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Yuri Abramochkin


as I see her

photoalbum 1960–2013


I have been collecting and preparing this photo album throughout the last 50 years of my life as a reporter. Initially, I did not quite know why I was doing it. Now that the book has seen the light of day, I would like to thank all my heroes who have enabled me to take these photographs. I am sorry that circumstances have prevented me from photographing everything I wanted to. I hope that, in time, my work will become a photo chronicle of our times, my generation and my country. Yuri Abramochkin

Dmitry Stepanov, Ramil Sitdikov. 2011

My conscious life began at the time that would later come to be called the “thaw”. I lost my parents early. My grandmother was both mother and father to me. After finishing secondary school in 1953, I worked for a while as a geodetic specialist on construction sites, before getting a job as a photographer. I became genuinely interested in photography. An old FED camera my father had given me became an extension of myself. In 1957, I made my first photo report about the Moscow International Youth Festival. The photos were printed in the newspaper Nash Festival (Our Festival) and that sealed my choice of future profession. In 1961, I was hired by Novosti Press Agency (APN), a prestigious organisation that produced materials for foreign consumption and had a distinctive “Western” style. I was learning the ropes of my profession and the profession was teaching me to overcome adversity, value success while not getting big-headed, help my colleagues and rejoice in their success, too. I have always wanted to know how my photographs were perceived. When working on a portrait, I try to capture my subject’s inner state. If I succeed, the emotional impact of the picture can work miracles: all sorts of people start “speaking” with the photograph, as if immersing themselves in it. As a reporter, I gravitate towards situational “living” photographs. The main thing is to capture the moment. Reportage requires “a sense of the moment” from the photographer. One has to be able to foresee what is about to happen. A modern photo reporter is equipped with technology that enables him to upload pictures that have just been taken into information channels and reach the viewer/reader immediately. Communication becomes instant and authentic. Even if the photo correspondent approaches the subject with his own vision and attitude, time will sort out the material and put everything on the proper shelf.


Content Mikhail Gorbachev 6 Half a century of our life Andrei Nechayev 7 The man who captured light Genrikh Borovik 8 He comes from a tribe of masters Alexander Yurikov 9 “The Golden Eye” 10 The main square 48 The first to photograph the first man in space 64 The Thaw and other manifestations of fickle weather 98 From stability to stagnation 198 2600 days in power 226 A radical at the Kremlin 252 Waiting for a century that has already come 328 The roads that choose us 334 About the author

Half a century of our life Reflecting on the past is part of human nature. Even when planning for the future, people always proceed from memories of the past. This is their experience, experience of work, of dealing with people, emotional experience. No wonder diaries and memoirs are such a popular genre. But there is one special type of memory – photographs. Each of them not only packs in a vast amount of information. It stirs emotions, brings back associations, conjures up vivid memories of events. Of course, this only happens when you see the work of a true master. Yuri Abramochkin’s album “A Flight Through Time” is just such a collection of highly professional photographs. I have known Yuri Abramochkin personally for a long time. Mikhail Gorbachev He is known in and outside Russia as one of the best in his profession. He is at once a zestful photo reporter and an artist with a deep insight into what he photographs. Yet I would like to single out one of the author’s features: for all the seemingly dispassionate nature of  the photo lens, one cannot but feel that these are the works of a deeply committed man. A patriot of his country, Yuri Abramochkin experiences deeply its joys and sorrows; he photographs with his heart. This is clearly seen in his work. His new book could be called “our country’s family album”. It has already been published (and well received) in Russia, and now interested people in America, Europe and other parts of the world can see the English-language edition. The photographs are accompanied by comments, brief explanations or the author’s personal assessments of the events reflected in the album. But, for the most part, the pictures speak for themselves and do not need to be translated into verbal form. Anyone who takes this book in his hands will understand and feel more deeply what our country, first the Soviet Union and now the Russian Federation, was like and what it is like today, during the recent turbulent decades. The middle of that historical period included the times of Perestroika and Glasnost, which were ushered in by me and my colleagues in the Soviet leadership. Yuri Abramochkin offers his own vision of the big turning point that, for all the difficulties and contradictions, brought freedom and democracy to our country, averted the nuclear threat and put an end to the Cold War. This book reviews the milestones in the country’s political history from Khrushchev and Brezhnev to Yeltsin and Putin. But the focus is on people – both ordinary and not so ordinary. Here are photos of workers and peasants, official Agitprop photos and thoroughly informal and very vivid pictures. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, aircraft designer Tupolev, the singer Anna Netrebko, conductor Gergiev. We see lyrical photographs of romantic couples; children shot from various angles; war veterans during Victory Day celebrations; Brezhnev’s funeral, then Andropov’s and then Chernenko’s; the opening up of the Virgin Lands and the famous Dneproges hydroelectric power plant. When we open Yuri Abramochkin’s photo album, half a century of our life passes before our eyes so vividly, as if it all happened only yesterday. Many of his works can already be considered classics. Yuri Abramochkin – man and artist – has made a distinctive contribution to the chronicle of our country in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

With ex-President of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev. 2001

