A Nation Comes Apart

Soviet Horror

Lenin Square in Luchegorsk, a small city situated about halfway between Khabarovsk and Vladivostok. It has an enormous coal-fired power station, which supplies electricity for Primorski Krai.

A NOTE TO READERS
In the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union, I lived in the Russian Far East, spending most of time time in Khabarovsk, a city of more than a half million people about 19 miles from the Chinese border at the confluence of the Ussuri and Amur rivers. I had traveled there to write a weekly column for the Anchorage Daily News about the lives of ordinary Russians as their economy careened from state-controlled socialism to free-for-call capitalism.

The indestructible Soviet Union was gone. The lifetime savings of most Russians had been wiped out as a result of the “shock therapy” implemented by Boris Yeltsin’s government on the advice of American economists. This vast nation, once again called Russia for the first time in more than seven decades, was falling apart.

During this period, there were weekly flights between Khabarovsk and Anchorage, Alaska. This was all pre-Internet, of course. Every Sunday,  I stuffed one or two canisters of film and a floppy disk into an envelope and stuck on some U.S. postage stamps. Then I rode a bus to the airport and asked an Anchorage-bound stranger to drop the envelope in a mail box somewhere in the America.

All the letters arrived safely to the Anchorage Daily News newsroom.

I have decided to publish those columns in this blog. The photos, taken with Fuji slide film, had been damaged over the years by mold. I digitalised the photos, restored them and uploaded the restored images here on this blog.

In 2012, I returned to the same region with my wife, Svetlana, and our daughter, Ihila, to visit Svetlana’s sisters and to show Ihila the remote village where I met her mother. Ihila and I kept a blog about our journey. You can read here about our travels as well.

— Tom Bell

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