Welcome to Rusus.com, our story of life in Russia. We use this site to document everyday life in Russia, as seen by two U.S. Peace Corps volunteers.

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By Admin1 (admin) on Saturday, July 07, 2001 - 6:04 pm: Edit Post

Jynks Burton & Steven Brown Life in Russia

Jynks Burton & Steven Brown Life in Russia

Welcome to Rusus.com, our story of life in Russia. We use this site to document everyday life in Russia, as seen by two U.S. Peace Corps volunteers. Click on the links to the left to read about our experiences, see pictures of Russia and the people we've met here, or to send us an email or a letter. Thanks for visiting our site - and thanks to our friend, Charles Webster, for hosting the site.

Jynks Burton & Steven Brown

We are in the eighth group of Peace Corps Volunteers to serve in Western Russia, having arrived with approximately 80 other volunteers in August 2000. Peace Corps operates two programs in Western Russia - business education and English as a foreign language - and we are two of the 15 business education volunteers. The volunteers in our group range in age from 20 up to about 67, have a vast range of experiences and expertise to share, and include five other married couples.

From August until the end of October we were in training in Zelenograd, a suburb of Moscow about 30 miles northwest of the city. While in training we lived with he Lupina family. At the end of October, we moved to Cheboxary, which is the capital of the Chuvash Republic (kind of like a state), where we will live for the rest of our time here. There are 8 other volunteers in Cheboxary, three of whom have already lived here for one year.

We are both teaching at local universities, Jynks at the Institute of Tourism and Service and Steve at the Cooperative Institute. Steve is also doing some consulting work with local businesses, and Jynks is hoping to continue her work in international exchange. We live in a typical Russian apartment, as do most other volunteers, and have fairly regular workday schedules. We also have Russian tutoring lessons twice a week, and hope to be fairly conversant by the time we leave, which is more of a challenge than it may sound!

Lubov Nicholiavna is a fascinating woman. She is the 72 year-old mother of one of our host mother's best friend who lives with her daughter and her two grandchildren in Zelenograd. Hearing about her life was fascinating. She was born in 1928 in the Belorussian countryside near the Polish border (this region was then part of the Soviet Union). She lived in a small house with her family. I asked her about live during the collectivization famines of the 1930s, and she said that it was not as bad where she lived as it was in Ukraine. She remembers one birthday when her present from her mother was the only apple to be found in the entire city market.

Her life changed during the summer of 1941 when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. Her parents left for Siberia to support the war effort and she, at the age of 13, got the responsibility of looking after her grandparents, who were too old and frail to make the move east. She thus moved to her grandparents house in the country outside of Briansk, a city in Belorussia. When the Germans swept through the area there was sharp fighting in Briansk, but not where Lubov Nicholiavna and her grandparents lived. The first thing she remembers the Germans doing after they pushed the Red Army east was arresting and shooting all the Jewish people and Communists they could find.

After that, she remembers live getting better, so much so that she remembers life being easier under the Germans than under Stalin. However, before you think that life was easy, consider this. At 13 she was responsible for looking after her grandparents. But how to get money for food? What she did was take salt from Briansk (it was unclear to me how she would get the salt - maybe they had a salt mine nearby) and walk two or three days to Poland, where she would exchange the salt for flour. She would then turn around and walk two or three days back to Briansk with the flour, which she would give to her grandmother would then make bread. Of course, this sort of activity was illegal, but she was able to do it because she was a young girl and was ignored by the soldiers. Lubov Nichholiavna would then sell the extra bread to the German soldiers at a local airbase near Briansk. As the Soviet Army swept back through the area in 1944 their house was destroyed, so the family moved to the city of Briansk.

After the war ended she said that things were horrible for a few years, with some families living in holes dug in the ground. However, slowly things improved. She married and had two children, and life slowly got better. Prices on goods came down, and meat became increasingly available in the late 1940s. By the time she became a pensioner in the 1980s, life was good - her pension was enough to buy all the food she needed, and a vacation on the Black Sea and her apartment was provided free of charge by the state.

At the same time, throughout the 1970s, she remembers that the availability of meats and quality goods began to decrease rather than increase. For example, she described how the quality of meat available in the markets changed from prime cut, to fatty cut, then to none at all. Still, life was livable, despite the lines, and people enjoyed what they had. Starting in the late 1980s, however, things really took a turn for the worse soon after Gorbachev unleashed the forces of perestroika. The Soviet Union collapsed, crime increased, and inflation ate away the purchasing power of her pension.

Now, with her pension worth between $20 and $30, she relies on her daughter for financial support. She is lucky to have a daughter like Larisa, because without such support it would be nearly impossible to get by. Despite all of the changes, she doesn't long for the old system. "Idiotisma," (crazy), she says, referring to the old Communist ways. Hearing how her life has changed for the worse certainly helps me to understand her antipathy for Michail Gorbachev, feelings that are quite common here in Russia. "He destroyed the country, then went to Germany and took a bow."