With Donbass coal miners. 1976

With Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. 2007

Mikhail Gorbachev

With the Patriarch of the Russian chess school Mikhail Botvinnik. 1963


The man who captured light When you look at Yuri Abramochkin’s photographs, the words “Photo Chronicle of an Era” come to mind. I do not like this journalistic cliché but the fact is that Yuri Abramochkin’s works do add up to a portrait of the country’s life over several decades. It seems there was no major event in the history of the USSR and Russia that remained unrecorded by this remarkable master’s camera. The conquest of outer space, opening up of the Virgin Lands, the Brezhnev era of stagnation and Gorbachev’s perestroika, the collapse of the USSR and the difficult economic reforms of the 1990s, and, finally, our complicated and contradictory times: all this has been reflected in the works of Yuri Abramochkin. He is deeply civic-minded. A talented artist, Abramochkin can make wonderful and perceptive photographs of nature. Yet his credo is reporting Andrei Nechayev from the thick of events. Such pictures cannot be taken in a study or studio, in the countryside or at a Kremlin reception. He lives side by side with his heroes, works and rejoices together with them. Yuri Abramochkin has a very important quality. He loves the people he is photographing – no matter whether it is the world’s first man in space, the leader of the Cuban Revolution or a fisherman on the shores of Lake Baikal. I think it is because of his interest and his empathy with his subjects that his photographs are not official statues but living, breathing portraits. Behind each of them is the subject’s personality and character. For half a century, Abramochkin was a member of the “Kremlin pool” of photo journalists, this enabling him to travel all over the world with his camera. He photographed Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Castro, Nixon, Queen Elizabeth, Thatcher, Gandhi and many other historic personalities. There is hardly a major political leader of the second half of the 20th century whose photograph has not found its way into Abramochkin’s photo archive. Plus cosmonauts, famous designers, scientists, writers, artists, musicians and actors. He had access to the “holy of holies” and many of his photographs are totally unique. Lady Luck and his own foresight enabled him to be in the right place at the right time. Even so, he also had to find the right angle, catch the light and, most important, press the button at the right time. Looking at these photographs, we understand that their author is a Master writ large. Abramochkin brings sincere respect to his photographs of the “great and good of this world”, but there is no trace of sycophancy or trembling hands. That is why we see living people, with their human foibles, problems and joys. He can inject a note of gentle irony in portraying his heroes, irrespective of their social status, but he never allows himself disrespect, familiarity or tactlessness. Abramochkin is a photo reporter, not a paparazzi. His works are interesting for history but not for glossy magazines or the gutter press. He is sincerely proud of his Homeland and shares its trials and tribulations. You only have to put side by side the photographs of the military parade on Red Square or a flea market at the Luzhniki Stadium to realise that they were taken by a person who takes the fate of his country close to his heart. If somebody feels he is too enthusiastic about the Soviet past and critical of the post-perestroika times, he may be right up to a point. Well, the author is entitled to his own opinion. He has seen a lot during the fifty years that he has been on the frontline with his camera and I take off my hat to him. Yuri Abramochkin is also a brilliant story-teller – and he has a lot to tell. Behind each of his photographs is the history of his country. And Abramochkin is not just a wellspring of reminiscences; he is a profoundly erudite and creative man. Take the trouble to read the author’s captions to his photographs and you will learn a lot of interesting things. It is great that this album has seen the light of day. But I know that the author has lifted the veil off only a small portion of his wealth. Do not stop, Yuri.

At a Novosti Press Agency photo exhibition. 1961

With Fidel Castro. 1976

With Juan Carlos I. 2005

Professor Andrei Nechayev, first Minister of Economics of Russia With Yuri Lyubimov. 2007


He comes from a tribe of masters

Genrikh Borovik

The tribe of photographers, more precisely photo journalists, is a very special one. Of course they are journalists – but with a difference. I began my journalistic career in the early 1950s, working for the illustrated magazine Ogonyok, one of the most popular magazines at the time. It was arguably the best loved magazine. That is why I am well versed in this profession. Yuri Abramochkin had yet to appear on the horizon; he was still at school. But about ten years later, his name began appearing in magazines and newspapers. And soon the readers buying a magazine or a paper at a kiosk were looking for Yuri Abramochkin’s photographs. The young Abramochkin, who never thought about journalism and dreamt of being a builder, suddenly discovered that he had not just a photo correspondent’s sharp eye, but the mental frame

of a journalist. This came as a surprise not only for the readers of magazines and newspapers, but for Yuri Abramochkin himself, then a very young man. When he found he had these qualities, he dropped out of the construction institute and became a photo journalist. His works often compared favourably even with the work of major Soviet masters. In his pictures, people do not pose; they are themselves. Even at official functions, he managed to take photographs of living people, people like you and me. What is it? An artist’s flair? Luck? Accident? I think one should put it down, above all, to the author’s love of life, people and ordinary situations, something that even recognised photo masters neglected at the time. Red Square, every nook and cranny of which seems to have been photographed by hundreds and thousands of correspondents, presents us with very down-to-earth, moving and previously unknown details. During Mikhail Gorbachev’s meeting with Ronald Reagan and George Bush in New York, Abramochkin photographed them not in formal talks at the table but after the official part was over, when the three leaders strolled along the bank of the East River. The photo gives an instant insight into the relations between the three leaders. A four-year-old girl demonstrates to her happy mother how elegantly she can lift her leg. And we don’t need any captions to know that the daughter is a future ballerina. Our hearts go out to her. Of course, Yuri Abramochkin shows not only joy but also sadness, all aspects of life. Yet, on balance, his photographs give us the joy of being aware of the great miracle that is our life in the boundless and still mysterious Universe. I would like to congratulate in advance all those who see and read this new book, Yuri Abramochkin’s album, take part in his master class and look at another remarkable exhibition of his work. His photographs teach us to understand life.

