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Reportage, comment and analysis from Russia's backstage

The one that didn’t get away

President Putin’s amnesty which has seen Pussy Riot’s Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova released, as well, perhaps, as the Greenpeace 30, is by no means extended to everyone. Young activist Taisiya Osipova also has a young child, but she remains locked up with no apparent chance of release, says Marc Bennetts

The lower depths in Russia today

Over a century after Maksim Gorky’s famous play about homeless people – ‘The Lower Depths' – Ekaterina Loushnikova has been looking around her home city of Kirov to see if anything has changed.

Has Siberia had enough of Russia?

With Siberia’s enormous natural resources being mercilessly exploited by Russia, and now China as well, Aleksei Tarasov wonders if the region might some day amount to more than someone else’s colony.

Ring out new bells!

While lightning and neglect are taking their toll on Russia's wooden churches, a growing volunteer movement is making its mark in saving this precious cultural heritage. Architectural restoration expert Alexander Mozhayev reports.

The Zone

The northern territory of the Perm region is known as 'the Zone' –  a remote region of prison camps and correctional facilities. Ola Cichowlas came to know it quite well….

The Wizard of Omsk

Omsk, in south-western Siberia, is known throughout Russia for its theatre, but has never developed a film industry. As Valeria Kalashnikova reports, things are changing, thanks mostly to the efforts of a director whose stock in trade is schlock sci-fi beloved of viewers of Japanese cable channels.

Taken from Chita, Made in China

Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake on the planet, is part of Russia’s DNA, and many romantic ballads sing of its size and beauty. Beyond the lake is a different story. Do Trans-Baikal Territory and its capital Chita have a future or is this a godforsaken backwater? Mikhail Loginov investigates

Brokeback in Belarus

Valery Sidorenko and Sergei Ostapchuk, both tractor drivers, live together happily in a remote village in the Grodinsky region of Belarus. Alyona Soiko travelled there to meet them and hear their story.

Prison or presidency for 'Russia’s Kennedy'?

Charismatic opposition leader Aleksey Navalny is on trial in the provincial capital of Kirov, 900km from Moscow. He is controversially accused of stealing timber worth 16 million roubles in 2009; if found guilty, he will spend his next few years behind bars. Local journalist Ekaterina Loushnikova met some of his supporters and opponents.

Ulyanovsk: no homes for heroes, but plenty of money for an art prize

Many aging Russian WWII veterans live in appalling conditions, and some die before they can cash a government rehousing grant. By law, families should inherit the money, but some regions deny them it. In Sergei Gogin’s native Ulyanovsk, authorities seem to prefer spending the money on vanity projects abroad.

Life on the Chinese border: Russia's Far East

Primorsky Territory is seven time zones away from the capital and has the largest economy in the Russian Far East.  There is justifiable irritation at Moscow’s insistence on a one-size-fits-all model of government oriented towards Europe and levels of frustration are forcing people to leave, says Olesya Gerasimenko.

Winter in Russia: cold indoors as well as out

Most radiators in urban Russian homes are fed by hot water transported from heating plants miles away. Ageing pipes frequently burst, causing hardship and even fatalities. Could a return to an older form of heating be the answer? Mikhail Loginov reports from one small town in the provinces. 

Orenburg 2013: ring out the old, ring in the new!

Regional journalist Elena Strelnikova takes a wry look at some of the events of the departing year. 


Vyatlag: the Gulag then and now

Many of the Soviet Gulag camps are now deserted, but Vyatlag is still in operation, though now most of the prisoners are there for criminal rather than political offences. But as Ekaterina Loushnikova has found, memories of the cruelty and hardship of those terrible years remain.

Dummy candidates, disillusioned voters: ‘United Russia’ in a tight corner

A small city near Moscow is electing a mayor. Not the most startling news, perhaps, but the ruling party seems to have changed places with the opposition. Things are more topsy-turvey than usual and the voters have lost all faith with President and candidates alike, says Mikhail Loginov (photo: Ridus Agency)

The shepherds of Sevukh

The Avars are an ancient people living in the mountains of Dagestan (North Caucasus). Many of them are shepherds. The blandishments of modern life are encroaching on their centuries-old way of life, but they have no chance of doing anything else, even military service. Marina Akhmedova spent some time with them and tells their stories

The Gulag doctor

Doctor Leonid Atlashkin spent almost 20 years in the Soviet prison camps. Unlike many, he went there of his own accord as a young doctor in 1953, and just stayed on. He retired a long time ago, but he has his memories, as Ekaterina Loushnikova discovered when she went to see him.

On the river: a Russian holiday diary

Holidays by the sea in Turkey or Egypt are beginning to lose their appeal to ordinary Russians, and they’re no longer that cheap either. This summer, Elena Strelnikova joined many of her compatriots in looking nearer to home for rest and relaxation.

