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Russia

lmir-uk-cover-300wWith the Pussy Riot trials, the Winter Olympics, rampant homophobia and most recently the invasion of Ukraine, Russia has been very much in the public eye as of late. Many questions are being raised about the role Russia will play in the future with regards to its ability to trade, its power status and the effect all of this will have on international relations.

The Last Man in Russia provides an insight into this vast country’s recent political history, as well as its current political and social problems, by exploring the life of dissident Orthodox priest Father Dimitry. Author Oliver Bullough takes the reader on a long and difficult journey through Russia on his quest for information about Father Dimitry and everything he stood for. At the same time he paints a frank and telling picture of the Russia of today, its people, and the alcoholism epidemic that is killing the nation at a startling rate.

Informative yet full of emotion and insight, Bullough engages the reader with the play-by-play of his adventure whilst also providing a moving account of the nation’s incredible suffering. This book brings it all to life – imagine being imprisoned in a sub-zero tundra camp just for writing a poem, feel the anxiety of  a people who trusted no one and sense the desperation of a starved population stripped of every right.

Russia is a nation that is still trying to break away from its dark and painful past, and Bullough does find glimmers of hope, but there is also the need to remember those who suffered and not allow them to be swept under the carpet by those who would prefer to present a rose-tinted version of events.

Reviewed by Francesca Bassenger. Images courtesy of Penguin.

In the last year I have been lucky enough to go to Moscow twice, first in the depths of winter and then 6 months later in the throws of humid summer. Each visit seemingly yielded a totally different city.

Red Square in November is perhaps the closest to those imaginings of Russia we will have had as children. Lone figures swathed in fur hurrying across the vast expanse against the dramatic backdrop of St. Basil’s kaleidoscopic onions and the monolithic crimson facades of the Kremlin.

Pristine blue skies and brilliant white sun belied the temperature that had fallen to -15°c degrees, and the Moskva river had convincingly frozen over. As I wandered around the somewhat deserted city I felt decidedly like an outsider.

The firm fingerprints of the Soviet era were still very much in evidence, from the dour grey buildings to the heavy military presence flanking the square. Whilst the Iron Curtain has long since been drawn, it certainly still framed the stage.

When I returned in July, the city had lost its austerity. Whilst the stark architecture and police presence remained, Moscow now played host to thousands of tourists, each performing their own strange dance in front of flashing cameras.

Gone was the weighty ‘Russian’ aura, diluted in the thrum and the throng. The soaring temperatures only added to this. We forget that in the height of summer, Moscow regularly reaches temperatures of 35°c. Perhaps it’s the somewhat two dimensional Russia we see forever regurgitated in western films, the Russia of my November experience. But it was the heat that did the most to dismantle the city’s forbidding ambience for me. You can’t do austere in a pair of shorts!

I left feeling a little disappointed with the city, like the Moscow of July was somehow lacking in authenticity. It wasn’t until a week later when I found myself watching an 80s Bond film set for the large part in Soviet Russia, that I realised the foolishness of that thought.

The Russia of the silver screen was and indeed continues to be a distinctly Soviet affair; cold in character as it is cold in climate. This is the Russia I have been fed all my life. And yet, Moscow has always had hot summers, visitors have always flocked to look upon its mighty architecture and rich culture, and the city I experienced last July was but another face of its winter self. Just as real, just as truthful.

Alexander Rhind is a freelance photographer living in Peckham and working wherever.
To see more of his work go to www.alexanderrhind.com

Written by Alexander Rhind. Photography © Alexander Rhind.