With Mireille Mathieu. 2005

With Marshal Ivan Konev. 1965

With world chess champion Anatoly Karpov. 1979

Genrikh Borovik, writer

With the first Russian President, Boris Yeltsin. 1990


“The Golden Eye” Some people photograph with a “point-and-shoot”, some with a digital reflex camera. Yuri Abramochkin photographs with his heart. For many years, he worked with the one of our official structures, Novosti Press Agency, initially Sovinformburo. He profited from all the opportunities the job opened up to him: a pass that gave him access to off-limits places, travel to any part of the country and abroad, and the opportunity to approach the mighty of this world within photographing distance… But he did not become a court photographer puffed up with a sense of his own importance. Yes, he has photographed party secretaries, generals and presidents, leaders and kings, world stars and People’s Artists. But, in his photographs, they come across as, above all, human beings with Alexander Yurikov their own characters, manners and habits. And he photographed a lot of people not burdened by high ranks or titles or government decorations. They sow and harvest grain, build houses and dams, go into outer space, never thinking that they would become legends; they fall in love, give birth to and raise children. They were oblivious of the camera in Yuri Abramochkin’s hands, which is why his photographs ring true to life. Abramochkin differs from your common-or-garden variety of “protocol photographer”, because he can be in the right place at the right time. Such instances cannot be many, but they bring professional recognition and glory. Among his numerous awards, Yuri Abramochkin is rightly proud of the World Press Photo International Contest Prize (1987). The photograph is that of Mathias Rust during his trial. How did he manage to take a photo of a German air hooligan who had landed his midget aircraft on Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge near Red Square having lunch with his guard? The award is called “Golden Eye”, and one could not think of a better nickname for my friend. Having avoided the trap of stately halls, Abramochkin also managed to resist being seduced by the world of glamour. He photographed global idols in a way that penetrated their costumes and plumage, the thick layer of make-up, to reveal if not the soul, at least the character. Look at the photograph of Boney M in Red Square. The singers and dancers look like high school students who had had a drink too many at a graduation party. The aura of the magnificent place that casts its spell on everyone within its shadow convinces that the stars on top of the Kremlin towers are much bigger than any other stars. But let us not forget that, for many decades, we had a watchdog organisation that assessed the work of every artist. This was the local Party Committee. On one occasion, Yuri Abramochkin was accused of propagating bourgeois culture and a meeting of the Party cell decided to issue a written reprimand to him. By the standards of the time, that might have jeopardised the photographer’s career. However, a telephone call from on high came to the agency’s Party Committee and a voice at the other end said: “You’ve got to be mad”. So the author was allowed to go on working as before. Which means working fast and with real talent. If it is true that each photograph is partly a portrait of the author, I advise you to look at the photographs of children, at which Abramochkin excels. Like children, he never stops wondering at what he sees and he helps us see it, too. I think his photographs leave space, as it were, for those who look at them. I feel as if I could sit down on the ramp next to the two legendary aircraft designers, Tupolev and Ilyushin, and look up close at the stars of Heroes of Socialist Labour on their lapels. I can walk unnoticed on the red carpet behind the world’s first cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and bask in the warmth of his smile, addressed to the whole world. There is even room for me on the stand of the Lenin Mausoleum, somewhere in the corner behind a marshal’s broad back… In his work (and I have often gone with him to a “site” to prepare the caption for his photograph), Yuri is like a bulldozer sweeping away all logistical, time or geographical barriers. There is a mission and he must fulfil it. And he will. Abramochkin is a professional with a “golden eye” and a throbbing human heart. Alexander Yurikov, journalist

With Academician Mikhail Lavrentiev. 1966

With Urho Kekkonen. 1978

With fellow photographers. 1966

With sculptor Zurab Tsereteli. 2004


The main square

Atop the Kremlin Wall. 1966


I went to Red Square at least twice a year to photograph the 1 May demonstration and the demonstration on October Revolution Day on 7 November. Gradually, the place began to draw me. I developed a taste for its dayto-day life, photographing everything that struck me as interesting. Yet it was becoming ever more austere and forbidding under my eyes. In the 1960s, it was open to traffic, but was closed later on. At one time, smoking was forbidden on the square. I was curious to learn about its details, including the huge clock on the Spasskaya Tower by which our country lives in a direct and metaphorical sense. I was allowed inside the tower and climbed to the very top. I was amazed at the clock’s gigantic mechanism of the clock. I still cannot forgive myself for missing that shot. My only consolation is that I photographed the face of the clock with half of it in the sun and the other half in shadow. One face was in the dark and the other in the light. That happened at a time when one state had morphed into another, conferring a symbolic meaning to my photograph. Further changes that occurred in the country in the early 1990s turned the square into the epicentre of modern history, with spontaneous mass rallies and unwonted cultural and sporting shows, including rock concerts and ice hockey matches. But Red Square remains a place for commemoration and celebration, honours and mourning, a symbol of the might of Moscow and the state. That is why it has always been, with varying degrees of success, seized and subjugated, built up and rebuilt, beautified and glorified. It is high time to forego commercial benefits and see how to revive and preserve it, with due respect for the special spirit that has always imbued Red Square, the country’s main square.

