The Russians – an intimate journey through Russia (1/2) | DW Documentary

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The Russians – an intimate journey through Russia (1/2) | DW Documentary

When Kirill starts training at ten o’clock in the morning in St. Petersburg, it’s three in the afternoon where Lyubov lives, some 4500 kilometers further east on Lake Baikal Both live in Russia, the largest country in the world But Russia’s true greatness — it is said — lies not in its area, but in its people There are more than 146 million Russians Each with a story to tell — stories full of hope and joy — of sadness and anger On our trip through this vast country, we meet six people from six different generations Each has much to tell — about childhood and youth, about working and growing old; about life in big cities and in tiny villages; about having children and about dying in Russia Our journey begins close to the Ural Mountains Then we go to central Siberia, and on to northwestern Russia Chelyabinsk is an industrial city halfway between Moscow and Novosibirsk Jelena is heading to a storage room to collect some things for the children in her care So — we have diapers for all of them These would be good for Marishka Yes, perfect And a few pacifiers for the babies And something to play with A nice new toy for Marishka She’s tired of the old ones This hedgehog will bring her luck! The children for whom these things are intended have not always had good luck These rooms in the public hospital in Chelyabinsk are reserved for special patients They’re reserved for children Many are ill — some have chronic conditions Their parents cannot — or are may not — care for them Instead of their mothers, they have Jelena Boiko, who works for an NGO called ?Women of Eurasia“ The NGO takes care of children from disadvantaged families Diapers for girls and boys! Look what I’ve brought you! A hedgehog! Come here Don’t be afraid Nobody will hurt you I’m here Did you miss me, my golden girl? I missed you, too Look, a hedgehog! Don’t be scared! I work as a mom All day long, I do everything that mothers do Most of the children only spend a few weeks here She needs peace and quiet She’s tired She’s swallowing too much air! But some stay for several months, until they are sent on to children’s homes or adopted These are the littlest ones They’re so small and so alone Many of them were simply abandoned By their own mothers The mothers said after the birth that they didn’t want to keep the child Sometimes because they’re HIV positive Those children are first brought to us in the hospital to be examined

Some of the children have had to be removed from junkies‘ apartments Where the parents are on drugs when you get there And the child is running around on its own, and the parents are basically unresponsive 1.6 million babies were born in Russia in 2018 2,300 of them were abandoned right after their birth Around 44,000 children are officially registered as orphans in more than 1300 children’s homes across the country The birthrate in Russia has been lower than the deathrate for years So the state has created incentives for women to have children A family receives half a million rubles — around 6,500 euros — per child as a one time payment, earmarked for its future education or for a place to live The scheme is supposed to strengthen families But hundreds of children learned the word ‘Mama‘ here in the hospital That’s what they called Jelena Boiko This child had to be taken away from her parents at 4 and a half months Her mother messed up once in her life — that’s why her daughter is here But I hope she’ll get her act together again, and then the girl can return to the family Until then she has to stay with us Such a round—cheeked cutiepie! Want to eat something? In the morning there’s washing, dressing, and tooth—brushing That’s also the morning routine over 1000 kilometers to the northeast — in Russkinskaya in Siberia The children here are older — and they start the day at 7 AM with exercises Sixteen year old Veronika Teflina is one of Russia’s nearly 17 million schoolchildren Done Now before breakfast, shower, make your beds, and brush your teeth Veronika lives in this boarding school with two hundred other girls and boys from the region Her parents are reindeer herders and members of the indigenous Khanty ethnic group For generations they have followed their herds of reindeer in the north of Russia?. But for the past ten years this boarding school has been Veronika‘s surrogate family I’ve grown used to the teachers, and I like it at school better than at my home Russkinskaya is located in the boreal forest, or taiga, of western Siberia Just two thousand people live here Half of them are Khanty, Mansi and Nenets Together with around 30 other groups, they are officially recognized as the ?indigenous small—numbered peoples of the North.“ Some of these ethnic groups have fewer than 200 members and are nearing extinction They are spread across an area that covers nearly two thirds of Russia Like Veronika, many of the students only see their parents twice a year — for a few weeks in the winter and for three months in the summer vacation The rest of the year, the state takes care of them — providing education, meals and a dormitory free of charge In particular in northern Russia, where many nomadic people live, there are dozens of boarding schools like this one School starts at eight AM and goes until two in the afternoon Then we have naptime until four At four we get a snack and then we do our homework Later we have sports — basketball or volleyball Or we go for a walk outdoors Patriotic education is an important part of schooling in Russia It is supposed to instill a love of the motherland, which needs to be defended The students are obliged to take a course called ?Life Safety Skills” Some of them volunteer for an additional qualification At the beginning of the school year they ask us if

