Minsk Part I

A bomb went off on the Minsk metro the day before yesterday. Politics in Belarus can best be described as murky. The country has not historically had much luck. A third of the population died in WWII, Minsk, like everywhere else in the area, was flattened, then Chernobyl rendered much of its agricultural land unusable. The architects who rebuilt Minsk after the total destruction of the war must have asked themselves "what does Belarus have plenty of?" and the answer was clearly: space.

The scale of Minsk's buildings is simply mind-boggling. These buildings may seem a bit rabbit hutch-like to outsiders, but the people who live in these buildings, at least on the fourth or fifth floor upwards, have the most extraordinary views.

The result? Minsk is a city of people in flats in spectacularly huge but slightly grim buildings with breathtaking views of spectacularly huge but slightly grim buildings full of other people with spectacular views. Everyone must spend a lot of time staring back and forth at each other across the void.


More Peterburgers

The week I spent there with EveryChild gave me the opportunity to visit a number of families with a range of problems. I take my hat off to this lady, who was bringing up her three hyperactive sons single-handedly. They had suffered from serious health problems caused by an allergy, but were beginning to recover with some social support and once the source of the allergy was idenitified. The family was incredibly active, with boxes full of interesting items - a cat's skull, items of natural history collected in the countryside, collections of scientific interest. Music was a key part of their life. The mother deserved a medal for keeping the boys occupied. The eldest son will soon be starting to study art at Peterburg's world-renowned Hermitage.

Another family, another boy. He was very happy to pose with his toys - and the cat wanted some of the action too:

In Petersburg, like everywhere else the world over, family relations can be difficult sometimes:

I visited a hostel where children are able to stay whil their family are having problems - for example, while parents are in hospital and unable to care for the children. But some were there simply because they were able to get on with their parents.

A couple of the childrens' homes had been recently renovated.

And some homes hadn't seen renovation for a while.

This had nothing to do with the families I visited, except that it was near their building. But I liked this building. The legend on the side reads "Let's preserve the natural environment":-

Propiska in St Petersburg

I recently visited St. Petersburg, where I was working with EveryChild charity, taking pictures of St Peterburg families who have problems. EveryChild are doing some really fantastic work there, but it's a huge job. But what struck me most was how many social problems stem from the identity card and registration system (which used to be know as the 'propiska'). The Russian government use it as a way of controlling the population by stopping economic migrants moving to St Petersburg or Moscow where much of the big money is to be made. What it means is that there are two classes of society - those that have a Petersburg propiska, and those that don't. The latter are illegal immigrants in their own country, with no rights to social welfare, education, medical care or a job.

So many of Russia's problems stem from this old Soviet system of keeping control of the population by requiring registration and an internal passport - an identity card.