 of a brain hemmorage.


You Recognize a Good Artist by the Eyes of His Characters


Take a look in the eyes of these women and girls in the paintings, and you will see a real master behind the canvas. Khariton Platonov has never become worldly famous, but his paintings certainly deserve the highest evaluation.

Platonov was born into a peasant family in a Russian province. All we know about his life is that he studied at the Imperial Academy in St. Petersburg (1859-1870), participated in exhibitions in Kharkov, Odessa and Ekaterinoslav, then (in 1887-1888) in Odessa, Riga, Kiev and Kazan. In 1879, he moved from St. Petersburg to Kiev, where he taught at Murashko School of Drawing (1880-1900) and assisted in the organization of the Kiev Art School, where he taught until his death.


The people in his paintings are mostly young children or beautiful women who he used to know though his life. Most of them were simple people, but every painting has its mood and is so masterfully painted!


Some Facts from the Life of Fedor Shalyapin

Opera Singer, born Feb. 13, 1873 in Kazan, Russia. Died April 12, 1938 of kidney complications in Paris, France.


Feodor Shalyapin (or: Chaliapin) was born into a peasant family in Kazan in 1873. At the age of 9 the boy, who had admired choir singing in a local church, was accepted into the choir and immediately displayed a wonderful voice and a perfect ear for music. The boy studied passionately and was given a scholarship for singing in the church. Later, he was sent to continue musical education in a private school of Vedernikova, but was excluded for kissing his class-mate.

His family did not see Fedor’s future as a singer, though. His father wanted him to become a shoemaker and young Shalyapin had to apprentice in his older brother’s shop for a few years, until he finally escaped to the capital and started building a career in singing and theatre acting.


At the age of 17, in Russian Ufa, while performing his role in the opera “Halka”, Shalyapin accidentally missed the chair and fell on the stage. Since then, all his life long, he kept a sharp eye on every object on the stage, wherever he performed. After a few years of circuitous search of his own artistic personality, he finally acquired success in the Russian capital.


Shalyapin’s personal life was quite complicated. He was married twice. He met his first wife, Italian ballerina Iola Tornagi (1873–1965), in Nizhny Novgorod. They married in Russia in 1898 and had six children. While married to Tornagi, Shalyapin lived with Marina Petsold (1882–1964), a widow who already had two children from her first marriage. She had three daughters with Shalyapin. His two families lived separately, one in Moscow and the other in Saint Petersburg, and did not interact. Shalyapin married Petsold in 1927 in Paris.


Shalyapin was a very tall and strong man. Many of the singer’s contemporaries also noted the unprecedented power of voice. Once, after a performance, Leo Tolstoy shared his impressions about Shalyapin’s singing: “His singing is too loud.” Semyon Budyonny (the bolshevik cavalry commander and later and Soviet General in World War II), who met Shaliapin in a train once and had a bottle of champagne with him, remembered: “The car shuddered from his mighty bass.”


In 1918, soon after the Bolshevik revolution, Shalyapin took the position of artistic director of the Mariinsky Theatre (do do this, he had to refuse a similar position at the Bolshoi Theatre) and received the first and the highest Soviet-time title of “People’s Artist of the Republic”. Though in his young years Shalyapin sympathized with the revolution, the bolsheviks were not very supportive of his unique talent. The new revolutionary authorities confiscated his house, his car, and his bank savings; there were numerous attempts to accuse his theater colleagues and his family members of not being loyal to revolution. Trying to protect the family and colleagues, Shalyapin met the highest leaders of the country, including Lenin and Stalin, but those meetings only brought a temporary relief. Finally, in 1922 the family decided to immigrate. Shalyapin with family left Russia and took a number of highly successful projects in Europe and America. In 1927, the Soviet authorities deprived him of the title of People’s Artist and of the right to return home.

Shalyapin was known as a very good painter and sculptor, as well. Many of his drawings were preserved to our time, including his self-portrait.


Shalyapin used to collect old weapons – pistols, rifles, spears. Many of them were presented to him by his friend A.Gorky (famous Russian – Soviet writer), who was a highly respected figure among the Soviet authorities. This friendship helped Shaliapin to keep his collection through a few attempts of local housing office to confiscate it.