Written by Steve, December 5, 2000

Today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. This is the day in which we welcome winter in its full glory and celebrate the lengthening of the coming days. Since our arrival in Russia in August, we have watched anxiously as the sun's presence has steadily diminished. In August, it was rare for us to see a dark sky, as the sun was shining almost fifteen hours a day. But within our first month, three hours of daylight disappeared before our eyes.

Now as we sit on the edge of the solstice, Cheboxary is bathed in sunshine, or sun-lit clouds, for eight hours a day. On this, the shortest day of the year, the sun greeted us this morning at 8:00 and said its final farewells by 4:00. With only eight hours of sunlight, the trolley buses fill up in the morning while the sky is still lit with stars and again in the evening, when the moon is casting its glow. Vendors in the outdoor market pack up their wares well after the sun has gone down, lighting their goods with candles to catch the last hour of sales as people head home from work. But the sun does make its presence known. People living further north surely have it much worse.

While the days are a full two hours shorter than what we were used to in Washington in the winter, we are fortunate to have schedules that allow us to wake up with the sun almost every morning. Discerning whether you're looking at onions, carrots, or potatoes in the market after 4:00 can be difficult, but aside from that inconvenience, life simply goes on. Arriving home after the sun has set holds no new challenges for us.

Winter has come slowly to Cheboxary, but is holding a tight grip on the city. On this, the first day of winter, the temperature was at exactly zero degrees fahrenheit when we awoke, and they're saying it will drop to -25 by tomorrow. Bright, sunny days like today seem to be the coldest ones. This is following almost two weeks where the temperatures have hovered just below the freezing mark, with regular, light snow showers. Though no serious storm has threatened Cheboxary, the steady snowfall has accumulated to just over a foot of powdery white.

All over the city, work is underway to create ice palaces and sculptures that promise to be with us until late in the season. Trucks haul in massive blocks of ice from the river, while workers with axes, picks, chainsaws, and trowels create small cities out of ice. People are flocking to the forests and to the frozen Volga with skis and sleds, and I've even seen children ice-skating across frozen sidewalks. As the New Year holiday approaches, bright lights cover trees and windows and holiday greetings festoon storefronts and public buildings. Snow covers this city for almost half the year, and people are finding ways to celebrate and rejoice in its arrival.

Having lived only in places where snow is a rarity and temperatures such as we have here are unheard of, the snow is holding untold fascination for me. As a child, I dutifully cut out paper snowflakes along with the other children to cover the walls of our classroom for the winter season. I understood that these snowflakes were intended to resemble real snowflakes, but, in truth, I thought they were just a pretty decoration, one that strayed far from reality. If you really were able to see that detail on a snowflake, I thought, you must surely need a microscope. But in Russia I have seen real snowflakes. For the first time that I can remember, I am seeing replicas of those paper snowflakes falling regularly around me. I find myself standing for long minutes, eyes focused on the collar of my coat, staring in awe at the beauty and the variety of the snowflakes. This is one of pleasant surprises of winter in Russia.

My previous experiences have also left me unprepared for the noise of snow. Snow scenes always evoked thoughts of silent days. Occasionally when I am in a new place, I begin to notice the sounds of that place that make it unique. The sound of babushkas beating their rugs in the courtyard is one that I will always associate with Russia; I will never forget the frogs we heard on an island in Vietnam; and I can still today hear the clock striking the hour in Georgetown's belltower. But the sound of snow is one that I never anticipated. As the temperatures grow colder, footsteps grow louder. I have heard the sound of the ice-encrusted snow typical in Washington and Arkansas, but the sound of snow in sub-zero temperatures is something else entirely. It lies somewhere between the crunch of dry, fallen leaves and the squeak of rubber soles on a wooden floor.

So on this first day of winter, I am able to fully appreciate the season's charms and beauty. I am equipped with a long, cozy sheepskin coat, fur-lined boots and mittens, and multiple layers of wool sweaters and long underwear to keep me warm in the long, cold months ahead. But ask me again how I feel about this season in April, and I am likely to give you a completely different answer.

Written by Jynks, December 21, 2000

Contrary to popular opinion, not everything works poorly here in Russia. One of the most popular questions we get asked here is what we expected to find here in Russia. While I certainly did not expect to find things collapsing around me, in general, I have been surprised at the normalcy of things here. While of course there are many things that do not work as well as I was used to (for example see my stories on signing up for internet and the Zelenograd bus system), many other things do work. Of course, you don't hear about these things because they don't sell newspapers and they don't make people come to our website!

