In most respects Northern Russia has been forgotten by post-perestroika Moscow – the locals are in a 1930’s time warp, bartering carrots for bread, and earning a little cash where they can. Their houses are still owned by the State, so there’s no maintenance and yet no housing construction is happening either – no private cash to invest in property. So the Mafia is strong here, owns many of the businesses and runs protection rackets on the others. Seems, and it is, a long way from Moscow. Most here walk or drive Ladas, although the car of preference for the Mafia is the Lexus.
Yet there are signs. The young men all wear white singlets and tight jeans – the “Putin” look, while the gals have skirts that hardly reach the top of their stockings. Fashion clothes and personal preening is a preoccupation.
They may be isolated but the messages from the satellite TV’s into their Soviet style apartment blocks or old traditional wooden farmhouses, ring out in unison – there is a modern world out there, bursting to reach you.