The Kremlin Clock. 1987


Sports Parade is a typical feature of the 1960s, with all the attributes of the time. 1964


I met this boy in Red Square. A solitary figure, it was as if he were in a trance. I did not immediately realise that the kid had probably been left there by his parents, who were making a quick visit to the GUM department store. I unsheathed my camera and pressed the button. Soon his worried mum and dad appeared. Everybody was happy. And I keep this photograph as one that began my own history of Red Square. It continues to this day. 1963


View of the Kremlin, Red Square and Alexandrovsky Garden. I had long wanted to take a bird’s eye photograph. Finally I had the chance, though it did not come my way easily. In Moscow, in order to take a bird’s eye photograph, one has to secure a special permit. No such permit is needed in New York. In Paris you have to pay a small charge for every camera brought into Notre-Dame de Paris. Nobody will ever have a chance to take a picture from this spot. The former Intourist Hotel, from which I took it, has been replaced by the new RitzCarlton Hotel, which is not so tall. And other changes have taken place since I took that photograph. The Iberian Gate and Chapel have been restored. The Moskva Hotel was pulled down and what was supposed to be a carbon copy of it was built in its place. The Rossiya Hotel was demolished almost overnight… An underground retail centre blocked the traffic lanes on Manezh Square. 1987



I took this picture with a traffic policeman in 1962. Several years later, cars were no longer permitted to cross the square. And in the intervening period, the mix of cars in Russia changed from the Volgas, Moskviches and Pobedas seen in this photograph, now vintage items, to foreign-made cars.


Policeman in Red Square – not only a guardian of the law. Very often he acts as an enquiry office for out-of-towners. 1999


I shot this military parade from the top of the History Museum in 1964. The photograph attracted world-wide interest not so much because of its austere character as because it was taken at the height of the nuclear rivalry between Moscow and Washington. At the time, the US was ahead of the USSR, but it reacted anxiously to any public display of Soviet weaponry. For his part, Nikita Khrushchev


missed no opportunity to scare the West with rockets, which “we churn out like sausages”, and occasionally demonstrate them. That was why my photograph was taken up as proof of our advances. But the Kremlin was conducting its own play, while the Pentagon used it as a pretext for beating out more appropriations for the military-industrial complex.


1982. Blessed times. Twice a year, on the eve of the “sacred” holidays of 1 May and 7 November, the authorities published inspiring theses in all the newspapers. They were put on banners and set targets for everyone. You see one of the last manifestations that I photographed from the top of St. Basil’s. The picture was to be further proof of the unity of the state and the people, an idea that would soon turn out to be fiction.



Official delegations usually laid wreaths in front of the Lenin Mausoleum before the doors were opened for ordinary folk. People stood in line for hours in any weather to see the leader’s body and never thought of it as time wasted. Every Soviet person felt he had to make this pilgrimage. In 1987, I was engaged in the international project “One Day in the Life of the Soviet Union” and got an assignment to photograph anything of interest that might happen inside the Kremlin


on that day. For the first time, I met with no obstruction. From the top of Spasskaya Tower, I saw people queuing to see the mummified body of our leader. I felt that the stream of people was almost part of the square’s architecture. Next to the square, at the Lenin Museum, Lenin’s statue arrested the attention of a youthful visitor. The museum was shut down in October 1993 and its collection was handed over to the History Museum. 1967



A sports festival in Red Square. The key slogan says: “Glory to the Motherland of October [Revolution]”. However, the traditional Soviet symbols – the Hammer and the Sickle – hide the faces of the event’s participants. According to Soviet ideology, work was always more important than the labourers themselves. 1977


A formidable Soviet weapon, the Voyevoda intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead. This was our first missile that could reach America. 1966.

Behind the Kremlin Wall is the famous Tsar Cannon, which once stood in Red Square. Luckily, neither the former nor the latter were ever fired. I will divulge a great secret. The missiles that are displayed during parades have no charges and the nuclear warheads are mock-ups. 1967



This is how the Kremlin’s Sobornaya Ploshchad (Cathedral Square) appears from Ivan the Great Bell Tower. The cathedral in the centre of the picture is the Annunciation Cathedral, built by Pskov architects in late 15th century. 1987


You see the shadow cast by the famous Ivan the Great Bell Tower. The 81-metre tower was the tallest structure in Moscow until the late 19th century. To take this picture, I availed myself of a rare permit to climb it: as a rule, no one was permitted to do that. 1987


Not everybody knows about the existence of a memorial Kremlin Cemetery in Red Square. Behind the Mausoleum, there are the graves of ordinary champions of Soviet power who died during the Revolution and those of prominent Soviet leaders. Delegations come here to pay tribute to the Soviet leaders Sverdlov, Kalinin, Frunze, Stalin, Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko… Busts by famous sculptors top the USSR leaders’ graves.

Set in the Kremlin wall are urns with the ashes of prominent leaders of the international workers’ movement who died in the early years of Soviet Russia. They include the American John Reed, author of the famous documentary book about the October Revolution titled “Ten Days That Shook the World” and the French woman Inessa Armand, thought to have been Lenin’s mistress.

Other urns contain the remains of outstanding Soviet leaders, including Marshals Georgy Zhukov and Konstantin Rokossovsky, as well as heroes and scientists who made an outstanding contribution to the country’s defence, exploration of the Arctic and of outer space. Among them are Valery Chkalov, Yuri Gagarin, Igor Kurchatov, Sergei Korolyov and Mstislav Keldysh… Moscow. 1987


A protestor tears up a portrait of “Lenin himself� in front of the Kremlin, while passers-by pay no attention. Just a couple of years earlier, insulting Lenin in this way would have been considered hooliganism bordering on crime. 1990

Marx, Engels and Lenin, the main Soviet ideologists, look down indifferently on efforts to clean-up Red Square after a parade. 1989




Boney M, one of the first Western disco groups, toured the USSR and willingly posed for me in the country’s main square. My series of photos of its concerts in Moscow was printed in the German magazine Der Stern. It brought the agency a substantial sum in hard currency and it brought me… the threat of a party reprimand “for propagating bourgeois culture and morals.” It took a call from the Kremlin to APN to put an end to that absurd “case”. 1978

I shot this scene by chance. The photograph turned out to be unexpected. But I could never find out who the girl was, frozen on horseback in front of the monument to Marshal Zhukov. 2006


Concert of the National Symphony Orchestra of the USA devoted to Russia’s resurgence. The conductor is the great Russian musician and citizen of the world Mstislav Rostropovich. 1993

The era of democratisation opened up Red Square for grandiose rallies and manifestations. 1992



2001. Veterans of the Great Patriotic War, participants in the legendary 7 November 1941 parade, walk slowly through Red Square. At that time, German troops were within a few dozen kilometres of Moscow. It was a dramatic time. A full-scale parade with army bands was staged in Moscow to boost the morale of the armed forces and the people and broadcast live to the whole world on the radio. Stalin is on top of the Lenin Mausoleum. These people will go from Red Square straight to the frontline. Of the 30,000 who marched on the flagstones, only a few would survive the terrible battle for the capital and reach Berlin, to go down in history as Victors.




