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

published on June 30, 2020


when kiddo starts training at 10 o'clock

in the morning in st Petersburg

it's 3:00 in the afternoon where the

above lives 4,500 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

will meet six people from six different


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 through them we discover

life in Russia from birth to death



this time our journey takes us from the


across the country to Siberia and then

to central Russia


at the cheddar poets metallurgical

combine days begin with an alcohol test

it's one of the obligatory safety

measures at this company which is one of

Russia's largest steel works


Demitri con cough is a process

technician at blast furnace number five

which is bigger than any blast furnace

in Europe it's a fiery giant more than

100 meters high iron ore and coke are

let in at the top of the structure

at the bottom it spews out molten crude

iron thirteen and a half thousand tons

every day what's special about our blast

furnace is that it runs all year long

day and night

the furnace is nicknamed civilian cow

which translates roughly as Nordic

Beauty although several young cos heat

isn't very Nordic her job is to give us

the smelting product crude iron that's

the material we earn our money with


just next door the crude or pig iron is

cleaned cooled pressed and shaped


ultimately it's used to make steel a

material that is essential in areas

ranging from construction to the gas

industry it's also central to economic

life and a symbol of Russia's heavy



I started here when I was 20 right after

the army it wasn't a random decisions

back then this was one of the best

industrial plants you could work at in

terms of the pay and the social benefits

still like that today Sava Janka

provides all of Russia with iron less

than half of the steel produced here is

exported blast furnace number five seems

to live breathe and sometimes to act up

when it first went into operation more

than 30 years ago it was served by more

than 700 workers today there are just

176 of them they take care of the

furnace and ensure that the blaze never

goes out


I'm a steel smelter from head-to-toe

first I worked as a smelter at the

runoff then as a gas worker then I got

further training and became a plant

operator I'm like a surgeon who operates

every day and is only seen as special by

outsiders for me this is everyday



with an output of more than 70 million

tonnes per year

Russia is the world's fifth biggest

steel producer meet sleek Hong Kong is

proud to be doing his small part to

contribute to that and to secure a

livelihood for himself and for his

family who we'll meet later


but first we're off to Siberia moving

five and a half thousand kilometers and

a generation onwards to Lake Baikal

here we meet a woman who is also proud

of her working life although it lies

awhile back




stop it yeah yeah both Morici OVA is 79

years old and for more than 20 years

she's been retired like more than 40

million others in Russia back when she

became a pensioner women retired at 55

and men at 60 since last year the

retirement age has been raised by five

years for both Baba Juba as she's

lovingly called by her family has been

living on her own since her husband died

more than 10 years ago you may think

that she has plenty of free time on her

hands but she isn't entirely alone in

her house on the lake she has four dogs

five cows two calves and four chickens

to take care of that takes up much of

her day

even so she still finds time to pursue a

passion of hers these are ice skates

from 1943 can you imagine

crazy 1943 and I still use them the

steel blades can be fastened to her

simple felt boots and they make you both

just as happy today as they did 70 years

ago when she put them on for the very

first time


to me ice means movement having

somewhere to go grottoes village without

the freddied

I put on the runners and skate around

the entire Peninsula

the peninsula is liubov Mauricio Vaz

homeland on the legendary Baikal


vast mysterious and with a touch of

melancholy Lake Baikal is sometimes said

to be a mirror of the famous Russian

song new buff says the lake gives her

hope and assurance wave girl Baikal is

everything I love to sing the songs

about its wind Buggles een hey magazine

moved away

the young lad doesn't have to swim far

it's wonderful


you buf says she is certain that Mighty

Lake Baikal will grant her a long life

at 79 years old she has just passed the

average life expectancy of Russian women

for men in Russia the average life

expectancy is 68 years ten years less

than in the EU but this average is

rising due in part to falling alcohol



Russians relation to death determines

how our next protagonist makes a living

we visit him in the Republic of

Bashkortostan in the town of tema Shova

1400 kilometers east of Moscow more than

18 million people died in Russia in

2019 even bhavan earns his living with a

burial tradition that is popular here

he makes gravestones with pictures of

the dead the portraits show the deceased

in the heyday of their lives

Evon makes and sells the tombstones

directly next to the cemetery


the products I make a special they're

hardly everyday zumar stuff in Russia a

person's gray is a place where their