In memory of his talent, a star with his name was installed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

A recording of Shalyapin’s singing:






and Wikipedia

Brief History of Russian Tea


Tea has been the most popular drink in Russia for nearly five centuries now. Due in part to Russia’s cold northern climate, it is today considered the de facto national beverage, and is closely associated with traditional Russian culture. Centuries ago, it was drunk at afternoon tea, but has since spread as an all day drink, especially at the end of meals served with dessert. An important aspect of the Russian tea culture is the ubiquitous Russian tea brewing device known as a samovar, which has become a symbol of hospitality and comfort.

Tea in Russia was introduced in 1638, when a Mongolian ruler donated to Tsar Michael I four poods (65–70kg) of tea. Around 1636, Russian merchant Vassili Starkov was sent as envoy to Altyn Khan. The Khan offered him a to take 250 pounds of tea as a gift for the Russian tsar. Seeing no use for a load of dead leaves, Starkov was about to refuse, but the Khan insisted. Thus was tea introduced to Russia.


In 1679, Russia concluded a treaty on regular tea supplies from China via camel caravan in exchange for furs. The Chinese ambassador to Moscow made a gift of several chests of tea to Alexis I. However, the difficult trade route made the cost of tea extremely high, so that the beverage became available only to royalty and the very wealthy of Russia.

In 1689, the Treaty of Nerchinsk was signed that formalized Russia’s sovereignty over Siberia, and also marked the creation of the Tea Road that traders used between Russia and China.


Between the Treaty of Nerchinsk and the Treaty of Kyakhta (1727), Russia would increase its caravans going to China for tea, but only through state dealers. In 1706, Peter the Great made it illegal for any merchants to trade in Beijing. Only by 1736, Catherine the Great established regular imports of tea. By the time of Catherine’s death in 1796, Russia was importing more than 3 million pounds by camel caravan in the form of loose tea and tea bricks, enough tea to considerably lower the price so that middle and lower class Russians could afford the beverage.

The peak year for the Kiakhta tea trade was in 1824, and the peak year for the tea caravans was 1860. From then, they started to decline when the first leg of the Trans-Siberian Railway was completed in 1880. Faster train service allowed for tea to be imported from nearly a year and a half to eventually just over a week.


In the mid 19th century the decline in Chinese tea production made it difficult to satisfy Russia’s demand in tea, so it began to import more tea from Odessa, and London. By 1905, horse drawn tea transport had ended, and by 1925 caravan as the sole means of transport for tea had ended, too.

In 2002, Russia imported some 162,000 metric tons of tea.


Alexander Pushkin’s Duels


Every high school kid today knows that Alexander Pushkin was shot at a duel and died in 1837, at the age of 37. Dueling was a sign of that generation, but studying the full list of Pushkin’s duels, strikes me with awareness of how incredibly reckless were men at that time. Here is the list of Alexander Pushkin’s duels.

1816. Pushkin (aged 17) summoned his uncle Paul Hannibal to a duel.
The cause: during a ball, Paul lugged away Pushkin’s girlfriend, miss Loshakova.
The result: duel canceled.

1817. Pushkin summoned his friend Pyotr Kaverin to a duel.
The cause: Kaverin’s facetious poems.
The result: duel canceled.

1819. Pushkin summoned a poet Kondratiy Ryleev to a duel.
The cause: Ryleev told a joke about Pushkin at a high society gathering.
The result: duel canceled.


1819. Pushkin was summoned to a duel by his friend Wilhelm Küchelbecker.
The cause: funny verses about Küchelbecker, namely the passage about «feeling Küchelbeckery and sickening».
The result: Wilhelm shot at Alexander, but missed, Alexander refused to shoot.

1819. Pushkin summoned Modest Korf, a Ministry of justice worker, to a duel.
The cause: Pushkin’s drunk manservant pestered Korf’s servant, who finally beat Pushkin’s servant up.
Result: duel canceled.

1819. Pushkin summoned Major Denisecich to a duel.
The cause: Pushkin behaved provocatively in theater: he yelled at actors, so Denisevich reprimanded Pushkin.
The result: duel canceled.

1820. Pushkin summoned Fedor Orlov and Alexey Alexeev to a duel.
The cause: Orlov and Alexeev reprimanded Pushkin for being drunk and trying to play pool, which disturbed the others.
The result: duel canceled.