Change brings new visitors to Red Square, often appearing symbolical. 2005


Marathons, cycle and car races: all sorts of sporting events take place around the Kremlin. Some of them threaten to become regular. 1995


The legendary hockey match between Russian and Canadian superstars. The organisers felt that it had to take place in the very heart of the capital. Every winter from then on, Red Square has been a skating-rink, which does no good to the stone pavement and diminishes the historic significance of this unique place. I cannot imagine anything like this happening in the central squares of Paris, London or Rome. 2005


This is how the Lobnoye Mesto is decorated on holidays today. Contrary to legend, it was never a place of execution; in fact, the Tsars’ decrees were read out from it. Through the flags, the unique clock on the Kremlin’s Spasskaya Tower can be glimpsed. The clock is used by the whole nation to get the precise time. 2001

The unusually hot weather and wildfires that struck Russia’s central regions for the first time in a thousand years could not quash tourists’ interest. Moscow. The summer of 2010




The pealing of church bells wafts over Red Square, filling it with the energy of Purification. Orthodox Russia has, from time immemorial, been famous for the pealing of its various-sized church bells. The church bells were treated as living creatures, each having its own special voice and history. The histories turned into legends, handed down from generation to generation. Some of these have come down to us. The purpose of the bell is to call people together to defend against enemies and natural disasters or to solve important issues. It also calls people together for holidays and church ceremonies. The peal was different for every occasion. The more powerful the sound – the more respect for the city. The more skilful the bell ringer and the more beautiful the sound – the more prestigious the church. If such a bell were to break, it was thought to be a calamity for the city and its people. That is why enemies tried to destroy the church and its bell tower as quickly as possible, to deprive the city of communication, of the language that unites people. Church bells ring all over the country today, calling for unity and harmony. 1994


The first to photograph the first man in space With Yuri Gagarin. 1961


In May 1961, I was summoned to the editorial office. “Pack your case at once; you are flying south. They’ll explain the mission to you on the plane. It’s an important one.” There were five of us at the airport: correspondents from Pravda, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Krasnaya Zvezda and myself, representing APN. We boarded an Il-14 plane and were told that we were flying to meet Yuri Gagarin. We were brought to the Sochi sanatorium where Yuri was resting. Journalists started asking him questions and I took pictures. Some people in track suits were milling around – it turned out they were future cosmonauts. Our session was soon cut short, however, and the film was taken away from us. We were furious. A stranger in an open-necked shirt approached us. He heard our “rantings” and smiled. “The journalists were brought here by decision of the Party Central Committee”, he told the guards. “Give them back the film, and God forbid you to lose any of them, they answer for them with their heads.” Our saviour turned out to be Sergei Korolyov, the spacecraft Chief Designer. In the morning, my colleagues flew away to Moscow. I was left alone. I went for a walk and saw Gagarin sitting on a bench. “Take your pictures quickly”, he said, “the medical people may be here any minute and there will be no more photographs”. I took several snaps of Gagarin in his holiday hat. It taught me a lesson: the main thing in my profession is always to have my camera with me. Yuri emerged from the meeting with the doctors with his head bandaged. I did not ask him any questions but started taking snap shops at once. This is the story of the photograph of the cosmonaut with his head bandaged near the ZIS 110 limousine. I managed to be photographed together with him. On my return to Moscow, I surrendered all the undeveloped negatives to the secret First Department. The most interesting shots with Gagarin and future cosmonauts were not returned to me. It was only several years later that I got some of them back. Looking through my archive in 2004, I decided to put them on public view for the first time. The Soviet-made DS-2 colour film and A-2 black and white film had decayed over time but computer processing saved the photographs. It is amazing that Gagarin’s famous smile looks as if it were photographed just yesterday.

Yuri Gagarin. Sochi. 1961


In the spring of 1961, I again photographed the first cosmonaut and the famous dog Belka, which went into outer space before Gagarin, in August 1960



The cosmonaut’s father, Alexei Gagarin, at his home in Gzhatsk with Yuri’s relatives. The town, located 180km to the south of Moscow, is now named after Gagarin. 1961


You have to pay with your time for popularity. The sculptor’s first session. Sochi. 1961



A routine workout: it will be the cosmonaut’s routine for life. Sochi. 1961

Yuri Gagarin with General Nikolai Kamanin, Hero of the Soviet Union, in Zvyozdny Gorodok (Star City), Moscow region. A cosmonaut training centre is located here. 1961


Gagarin with his mother, grandmother and older sister. The photo was taken near the new house built almost overnight to replace his father’s hovel. The father is not in the frame. Alexei Gagarin had had a good drink to mark his son’s arrival. Gzhatsk. 1961


With wife Valentina at Sochi sanatorium. Looking through post. Letters arrive from all over the country. 1961