Why I fled Russia

Maxim Yefimov was an activist working in the field of human rights in Karelia, in the Russian Far North. Following criticism of the Russian Orthodox Church, authorities attempted to incarcerate him in a mental institution. He was kept sane by the conviction he was doing right, but eventually the threat led to flee the country. Here is his story.

Siberia’s crying cannibal: when business became war

Last month, a Siberian gang leader accused of dozens of murders was unexpectedly given a prison sentence. Could it be that Russia is finally getting to grips with organised criminality? There is more to this case than meets the eye, says Aleksei Tarasov 

Snap goes the Crocodile

Marina Akhmedova spent four days in the company of drug users in Yekaterinburg, central Russia, and was met with a picture of desperation, punctured by love, humanity and misplaced hope. oDRussia is proud to reproduce Akhmedova’s harrowing piece of reportage journalism — perhaps unwisely, now banned in Russia. 

Tatarstan: the restoration of history, religion and national feeling

The Republic of Tatarstan is spending some of its not inconsiderable oil and gas revenues on restoring the ruined capital of an 8th century civilisation. This project may play well to the sense of Tatar identity, but it has many critics, recounts Maxim Edwards

'We’ve a war on here!'

Last month a small village in Kirov region became the unlikely location of serious interethnic violence. More than 100 people took part in a mass brawl, shots were fired and the governor of Kirov region, Nikita Belykh, was compelled to fly in by helicopter. Local correspondent Ekaterina Loushnikova, who made the 350 mile trip by more modest means, uncovers the roots of the conflict.

‘Appeal to all women: Don’t put up with it!’

Soon after the fall of communism, Ayshat (not her real name) was kidnapped by a stranger who wanted to marry her. Such kidnaps are not unusual in ultra-conservative Ingushetia, or in any of the North Caucasus republics. What is rare is Ayshat’s courage in speaking out. She tells the story of her violent marriage, breaking silence in the hope of persuading other women to resist abuse.


Chechnya’s women face fresh constraints, new rules and increased violence sanctioned from above. At home, they are subject to unwritten codes that systematically disenfranchise them. They must brave all this to enforce their rights under the Russian constitution. Beyond that, there is only the European Court of Human Rights.

‘The Chechen mentality’

Domestic violence is all too common in Chechnya. It is very rare for women to stand up for their rights, by recourse to the law. This is the story of one woman, Shoma Timagov, who did.

Chechnya’s fashion dictator

In Chechnya, the warfare that rumbled on between 1994 and 2009 has been turned against the republic’s women. The most public aspect of this campaign is the progressive imposition of a so-called ‘Islamic’ dress code. Lisa Kazbekova charts its course, enquires why it is happening, and how Chechnya’s men and women are responding

‘Why did I tell you all this!’

Taisa wanted to be a singer, but ended up becoming a victim of one of Russia's most patriarchal and violent societies. oDRussia continues its series of 'stories you weren't meant to hear' with a harrowing narrative from Chechnya.

Sex and Lies in Kabardino-Balkaria

Young women in Kabardino-Balkaria must resort to lies and stratagems to navigate a society governed by man-made rules and double standards. In this excerpt from an unpublished novel, Marina Marshenkulova reveals through fiction the reality she cannot describe as a journalist.

Hijab Wars

In Dagestan, where government forces are pitched against insurgents, and the official priesthood against the Salafites, the third front concerns women. Marina Akhmedova reports from the region on the totemic role of the hijab in these events.

Stories you weren’t meant to hear: women, tradition and power in Russia’s North Caucasus

Why are the freedoms of women in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan so constrained? Is Islam to blame? Is it a consequence of war in the region, or of poverty? Or do the reasons lie elsewhere? These questions form the basis of a new series on openDemocracy Russia.

The death of the Russian village

Traditionally Russia’s agricultural land was subdivided into a patchwork of villages and fields, interspersed by forest and marsh. Now the villages are deserted and crumbling: the state closes them down, often on a whim, and young people leave to find work elsewhere. Matilda Moreton tells the tragic story based on fieldwork in the Russian North.  

Voices from Abkhazia: Helmut’s Story


Born in Germany during the war, Helmut ended up in a Soviet internment camp. Later he moved to the region of Abkhazia on the Black Sea, where he settled. Now nearly 70, he recounts the fascinating story of his life so far away from his home country to Maxim Edwards

Dispatch from Perm: hands off our healthcare!

Reforms to public health systems are always dictated by the need to cut costs. Russia is no exception, but the results are proving catastrophic. Access to state treatment is ever more limited and often unaffordable private health services are the only way of getting better or staying alive. Roman Yushkov and Vasily Moseyev consider the situation in Perm region and wonder if this is not part of a cunning freemarket plot.

Tatarstan’s new activists

Like many other Russian cities, Kazan, capital of Tatarstan, has seen public protests since December’s rigged parliamentary elections. A particularly striking feature is the youth of many of the protesters and their range of concerns. What they most seem to fear, however, is a government clampdown on the internet, says Oleg Pavlov.

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