Now don't take this the wrong way - Russia is certainly not a model of convenience and customer service. But my experience in Moscow and especially here in Cheboxary are that things aren't as bad as one might think. For example, take Cheboxary's transport system. About 30 percent of Russian families now own cars. That is up from something like five percent ten years ago. However, you really don't need one, even living in a provincial city like Cheboxary. We have trolleybuses, regular buses, private vans, and taxis. The trolley and bus system is quite extensive and really works. It's crowded, but it is extremely convenient.

Trolleys or busses arrive every 2-5 minutes, so you almost never have to wait long. Sometimes they are so crowded that you can't get on (and I mean so full that people literally fall out when the doors open), but they definitely come frequently. And unlike the Zelenograd busses where nobody paid, there is a conductor on every bus that collects fares (about seven cents, or three dollars for the month). Maybe it is because of these conductors that the trolleys and busses are somewhat modern (again, unlike in Zelenograd). Actually the busses are funny because many of them are still covered with advertisements in German from their previous life in Germany. While I can't say that I actually enjoy riding on the trolleys because of the crowds, they definitely get me where I want to go.

Another example would be the plowing. The city really cleans the snow off the roads. Now granted, their job isn't nearly as complicated as in the US because they have far fewer roads (cities are much denser). However, we have seen a good deal of snow since November and it is always cleaned up promptly. They use big plows for the main roads and hire people to sweep and shovel off the walks and the side streets around apartment blocks. We've always been cleaned out by early the next morning after a snowfall.

As a final example, take the general level of cleanliness here in the city. Trash is taken away regularly and someone (I think the city) pays people to sweep and clean the sidewalks and streets of junk. The republic has completed a number of large public works beautification projects in the city center that make this quite a pretty city. They have built a big walkway around and footbridges over a bay off the river Volga, and on the banks of the bay they have constructed a place for concerts, playgrounds, and other niceties. Now one may debate whether these public works projects are the best way to spend hard-to-find tax dollars, but they definitely make this a nice place to live.

When reading this, remember that I am talking here of Cheboxary in the Chuvash Republic. These observations may or may not apply to other places in Russia. To a much greater extent than in the US, the effectiveness of the local, oblast, and/or republic (the final two are sort of like states) governments varies. Some cities like Chuvashia have good governance reputations, while others do not. The most current example of horrible local governance is in Premorski Krai, the region in the Russian Far-East that includes the city of Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean. This region has tremendous natural resource wealth, but unfortunately the governor there runs the oblast as his own private fiefdom. Recently whole cities there have had their heat shut off because the government has not bothered to buy any fuel to keep things warm (central heat in most cities is provided by the local government). This is an extreme example, but it shows how much variety there is here with these things.

Tip O'Neill, the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, once said that "all politics is local." Well, in Russia, I'd say that pretty much everything is local. Even though Moscow is only 400 miles from here, it is much further in reality. We are lucky to live in an area that seems to be run well, and I appreciate this fact every day I am here!

Written by Steve, January 8, 2001

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Russia; PCVs in the Field - Russia



By Derek Young (ov1- - on Monday, February 16, 2004 - 4:30 pm: Edit Post

hey steve and jynks, i am doing a country report on russia and maybe if you put what the food is like, holidays,festivals, religion, and entertainment sports and art it would help more. Your site has helped don't get me wrong but just a few suggetions.
Thank you for your help.

By Brad Hoemann (ppp018.lic.centurytel.net - on Saturday, May 08, 2004 - 9:25 am: Edit Post

Is there an e-mail address available for Jynks Burton? I have some questions about Cheboxary and the Institute of Tourism and Service and would appreciate her contact info. Thanks. Brad Hoeamnn, e-mail: sovereignamericanpatriot@yahoo.com

By Jo McGowan ( on Wednesday, March 22, 2006 - 4:41 am: Edit Post

Jynks, do you remember us? My husband, Ravi, met you on a train in India - coming to Dehradun. I cannot remember any details, but I do remember we really liked you. I'd love to re-connect. My email address is jomcgowanchopra@gmail.com

By Dory Valin (ppp-68-251-64-252.dsl.chcgil.ameritech.net - on Saturday, July 08, 2006 - 2:09 pm: Edit Post

Hi, I just visited St. Petersburg recently and also Moscow. I still don't feel like I understand Russia--but maybe that's silly to even try on my part. My daughter studied there a year and stayed with a host mom. She also went throught the German occupation and didn't want to return to the soviet system. She had all she needs. I was struck how people just walk into you on the street and don't go around. Does that happen where you are? I went to the Russian baths and that was interesting. The food was a lot better than I thought it would be. I am 57. I was wondering what I could do there if I joined the peace corps? My background is in management in healthcare.

By kayla conger (cusdx506.kahoks.org - on Wednesday, October 10, 2007 - 3:24 pm: Edit Post

hey sup i love ur russian axcent and u are so cool

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