Morning walk with his wife. Sochi. 1961


With Valentina and their first child Galina. Moscow. 1961


Nikita Khrushchev and other national leaders welcoming cosmonaut 2 German Titov, to the left of Gagarin. August 1961


Cosmonauts Andrian Nikolayev (left), Yuri Gagarin and German Titov at Central Television. Moscow. 1964


Space Heroes Alley is next to the National Exhibition Centre. It commemorates in bronze and granite the cosmonauts who overcame gravity: Yuri Gagarin, Valentina Tereshkova and those who followed them. Opposite their sculptures are those of the founders of the Soviet aerospace industry: Sergei Korolyov, Valentin Glushko and Mstislav Keldysh. The cosmonauts seem to be thanking the scientists for the opportunity they received to see our planet


from outer space. The figure of the scientist who founded space exploration, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, symbolically opens the Memorial Space Exploration Museum, which is topped by a 110 metre stella made of polished titanium. It was erected to mark the launching of the first artificial Earth satellite in the USSR on 4 October 1957. Taking pride of place in the museum is the spaceship in which Yuri Gagarin circled the Earth and from which he bailed out on landing.

I climbed into the first Mir orbital research station, which Moscow launched in 1986 and which survived until 2001. I looked at the space suits and space products, all kinds of tubes and pills. I walked around the Soviet Lunokhod (Moon Rover), which worked on the Moon for almost a year beginning in 1970. At least two copies were built of all the spaceships at the time. Lunokhod’s double now stands in the museum. Next to it, under a magnifying glass, is another unique exhibit –

twenty-five specks of dust delivered from the Moon. It is a living museum, where one can meet cosmonauts and watch documentaries. For children, of course, there is nothing like playing at space flight. To sit in the cosmonaut’s chair and use a remote to “dock” your spaceship to another. With luck, one can take part in the work of the Mission Control Centre and have a radio session with the crew that is actually flying on the International Space Station. 2009


A business trip to Siberia. 1964

The Thaw and other manifestations of fickle weather In my mind, the Khrushchev era is primarily associated with Yuri Gagarin’s flight and the conquest of outer space. As well as the Virgin Lands, the length and breadth of which I travelled with my camera to become immersed in its atmosphere. It is also associated with movement by large masses of people all over the country and a grandiose housing construction programme. And with the measure of free expression and art freedom experienced by the intelligentsia. It was as if the doors to normal life had been opened. Like many of my contemporaries, I was surprised to learn about Nikita Khrushchev’s secret report to the 20th CPSU (the Communist Party of the Soviet Union) Congress condemning Stalin’s cult of personality and the Soviet regime’s mass reprisals. At the same time, I noticed that policemen stopped calling at our communal flat at night and asking the occupants if they had noticed anything suspicious in the behaviour of their neighbours.” The Kremlin declared a policy of peaceful coexistence with the capitalist world. First contacts with the West were established. Some ordinary people, after being screened by the Party, managed – by some a miracle – to go on a group tour abroad. Our people reacted enthusiastically to Khruschev’s promise that “the present generation of Soviet people will live under Communism”. Communism was to be reached in 1980. The country watched with interest as the Soviet leader made his first trip to the USA, where he discovered maize, the “queen of farmland”. Upon his return from America, he had it planted in the USSR even in areas where it could not grow. Later, it turned out that Khrushchev had brought nuclear weapons to Cuba, which triggered a world crisis. Our leader also threatened to show the West “Kuzma’s mother” and became famous throughout the world by pounding his shoe on the speaker’s rostrum at the UN. The authorities soon decided that the gulp of freedom we had was a bit too much. Nikita Khrushchev personally slammed the abstract painters and modernist poets. He promised “real frosts” to the writer Ilya Erenburg, whose story “The Thaw” gave its name to that period. Because Khrushchev constantly swung from one side to the other and was feared by the apparatchiks, they got rid of him. His reaction was philosophical: “For the first time, a Soviet leader is replaced by a simple vote.”


Nikita Khrushchev. 1962


Khrushchev’s advent generated hopes. People wanted to take an active part in the life of society. 1962

At last, people from all over the country had a chance to see the capital and Red Square. 1963



Hitching a ride‌ to Siberia. 1963


On Khrushchev’s initiative, the country committed itself to developing heavy industry. New construction projects brought hundreds of thousands of people eastward, beyond the Urals mountains. They had to be accommodated. Industrial construction got underway of five-storey, walk-up apartment blocks made of prefabricated blocks, later christened “Khrushchevki”. They mushroomed all over the country, beginning from Moscow’s Cheryomushki neighbourhood. The USSR would lead the world

in terms of the volume of housing construction. People from Central Russia go to Siberia with their families in search of a better life. If they carry suitcases, they are city folk. The villagers carry their belongings in bundles, boxes and bags. They had no suitcases in the villages. Instead, people had strong heavy trunks passed on like heirlooms from generation to generation. The trunks were left behind. The women bore the brunt of moving house and settling down in a new place. Most of the men had died in the War. 1964


Such “droplets” appeared on mighty Siberian rivers. Timber was rafted down the rivers. This picture was taken from a helicopter over the Siberian river Yenisei. 1964



People had to be fed somehow… A slogan was offered: “We shall develop the Virgin Lands of Kazakhstan and South Siberia”. But, for now, the future Virgin Lands pioneers see only a weedcovered wilderness. 1962




Kustanai Region, Kazakhstan. 1962. Trucks with grain from the Virgin Lands waiting to be unloaded at elevators. A bumper harvest has been brought in. The country will have enough bread. Actually, the trucks are idle because of poor work organisation. Collective farm managers are in the field every day from early morning. They watch the harvesting process. But the enthusiasm and managerial skill of some were marred by the sloppiness of others. A lot of the harvested grain was lost.