1821. Pushkin summoned Deguilly, a French military officer, to a duel.
The cause: An argument, and a quarrel under unclear circumstances.
The result: duel canceled.


1822. Pushkin was summoned to a duel by lieutenant colonel Semyon Starov.
The cause: a conflict occurred because of a restaurant orchestra at a casino, where both indulged in gambling.
The result: each of them shot the other, but both missed.

1822. Pushkin summoned a 65-year-old state councilor Ivan Lanov to a duel.
The cause: a quarrel during a holiday dinner.
The result: duel canceled.

1822. Pushkin summoned a Moldavian nobleman Todor Balsh, the host of the house where Pushkin was staying during his Moldavia trip.
The cause: Maria, Balsh’s wife, responded to Pushkin’s question in an impolite manner.
The result: both shot, but missed.

1822. Pushkin summons a Bessarabian landowner Skartla Pruncul to a duel.
The cause: Prunkul, as well as Pushkin, were seconds at someone else’s duel; they could not agree upon the rules of the duel.
The result: duel canceled.

1822. Pushkin summons Severin Pototsky to a duel.
The cause: discussion about serfdom at the dinner table.
The result: duel canceled.

1822. Pushkin was summoned to a duel by a captain Rutkowski.
The cause: Alexander Pushkin did not believe that a hailstone can weigh up to 3 pounds (which is possible) and made fun of the retired captain.
The result: duel canceled.

1822. Pushkin summoned a Chisinau tycoon Inglezi to a duel.
The cause: Pushkin coveted his wife, a gypsy woman Ludmila Shekora.
The result: duel canceled.

1822. Pushkin was summoned to a duel by a General Staff warrant officer Alexander Zubov. The cause: Pushkin had caught Zubov on cheating during a game of cards.
The result: Zubov shot but missed Pushkin, then Pushkin refused to shoot.

1823. Pushkin summoned a young writer Ivan Rousseau to a duel.  The cause: Pushkin’s personal dislike for this person.
The result: duel canceled.

1826. Pushkin summoned Nikolay Turgenev, one of the leaders of the Union of Welfare, a member of the Northern Society, to a duel.
The cause: Tugrenev did not approve of Pushkin’s poems, especially, his epigrams.
The result: duel canceled.

1827. Pushkin was summoned to a duel by an artillery officer Vladimir Solomirskiy
The cause: the officer’s female friend, a Sofia, to whom Pushkin was personally attracted.
The result: duel canceled.


1828. Pushkin summoned the Minister of Education Alexander Golitsyn to a duel.
The cause: Pushkin wrote a bold epigram, so the Minister arranged a rough interrogation, which Pushkin found humiliating.
The result: duel canceled.

1828. Pushkin summoned Lagrenée, a French Embassy Secretary in St.Petersburg.
The cause: an unknown girl at a ball.
The result: duel canceled.

1829. Pushkin summoned a Foreign Office worker, Mr. Hvostov to a duel.
The cause: Hvostov was dissatisfied by Pushkin’s epigrams, in particular, by the fact that Pushkin compared Khvostov with a pig.
The result: duel canceled.

1836. Pushkin summoned Nikolay Repin to a duel.
The cause: Repin was dissatisfied with Pushkin’s poems about him.  The result: duel canceled.


1836. Pushkin summoned a Foreign Office worker Semyon Hlustin to a duel.
The cause: Hlustin did not approve of Pushkin’s poetry.
The result: duel canceled.

1836. Pushkin summoned Vladimir Sologub to a duel.
The cause: Sologub’s unflattering remarks about the poet’s wife, Natalia.
The result: duel canceled.

1836-37. Pushkin summoned a French officer George d’Anthès.
The cause: an anonymous letter, which stated that Pushkin’s wife had been cheating on her husband with d’Anthès.
The result: Pushkin wounded by d’Anthès, and died two days later, on January 29, 1837.



Вадим Алёшин. Список дуэлей Пушкина, ЖЖ. http://vakin.livejournal.com/1427046.html?utm_source=fbsharing&utm_medium=social

George Steiner. Pushkin’s date with death. https://www.theguardian.com/theobserver/1999/mar/14/featuresreview.review1


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