we want to join a military club There you learn to march, shoot and take apart a weapon If you want, you can say you’ll join Most of those who do are boys, but there are some girls, too, like me I like weapons I like learning to use them, no matter what mood I’m in Even if it ruins my nails It’s pretty exciting Every kind of weapon, not just machine guns I’m not scared of them — I like them! Our representative of the next oldest generation prefers using his fists as weapons We meet him in the northwest of Russia — in Kolpino near St Petersburg And his name is Kirill Michailov 23 years old 1.90 tall, 82 kilograms My hands hurt. And I got hit on the head But I was lucky My opponent fell over It was lucky for me. Now I can feel the adrenaline in my blood And I feel good This kind of no—holds—barred fighting has only few rules You basically keep on hitting until your opponent can no longer defend himself Kirill Michailov has been doing this sport for two years His nickname in the ring is The Bouncer Here, reputation counts Fighters want to be known as toughest, the quickest, and the best Other nicknames include Wild Latino, Fearsome Farmer, Mighty Migrant There are believed to be tens of thousands of young men who fight like this or similarly in Russia — a sizeable fraction of the nearly nine million men between 20 and 29 years old For Kirill, boxing is about more than just the show I moved from soccer to no holds barred fighting I used to be really crazy about football But serving in the army changed me I wasn’t so excited about soccer anymore, so I started looking for something else After work I couldn’t just sit around at home I needed to find an outlet for all my energy So I got into the ring and I won my first fight Then the second, and then the third Kirill recognizes that the show fights are brutal — but he says fighting helps him to be a nicer guy in everyday life He claims it can help prevent men from being violent in other contexts — at home with their family, for example Domestic violence is a huge problem in Russia But can boxing in the ring really help protect families and society as a whole? We experience an explosion of emotions Like soccer hooligans when they battle We don’t hate each other — we respect our opponent Even when he kicks you in the head You have to release the tension, the tension of daily life Otherwise you start drinking like some people Others turn to drugs Another type might just fade away and die because of the monotony of life in Russia So to relax some take up parachute jumping Some take to drink And the third kind fight with their fists It’s so important for the little ones to eat well

The worst thing is when they don’t want to eat At the beginning they’re stressed out, and have no appetite But soon they settle in and start eating better Then they begin growing and their health improves Some of the children have been spoiled with sweets at home When they come here, they have to eat porridge and soup At first they refuse, but they have no choice And then they start eating everything Food is coming! Here is your compote Sit down! The nice man is there Elena Boiko’s 24 hour shift at the hospital is over It’s time for the 40 year old to go home to her own family Her work as a professional mother is paid for by Women of Eurasia The NGO was founded 15 years ago to help the disadvantaged in Russia — abandoned children, people with AIDS, disabled people, women in prison, youths from underprivileged families The organization has plenty to do According to official statistics, around one million people in Russia are HIV positive Elena’s organization also accepts funding from abroad — which means that she and other employees are listed as ‘foreign agents‘ by Russian justice officials It’s a stigma, but Jelena doesn’t let it get to her We work in several shifts Sometimes 24 hours at a time, sometimes only during the day Two days on shift, then a two—day break When children from an orphanage come in for an operation, we spend the entire time with them on the surgical ward to take care of them Sometimes they need just three days to recover, but sometimes they stay for two months Then we visit them every day The worst thing is when they start crying and calling out ?Mama, Mama.” We know that from our own children, from when we take them to kindergarden and they don’t want to stay there It’s heartbreaking to see how they don’t want to let me go But I have a trick I distract the kids, I say I’m coming the next day, I give them something to play with or something sweet to eat Then the nurse comes and I leave That helps them deal with the separation Elena is actually a cook by profession But seven years ago she left her old job, and has been taking care of disadvantaged children ever since She earns 22,000 rubles a month — the equivalent of 270 euros, about half the average monthly wage in Russia With that she supports her famier two children and her father, on her own Elena’s husband left These days, the family of four lives in a two— room apartment on the outskirts of Chelyabinsk How was your day? Good Did you take your pills? Yes Good Call Grandpa to the table This is our special buckwheat with milk