A work team returns from the field, each carrying a water melon. This is now permitted. But, until recently, under Stalin, a collective farmer was liable to be sent to prison for stealing a few ears of corn. Astrakhan Region. 1965



Young people come to the Virgin Lands. Kustanai Region. 1962


The children grow up healthy and well-fed. 1965


To each his own road. Kurgan Region, Western Siberia. 1962


Everyday life in the Virgin Lands. Kurgan Region, Western Siberia. 1962


No Russian village can live without its accordion player. Yaroslavl Region. 1964

Fishing season. Astrakhan. 1965



Linen is habitually washed in the Volga. Of course, washing machines would appear here in due course but people would still come to the Volga. Kostroma. 1964



A junction on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Who are these latter-day Itinerants? Most probably, they are builders or gold-diggers, in short, working people. At any rate, they are not merchants or speculators. The whole country is on the move. Many problems crop up. One of them is the shortage of seats on public transport. The problem is still there. The places may be available but not everyone can afford them. 1964


Commander Islands. Bering Island. People prefer to reach the mainland by air. 1967


The Soviet state took care of children, their upbringing, education, vocational training and even leisure. Only now that we have lost all this can we really appreciate the results of changing a political system.

Heading for school with a younger brother. Moscow. 1962


Aircraft modelling circle at the Young Pioneer Palace. Moscow. 1963


The country is learning. One can get a university degree not only on full-time but also evening courses, after work. And also by correspondence. All of it for free. We are rightly proud of our education and the fact that people want to have an education. Naturally, the schools, technical colleges, institutes and universities are full. Just


like this auditorium, where lectures are given for correspondence students at the Plekhanov Institute. Moscow. 1969 Alas, the situation is changing dramatically. We are losing interest in knowledge and pride in the values of our education system. Money and career, not knowledge, come first. The

best Russian higher educational institutions yield their place to prestigious foreign colleges. Knowledge tests turn into mere technical points counting. This is a subject of public controversy. Corruption and nepotism, if not downright theft, prevail in the crumbling education system.


One of the heralds of “the thaw”, popular poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, reciting his poems to a capacity crowd at the Polytechnic Museum. Moscow. 1964


Talented singer Edita Pyekha brings a new style. Moscow. 1965



The star of “the Thaw”. They say it rose on Moscow’s Mayakovsky Square in 1958, when a monument to the poet was unveiled. First, famous authors recited their poems but then anyone who wished could climb the podium. People were spilling out their long pent-up feelings. Such recitals became common. Crowds gathered around the monument to Mayakovsky. Poetry meetings spilled into the Polytechnic Museum, which was besieged by poetry lovers. New names – Rozhdestvensky, Yevtushenko, Voznesensky were on everybody’s lips… They were joined by writers, artists, sculptors and directors. Samizdat (self-publishing) appeared. The key feature of the generation’s life was a return to democracy and Khrushchev’s exposure of Stalin’s crimes. The informal group of creative youth would be called the “men of the sixties”. The Novy Mir journal, under its editor, the poet Alexander Tvardovsky, provides a rostrum for them. The popularity of the “men of the sixties” scares the authorities. At the opening of the art exhibition at the Manezh, Nikita Khrushchev publicly berates modernist artists and sculptors. Their works would be removed from the exhibition. Newwave films, plays and books would be criticised and banned. Tvardovsky would be forced to leave his journal. Western support for talent, as exemplified by the cases of Pasternak and Solzhenitsyn, would cause a row. The poet Brodsky would be sent into internal exile as a “parasite.” All three would later become Nobel prize winners. The star of the “Khrushchev Thaw” gradually dims and winks out.

After the rain. Outside Moscow. 1964



1964. Kremlin number two, Leonid Brezhnev, gradually catches up with Khrushchev, number one. Brezhnev’s shadow is about to cover the “corn” reformer, whose unpredictable actions meet with growing discontent. It looks as if the head of state is about to tread on the party leader’s heels. The photograph was put aside at the editorial office without comment. But I have kept it. Leonid Brezhnev eventually managed to trip Khrushchev up and get rid of his rival. The photograph turned out to be symbolic.

Another manifestation in Red Square. Posters read: “Long Live the Unbreakable Unity of the Peoples of the USSR” and “Lenin is still more alive than all the living.” The Soviet slogans seemed eternal… Moscow. 1964


From stability to stagnation “The heavy burden” of the profession. 1980


In character and style, Leonid Brezhnev turned out to be the antithesis of his predecessor. Stability was his watchword. Instead of the Communism promised by Khrushchev, he proclaimed “Advanced Socialism”. Economic development of Siberia and the Far East was still the priority. I willingly went on month-long trips there. I took pictures at the VAZ car plant in Togliatti, at the Baikal-Amur Railway and in Western Siberia, where new oilfields were being developed. I visited the builders of giant power stations on the Yenisei and Angara rivers. I flew to the Caucasus, to the Far North and to the Pacific islands… I travelled the length and breadth of our vast country. I accompanied our leaders on their foreign trips. I was lucky. My talent and skills were appreciated. The political activity of our General Secretary in the world gave a boost to cultural exchanges. I met many celebrities in diverse areas of science and the arts. Portraits of world stars were added to my collection. The highlight of that era was, I think, the 1980 Olympics. The first Olympic Games to be held on Soviet soil. An unprecedented number of medals: we won 197, of which 80 were gold medals. The country made an effort and built 78 new sports and urban facilities, including the Izmailovo Hotel complex, the biggest in Europe. Yet Brezhnev’s reign came to a dismal end. A new personality cult in miniature. The ageing General Secretary’s pathological passion for medals: he ended up having more of them than Stalin and Khrushchev combined. The crackdown on dissidents… The ongoing arms race with the USA, crippling for our country. And, towards the end, the tragedy of the Afghan war. On the face of it, the people seemed to be content. Eating, drinking, relaxing in the Crimea, the Caucasus and on the Baltic coast. A two-day weekend was introduced. But, before long, the Brezhnev era would be described as the era of “stagnation”.