life can be celebrated their social

status wealth and popularity here the

dead weather teachers athletes managers

or mafia are shown at their desks

dancing making music or going for walks


it's a way of summing up their lives and

even bobbin creates a memorial to them

for eternity


each eye is engraved here with a special

needle bit by bit setup whisker it took

me a week to complete this headstone

each client is different one says I want

to square one I don't need any figures

others tell me I don't like square ones

I need something like this everyone has

their own taste their own vision that

you this has been a tradition for

generations I guess somebody thought it

up it makes sense

Yvonne's profession is in demand in

Russia with its aging industrial society


one out of three Russians is over 50 and

although the number of people who died

in 2019 was lower than the previous year

the government has been raising the

alarm not enough people are being born

in Russia and the population is

shrinking forecasts say that in 15 years

that could be 12 million fewer Russians

alive than today even bobbin sees

himself as a mediator between the

generations gravestones are for the


they're for grandchildren and

great-grandchildren my children will

have me put on my headstone to tell the

next generation this was your grandpa

look at the other script varmitech

that's how we commemorate the dead to be


from the soul to industry the fiery

steel plant in Cherepovets

steel is hard and durable the stuff of

Russia stable future and meat leakin cog

presides over its production he's

responsible for the safe operation of

blast furnace number five for sever yuca

what I mind kicking it there's nothing

romantic about it and push the Mongols

cuz I what beautiful not watching first

of all my job is physically and

emotionally demanding anything can

happen so I have to be vigilant all the

time and things do happen as in every

industrial plant there have been a

number of incidents involving severe

Janka twelve years ago a device

malfunctioned and caused a fire on the

roof of the control room leaving one

person dead and several injured and this

year an explosion killed one of

Dimitri's co-workers we men have always

compared our blast furnace with a woman

with no sleep you see you have to watch

out how you approach her there were

times when my colleagues would shave

before they shut down the furnace for

repairs they wanted to make a good

impression you thought the girl so that

she wouldn't play tricks on the post

even Pablito stupid they can use that

sounds silly but it's true

for a long time Russia has tried to

modernize its economy and make its

industry more efficient but in the past

few years its growth rate has languished

well below that of other emerging

economies now the government wants to

make the economy expand faster than the

global average it's putting nearly 370

billion euros in two major national

projects to improve infrastructure over

the next five years

by 2020 for the year President Vladimir

Putin's current term in office ends

Russia wants to be among the five

biggest economies in the world and be

independent of foreign products for

reasons of national security

says the Kremlin a country has to be

able to defend itself to be independent

without the metallurgical industry that

would be unthinkable that's why our

plant is so important additionally we

sell steel and earn revenue with it we

create jobs pay taxes and raise Russia's

prosperity she however takes care of her

own livelihood the Euro both Morici Java

is an independent woman I have a son a

daughter and five grandchildren they

live in the city the city is Irkutsk

around 300 kilometers away and a five

hour drive from the bombs house but the

resilient ice skater knows long

distances from her childhood give a

beautiful starting in the first grade I

had to travel four kilometres to school

and four kilometres back on my skates

what duck miss game golf if there was no

ice we had to walk this school we kids

didn't like that so much but there

weren't any cars so we had

go by foot circus corn syrup is gone I

can't tell you how many times I nearly


once three of us were skating home there

was a crack in the ice I wanted to know

where it started so I kicked at it with

my skate and suddenly I fell into the


in January I just managed to reach out

with my arms so the other girls could

pull me out

my friend NADCA said Luba let's walk on

the shore otherwise your fries

the wind was freezing but in the forest

it was warmer and so I headed home and

walked and walked and arrived half

frozen when I got there my mother said

where were you I said I was at NADCA

studying all night Kazan your mother's

finding a you Buffs house is not easy

there are no signs or numbers only a

narrow unnamed path leads to it the

nearest settlement is called Yellin say

it's 60 kilometers away one and a half

hours by car it's a small town with just

four thousand residents half of them are

ethnic Russians the other half bori

'it's an indigenous mongolic ethnic



this part of Siberia is one of the most

economically disadvantaged areas in

Russia the official unemployment figure

for the country is just under five

percent here it's twice as high in



I don't have any neighbors but I'm not