Have some tea with us! It’s the start of a family evening with her father Alexander and her son Vladimir Her daughter Ekaterina isn’t home yet Today a girl was brought in She cried and cried How old? Two. Her mother is pregnant and had to go to the hospital There was no one else at home Her second child? Yes The girl didn’t want to eat She was really upset She stood at the door calling ?Mama, Mama!” But then she did start playing She was curious, like all children That’s nice Stories like that are part of my work If I had to carry it around inside me all the time, it would be unbearable But when I tell my family about what happens to the children, they give me support It relieves me to have my loved ones listen to me So I can give my warmth to my own children These children also only see their parents rarely From June to August it’s summer vacation for Veronika Teflina and her schoolmates They are flown by helicopter to the nomad settlements There are no roads or railway lines through the Taiga here Only the Trom—Agan River can be traversed by boat It’s named after the main Khanty god Veronika is already starting to feel a bit sad. On the one hand, she is looking forward to seeing her family But she knows she’ll miss her school, which is said to be one of the best in a radius of a hundred kilometers I started first grade back when the school opened We were the first pupils That was 10 years ago According to a large—scale survey of young people carried out in 2018 by a Russian institute with links to the Kremlin, most Russian children would not miss their schools What do we call our traditional dwelling? A chum? That’s right, a chum And in the middle of the chum is a fireplace Seven out of ten students surveyed said they didn’t like school because they had too few subjects that were useful for their lives Another study says that students in Russia are more interested in environmental topics than in Russian politics That’s ceertainly true of Veronika Teflina And we’ll lfind out more about her love of nature later But first back to Kolpino, to amateur fighter Kirill Michailov, who faces very different problems in everyday life This is what his working day looks like With card? Kirill works in a small mobile phone store in a large shopping mall It’s sometimes hard to deal with the customers I’m in sales, and one of us has to win — either I or the customer It’s like in the ring Maybe there’s water inside? Maybe Or a short circuit

We’ll have to change the button How soon will we know? After it’s been changed First I worked as a security guard For a month That wasn’t so great because it was at the other end of town Then I started here — first only once in a while, then full time It’s been good so far Kirill works 12—hour shifts, five days a week I have to make a conscious effort to stay calm That’s also important in the ring, because negative emotions won’t do you any good in a fight You shouldn’t let your feelings take over You need to keep your cool Here at work I sometimes feel like I’m going to blow a fuse When too many customers want something at once Or when they’re difficult But I can let all those emotions out in the ring And emotions are now the topic at the General Middle School in Russkinskaya The most important thing in the dance is to show our national character You know that Be modest! You have to look at the audience You know where to look, right? Never down at the floor And remember the graceful arm movements Be graceful And don’t forget to look to the side to see who is going where Got that? And smile! Beautiful girls have beautiful smiles! Here we go You have to show modesty in the dance Not everyone was smiling! I like our teachers Sometimes they’re strict with us, but then it’s our own fault The teachers in the school only scold us if we deserve it They’re pretty fair Fairness is also of importance here, as well as safety Kirill Michailov is training for his next fight I have to bandage my fingers, otherwise I’ll have problems with my hands I could break a finger, or dislocate one — anything could happen It’s better to protect myself ahead of time Kirill comes to this gym twice or three times a week But he doesn’t have a coach I don’t want to spend the money I know that I do some movements incorrectly For example, when you punch you have to use your whole body, but my legs are so untrained and wooden that I can’t manage to do it Actually I should find a real trainer somewhere else But in streetfighting it’s usually not the perfect technique that wins, but your mental willpower In just a few days Kirill will take part in the championship final And maybe, in his next win And we stretch — and stretch — that’s nice Little one Children need a mother That’s why we hug them They need human warmth They have to feel that we are taking care of them That helps them get well faster The physical contact tells them that they’re not alone Come over to us! Shall we draw a car? Where is the green pencil Did it roll away? It’s give and take

