Often it has been younger men who ask that I don't use their last names on air, for fear of
retribution against them or their families. Before the recent election that would return Putin
to the presidency, I spent time in Tver, a gritty railroad town north of Moscow. A twenty-
eight-year-old named Pavel was working as a veterinarian but driving a taxi on the side
to make enough money to survive. He was excited to vote against Putin—but frightened
that being quoted saying so could get him punished at work. “It's time for us to have new
leaders,” he said. “These people are in power too long, and they're starting to get brazen.”
I also met a forty-two-year-old factory worker named Mikhail. He said he sleeps better the
less people know about him, so he also gave just his first name. He makes seven hundred
dollars a month building railroad cars and lives with his wife and two daughters in an apart-
ment assigned to the family during Soviet times. Life is fragile, he said, but he gets by and
doesn't want to mess with a good thing—well, a workable thing. That's why he was ready
to support Putin. As he put it, “It's better to have someone who is tested, or else someone
will come along and start making a mess.” I recall thinking in Tver how younger Russian
men display this certain toughness. In some cases maybe it's a veneer. Whatever it is, Ivan
and Evgeni developed it at a young age.
The woman brings four cups of hot water with tea bags to the table. The cups have cran-
berries and green leaves painted on them.
“Sergei, let's just start with the basics. I want to hear about Ivan's life.”
Sergei dives in, and Ivan—speaking softly and methodically—begins to speak.
“I grew up here. I know everyone here. Never thought about leaving, and don't like the
fuss of living in a big city. You know, we are interested to know about the USA. We know
it from films. Are there villages, places like this?”
I now see that curiosity was one reason Ivan decided to come.
“My wife is actually from a village about this size,” I tell him. “In a state called Ohio.
And she often talks about how much she liked growing up in a small, friendly place.”
“You know, when we were young, there was another life here. The tractor factory was
busy, people were rushing around. Something has changed. Now people try to live in the
big cities. But my friend Evgeni and I, we stayed. I'm not leaving this place. It's my moth-
erland. I was in the army. I served in the North Caucasus. Many of them would say how
much they love living in the big city. My grandmother always used to tell me people here
live a friendly life, live in houses in a village, know people. But we are losing that Russian
spirit. You have to understand, there used to be stability. Now I don't have this feeling.”
“Well, how did this stability get lost?”
“Remember, Ivan?” Evgeni says. “We were talking about this the other day.”
“Yeah, people in the Soviet Union lived at one economic level. Now we have division in
our society. And this division makes people tough, like beasts. Wealth has brought selfish-
ness. Wealth means a person is not helping his friend. This is what's being lost. I experi-