other people should be afraid of me I

have a gun it doesn't shoot but I can

scare people with it from the peaceful

spot in Siberia back west to the

settlement of tema shol'va in the

republic of bashkortostan it has just

four thousand residents but 200 thousand

graves this is where most burials take

place from the nearby regional capital

oofah a city of 1 million stonemason

even bobbin lives next to the gigantic

cemetery with his wife marina and their

children we met at the cemetery I was

selling flowers I worked in the

personnel department and on the weekends

I sold flowers it was just to make money

on the side he drove up in his delivery

truck and asked me to marry him I felt

her energy and I knew she was the one

for me even bobbin is not the only

entrepreneur at the tema Shova Cemetery

gravestones are made in many of the

yards here and a sea of plastic flowers

extends along the approach to the

cemetery sold in bouquets these are

guaranteed to stay fresh for a long time

funerals are a lucrative business in

Russia it's one of the few branches of

the economy that is scarcely regulated

by the state

one of these gravestones costs 10,000

rubles around 125 euros the equivalent

of a month's average pension the

competition is stiff in this sensitive



at this fasten my work has to do with

people's souls you know what I mean

I think then you post emotion it's not

like repairing a car the clients come to

me with their pain they cry they tell me

everything get the dumper destitute I

take it all to heart and at such moments

I feel what I do is somehow Noble


at the cheddar poets' steel mill they

don't have time for nobility at blast

furnace number five Dimitri Kahn coughs

night shift is coming to an end



he takes a pragmatic view of his work if

the plant didn't exist my life would be

a lot harder I'm healthy and I have a

good head on my shoulders I could travel

and earn money elsewhere but it would be

more difficult I'd have to search a lot

and move often not that everything here

has been easy I've had to work hard

every year to get a raise many people in

Cheddar pool debts think like Dimitri

nearly 1/5 of Russia steel is produced

here more than 35 thousand of the city's

three hundred and fifteen thousand

residents are employed in the steel

business they earn an average seventy

thousand roubles a month the equivalent

of nine hundred euros nearly double what

people earn in many other professions

here in Cheddar projects


the stable incomes and social benefits

here are the reason people are peaceful


there's no unrest or protests here

neither whilst people around here earn a

decent living for their work and they

can count on getting their pay tomorrow

and the day after is after the bus is

out there sick there but not all

Russians see their future so

optimistically living standards are

going down in the country 135 percent

of the population lives below the

poverty line

that's nearly 20 million people

according to a study by an independent

polling Institute in 2019 more than half

of 18 to 24 year-olds want to leave the

country more than at any time in the

last decade but dmitri kalenkov says

it's not an issue for his children I'm

sure that I can pay for my son if he

wants to study at university and I can

look after my wife and daughter


but what does the situation look like

for older people Russia is more than 46

million retirees receive an average

pension of 15,000 rubles a month or 180

euros for many of them especially in the

cities that's hardly enough to survive



others like liubov Mauricio Java say

they can't complain the cost of living

is lower in the countryside than in big

towns and Baba Yuba certainly doesn't

have to pay for water when the Sun is up

she gets hers from Lake Baikal the

oldest and deepest freshwater reservoir

on earth look at the stones the water in

the lake is so clean that you can drink

it directly

let's go chase just Gucci I don't have

time to be bold there's always something

that needs doing but I'm not as strong

as I used to be I have back pains from

the hard work carrying water and

shoveling out the manure is hard and the

walls will be right for half a century

Lee above Morici OVA worked in a large

factory in Irkutsk like Dimitri in the

steel mill in cheddar profits

she learned several technical

professions on the job she worked as a

puncher a welder a lather operator and

later as a production engineer things


Matilda come here my darling your boss

remembers her working life in the Soviet

Union as the happiest years of her life

she's not alone in feeling that way

nostalgia for Soviet times is widespread

in Russia at the moment a recent

independent study found that 75 percent

of Russians view the Soviet era as the

greatest period in Russian history my

ribs are collapsing what's the matter

come on I'll feed you where were you you

moocher the moocher always shows up at

mealtimes and so do her friends


we leave this slice of bucolic life in

Siberia and return to the place where

death is part of daily routine to the

entrepreneurs at the cemetery one of the

rituals here is the open coffin it

enables relatives to see the face of the

deceased for the last time


the final route to the graveyard is

lined with small pine branches


even bobbin is familiar with all the

rituals but where he works

