mountains rising on both sides—and the ice is covered with more snow. Andrei is at full
throttle, and we're bumping over snowdrifts, with the back of the craft occasionally thrust-
ing back and forth like a violently wagging tail.
I can only imagine the Decembrists—some of whom were princes—going from their
royal surroundings in St. Petersburg to crossing this remote snowscape on horseback. If
anything drove home that they were beginning a new way of life—this, along with the
stinging cold, probably did the job.
After ninety minutes Andrei slows things down and pulls up to—well, not much. He
leaves us at an empty spot on the shore, promising that we are close to Baikalsk. We pay
him five hundred dollars, deciding his fee was enough without any additional tip. Maybe
this was a mistake. As he leaves us Andrei spins the rear of his hovercraft around, and the
big spinning wheel blows our luggage about ten feet into the air and into a snowbank.
We collect our things, and Sergei uses his cell phone to find a driver willing to pick us
up. It takes a while for them to locate us. Then we're on our way to meet our activist.
Taisiya Baryshenko is sixty-nine. She has short blond hair, bright red lipstick, tinted
glasses, and is wearing a blue sweatshirt and sweatpants as she brings us into her apartment.
It's a comfortable place, full of plants and stacks of books. She raised two daughters and a
son after she and her husband divorced.
“He started to drink. So I asked him to just leave us alone.”
Taisiya is quite a talker—the kind who picks up speed as she goes on, making it increas-
ingly harder to get a question in. But I'm impressed by her energy.
“Putin is the enemy of Baikal,” she says, insisting that the paper mill must close. “I've
lived here for five years now. And there are just few people who care.”
And apathy angers Taisiya as much as anything the government has or hasn't done.
She pulls us over to her computer and begins playing a video. It's her and a local tele-
vision reporter entering an apartment that's in horrendous condition—trash and old plates
of food are littered everywhere. “A two-year-old child died in here—he had been sleeping
on a board,” she says. No one in the community has held the family responsible, nor has
anyone shown much interest in the case.
“And so I made a video about it.”
Her Internet is slow. She says the authorities have hacked into her accounts, following
her activities, and things have moved slowly since.
“I'm trying to bring people around in some way. But many people aren't interested.
They are just waiting, waiting for something readymade to happen.”