Little things make them happy and they pass their happiness on to us We share their happiness About their first steps, their first teeth, their first words They discover the world And it’s a world where they are no longer so alone Even if it is limited by the four walls of a hospital room This is what I need This constant cuddling — it’s like never—ending childhood It’s great My own children have outgrown that They say, “Mom stop hugging us.” They’re tired of that kind of attention But I’m not I have so much motherly love inside of me And I’ve found an outlet for it This is a win—win situation for all of he children are happy and so am I The children of the reindeer herders delight in scenes like this part of the traditional life of their parents in the tundra The tundra biome lies north of the boreal forest, the taiga There are hardly any trees in the tundra, but lots of grass — food for the reindeer — and lots of room for grazing At the boarding school the boys practise for a nomadic life With lassos instead of basketballs This course is compulsory And complimentary to the Life Safety Skills course and the weapons drill In a few days, some of the children from the school in Russkinskaya will be herding reindeer instead of learning math It’s not a prospect that thrills Veronika Teflina She likes the tundra, but she’d rather see the reindeer in the local museum She has mixed feelings about her upcoming trip home I’d rather be here than at home Here I have the girls and boys around me that I’ve grown up with I’ll miss them when I’m at home It will be strange without them But — the time to say goodbye comes anyway Kirill Michailov also has to pack, for the most important fight he’s been in to date This evening is the start of the final round of the championship with participants from all over Russia Kirill from Kolpino wants to be up there with the best of them Kirill is striving for one thing: victory No matter what it costs I’m nervous This is the biggest competition of my life Every fight is a challenge, but this one is special When I was preparing, my main focus was on endurance That is my weak point The other is my punch So I trained both of those things on my own Meanwhile, somewhere down there in the taiga —

the world’s largest forest, Veronika’s family is waiting She takes one last photo with her friends All the pupils from the boarding school in Russkinskaya will be flown out to the nonmadic settlements where their parents live with their reindeer Of course it’s sad when they leave But we’re also happy for them They’ll be with their parents, whom they’ve been missing all year They’re so excited because they’ll all be flying out at the same time Just a few minutes to go before the fight Ten pairs of fighters are about to enter the ring Kirill has met his opponent for the first time today What is he thinking right now? We’re not friends, but we mustn’t hate each other We’re just letting out energy It’s emotional release — nothing more Kirill gets five thousand rubles cash That’s sixty euros Open your mouth My cheekbones hurt Bite down hard Harder Where exactly? This was Kirill Michailov’s sixth victory in a row I can feel the adrenaline It’s pure release The ultimate feeling I’m happy The poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote: To be loved, what happiness! What happiness, ye gods, to love! But happiness is subjective It’s in the eye of the beholder Elena feels happy mothering other people’s children I wish every child had a mom and a dad I wouldn’t have a job, but the children would be happy My dream is for there to be no more abandoned children That would be wonderful Veronika from the taiga

can’t imagine living without the other girls in her school, but she also can’t imagine life without the boreal forest I was born in the forest — my parents didn’t go to the hospital I always miss it I love to see my dogs bark for joy And my family is happy to see me What’s my dream? To be a police officer Or maybe later to join the military So as to defend her happiness — as her course Life Safety Skills teaches her Veronika and Kirill feel similarly in this respect He was one of the 270 thousand young men in Russia called up for military service every year Every man should be able to protect himself, his family, his friends and his country That takes courage You have to hit out, before you get hit With that attitude toward their homeland, we end Part 1 of The Russians — from birth to ch- ildhood and youth And how do Russians’ feelings about their country change during their working lives and as they age? We’ll find out in Part Two of our Russian journey