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Childhood Memories. 90s Russia

I usually post texts about the trips or cultural aspects in a light positive way. This post will be less optimistic, so if you want to stay away from negativity, just skip reading it.

I want to go back to my childhood and tell you about post-Soviet Russia. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, a pure chaos arrived. Everything what worked before collapsed, too, nothing was in order. Devaluation was immense, and the prices were rising unequally. There were the days, when the plain ticket and ice cream were of the same price. People were going mad. Crime was ruling, it became the power. Obedient Soviet people turned to uncontrolled monsters: frauds, murders, thefts, drugs. Massive immigration started, people were running away from this mess as far as they could.

But what was it like for a child?

I have to say, I was very lucky to be so small when it happened. I was only 6 years old, the age when you hardly understand how bad the reality you live in was… At that age, everything is just a game on a playground.

The strongest memory is hunger… constant hunger. The parents’ salary was enough only for 3 days of proper meal. After that, it was boiled potatoes with salt, no butter or anything else. Sometimes, we ate spaghetti with sugar to have some diversity. I remember my mother baking the bread because it was simply cheaper than buying it. We got some marinated vegetables from grandparents who lived in the south. At least in the south, people could grow food which was not possible to buy.

We lived 4 people in one room apartment: my parents, my brother and I. The flat was on the top floor in the gray block Soviet house, which was build in a hurry without any quality. Every time it rained, the water appeared in the corner of the room. It was not much flood thanks to an attic as a barrier. At some point, homeless people chose the attic as an overnight place. The problem was that they were fulfilling their toilet needs there as well… considering the quality of the building, the traces of that could be seen on the wall in the apartment…

Queues… They were everywhere, long and everlasting. We could spend hours waiting for stores, doctors, banks, administrative offices.

In childhood, you don’t know that there are alternatives, you don’t have comparison… Yet, it felt tough…

My Finnish and foreign friends love 90s parties, the music, the spirit. And I hate, truly hate. I have nothing against the music, but it brings me those weird memories, which I want to delete from my head…

Very often, people tell me that I have some childish naivity and approach to life. I guess it is a way to compensate for what you should have had in childhood…

This is probably the least coherent writing I ever shared due to fragmented memory and tense emotions, but definitely one of the most personal one.

If you are interested, I can continue the 90s Russia series and tell you about ads, frauds, crimes, music of that time.

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12 thoughts on “Childhood Memories. 90s Russia

  1. That is really interesting, you are the same age as my youngest son. It must have been hard for your parents. First of all it seemed great news to us in the west, but I think we could understand that a people who were used to bread always being the same price, knowing no other system, were unlikely to be rejoicing. I wonder how you came to be the person you are now?

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  2. Thank you for sharing your personal experience. It is interesting how children will normalize things because, as you say, they have no comparison, but it leaves it’s mark too. I’m sorry for the hard times for you, your family and for the Russian people. I appreciate you taking time to revisit these memories that are not happy ones for you. I think it’s important for all of us to hear of history and culture directly from people that live in it – good and bad. It helps to keep the bad things from happening again, and it helps various people and cultures relate to one another in a better way with good understanding.
    Especially as an American, day to day I am sheltered from ‘real news’ of the rest of the world right now. So many people are looking only for surface positive things or distraction. And all governments sway news politically. That’s part of why I like blogging. You get to ‘meet’ people across the world and hear their direct experiences and sometimes learn amazing things and/or feel very deeply with each other.
    I would like to read more about your experiences in this time period when you’re willing to write about it. And I actually think it is positive rather than negative because it is truth shared. Sharing times of difficulty allows for compassion and understanding and growth. Yes, please share with us.

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  3. This is very interesting to learn. Thanks for sharing and yes, I am interested to find out more. I cant even comprehend how life must be during those times. But I guess those experiences have made you what you are now, maybe even a stronger person.

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  4. Wow, Miss Elenka. Your whole post is (believe it or not) an endorsement of genuine capitalism. Not the Fat Cat kind that is so prevalent these but the value-for-value kind of free trading that exists in theory—and which works well in practise until Fat Cats distort it and we end up with either ‘Capitalism’ or Socialism or some other damned ‘ism’.

    In New Zealand we seem to have got it right—for now. (Effectively a funded semi-socialism.)

    I can imagine your childhood and what you went through … one of the most evocative images ever to come out of Russia is the photo of the statue of the dancing Stalingrad children in the shattered ruins of the city.

    As always it boils down to who has the biggest gun …

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  5. And yes, please … keep bringing those memories out and sharing them. Santayana famously stated that whoever doesn’t learn the lessons of the past is condemned to repeat them (words to that effect.)

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