things are loud and busy several of the

graves at the tema Shova cemetery are

being remodeled

with our another

whatever that



those of what is here it meda my car the

Manzano as a reward this job isn't for


you think what's special about it it's

just a building site with cement but

I've had colleagues who had to quit

after one day at the cemetery all about


mystical mystical is a word which

doesn't carry much meaning for the

former factory employee and atheist knew

both Mauricio ma what's rubbish the

church and all that the priests dressed

in gold and silver it's not for me I

can't stand all of that but elsewhere

the Russian Orthodox Church is

experiencing a rebirth after decades of

suppression in the Soviet era 65 percent

of Russians surveyed say they consider

themselves believers

church leaders claim that number is more

like 80% in any case the strict

conservative worldview of Orthodox

Christianity is gaining influence in

Russian society lord have mercy

is the central prayer in the divine

liturgy services can last for several






I get you ski if you think about it

logically there's nothing up there your

soul doesn't fly up to heaven you die

and you're eaten by worms I'm at means

dealing with that means live with a

clear conscience live honestly and don't

harm anyone then everything will be fine

everything will be fine Dimitri Khan

Cobb says he lives in harmony with his

conscience and with the state he

believes in a strong Russia and in

Vladimir Putin whom he considers a

strong President Putin has governed

Russia for 20 years and he continues to

be the country's most popular politician

I respect Putin first of all he's a real

man I have a man's job in a team of real

men in Russia a real man is someone who

is reliable and every aspect of life

someone you can depend on someone who

pursues their goals loved is different I

love my wife and my daughter but I

respect Putin I respect him for his

endurance his resilience and his poise

alongside that praise for Vladimir Putin

the man meat recon Cove has a few

critical words for Russian politics

yeah amudha watts a podrobnosti I don't

want to go into geopolitical details

about the reunification of certain parts

of the land other actions abroad we have

enough problems in Russia itself like

our dying villages or developing our

farming I don't want us to import

cucumbers from China we should grow them


like in Soviet times but Dimitri does

not want Russia to be isolated from the

outside world like in Soviet times and

he does not want that for his children

after a few generations time we'll be

friends with other countries and we'll

respect each other in this place which

stands for past

there are also thoughts about the future

at the moment in the municipal cemetery

of Timur Shova it's about the fate of an

old gravestone which even Bhavan is

replacing with a new one

often the families of the dead can only

afford modest headstones immediately

after the burial later they are replaced

by costlier fancier versions the old

ones are broken up and placed inside the



the old headstone belongs in the ground

it needs to stay in the grave you can't

just throw it onto the trash heap right

Russians are believers in a study

carried out in 2017 42 percent of those

questions said they believed in life

after death it's no wonder that many

people have a special relationship with

cemeteries a graveyard is a holy place

there's no need to be afraid you should

be afraid in the city not here but over

in the steelmaking city of cheddar poets

Dmitri conk off also doesn't seem afraid


on the contrary he has found happiness

here in his professional and his

personal life

I'm gonna do is to the video I moved

here in 1997 with a single bag and now

thanks to my job I have everything that

you need to be happy a car apartment and

Adachi I have a wonderful family and

healthy children and relatives really

see me my sister so I think I'm a happy

man than you

my family is happy too we live in a good

country and life is good

look upon me my gorgeous mobile name

stay your gravy try a small study exceed

agua we the yours Maya more tips we

share babe I call

yob of morocco Devi's home is a mixture

of apartment and gotcha she has

everything to make her happy

according to Dimitri's definition and


will acquiesce Memphis cream cheese and

meat and there's fish in the lake

between gravestones and balloons to

visit even bobbin and his family in tema

Shova is to experience a blurring of the

border between his professional life and

his personal mission and that is what

makes him feel fulfilled honestly I feel

that my work brings me closer to God

that might have been an excellent final

statement for our film if it hadn't been

challenged by the life-affirming

pragmatism of you above Mora Chiluba

from Lake Baikal

this ludicrous some people are never

satisfied they think everything is bad

one wants a lot of money and other needs

a palace to live in three planks and a

roof a person doesn't need more than

that we're all going to die one way or

another even if you live in a palace and

that ends our encounter with Russia and

six generations of Russians between

birth and death we've heard their

stories full of joy and hope ups and

downs stories full of life





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