Leonid Brezhnev. 1976


I took this photograph behind the Kremlin Wall on the eve of a parade: Politbureau members and alternate members waiting for Leonid Brezhnev’s arrival. It is amazing how alike all the members of this welcoming party seem. Perhaps this is the secret of the Soviet collegiate manner of ruling the country? The bodyguard standing by my side, a sharp-eyed man, asked me: “What did you take that photo for?” “For history”, was all that I could think of by way of an answer. 1965



Moscow is readily promoting links with the West. Under Brezhnev, there was a rapprochement between the Soviet Union and France, which led to international détente and the signing of the Helsinki Act by all the European states, plus the USA and Canada, in 1975. That document provided a code of conduct for the European countries and led to the creation of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which today has 56 member states.

The General Secretary’s first visit to Paris. The President’s wife Claude Pompidou, Leonid Brezhnev, French President Georges Pompidou and Brezhnev’s wife Viktoria. 1971


The Soviet leader’s first trip to Washington. On the White House lawn in Washington with President Nixon. 1973


The USSR’s ideological allies, members of the socialist camp, are still the focus of the Kremlin’s attention. Look how relaxed the leaders of these countries feel on the platform of the 25th CPSU Congress. In the front row are the most honoured guests: Janos Kadar (Hungary), Gustav Husak (Czechoslovakia), Alvaro Conhal (head of the Portugese Communist Party), Fidel Castro (Cuba), Willy Stoph and Erich Honecker (GDR). As members of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, these states render significant aid to each other. But this “communist open market” is governed by Moscow. Meanwhile, a state of “cold war” exists between the capitalist West and the socialist East: a political, ideological and economical duel, escalating and subsiding in turns. The Soviet Union ultimately suffers a clear defeat in this struggle in late 80s and early 90s. The socialist camp falls apart. However paradoxical it may seem, Cuba is the only country to withstand the one-sided fight.




7 November 1979. A rare photograph taken during Revolution Day celebrations. Leonid Brezhnev is having a friendly conversation with Soviet Minister of Defence Dmitry Ustinov on top of the Mausoleum. The photo was printed a month later by the American magazine Time after Soviet troops had entered Afghanistan. The New York journalists saw it as a way to highlight the militancy of the Soviet leader. During his final years, Brezhnev would frequently call the defence minister to ask when he was going to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. But this was not done until Mikhail Gorbachev dared to take this step ten years later, in 1989.



One of the regular rallies in Moscow. It was a tough job for the artists who decorated Red Square. They had to come up with something new every time while adhering strictly to the unwritten rules. The main goal was to emphasise the leaders’ significance. On Brezhnev’s portrait, for example, not a single new decoration could be omitted. But the portait itself was not supposed to be larger than Lenin’s. However, Brezhnev’s portraits could outnumber those of the leader of the world proletariat. 1977



This is the Krasnoyarsk Hydroelectric Power Station, the first of its kind on the mighty Yenisei River in Siberia and one of the “great construction projects of communism” which the country was justifiably proud of. It took 16 years to finish, and its capacity of six million kilowatts made it the second biggest in Russia, providing power for dozens of industrial facilities in the East. 1966


Young people responded with enthusiasm – a feature of the times – to the Party and Government’s call to revive Siberia and the Far East. The best specialists came to the new construction sites. After settling down in the new places, they were joined by their families. Stability was needed so people would not be diverted from the labour effort. Successful development of oil and gas in Western Siberia continued and the building of the Baikal-Amur Railway began.

Assembly workers. Krasnoyarsk power station. Central Siberia. 1966


She is in charge of the cranes. Construction of the Bratsk Hydroelectric Power Station. The Angara river. Eastern Siberia. 1966


Pouring steel at the Orsk-Khalilov steel plant. Orsk. Orenburg Region. Southern Urals. 1966


Portrait of a blast furnace operator. 1966


Geological party. Irkutsk Region. 1965

The development of Siberia called not only for massive capital investment but also for a huge human effort in overcoming the rigours of the taiga and tundra, mountain rivers and swamps. “Snow and wind, starlit nights, my heart calls me into the unknown.” The wellknown song “Geologists” by Pakhmutova and Dobronravov became the anthem of the profession, a monument to the courage and dedication of the romantics who ventured into the taiga wilderness. Our achievements in the field of geology are history now. The oil barons are pumping oil without investing in new fields. Irkutsk Region. Eastern Siberia. 1965



Anatoly Aksyuchenko, a miner from Donetsk. The picture was taken right after he and I emerged from the mine shaft. But photographing inside a mine turned out to be the easy part. It took me two days to remove coal dust from my equipment. Ukraine. 1981

A typical image of a Soviet worker, whose achievements are illustrated by the fruits of his industrial labour. 1976



Camera repair man. When he lifted his head, IÂ could not resist the temptation and the camera clicked instantly. Moscow. 1968


Another portrait, this time a woman. What is more, the subject is using a real weapon on a shooting range. From a series of photographs called “Police Lieutenant”. Moscow. 1968


Preparing timber for rafting down the Yenisei. Siberia. 1966



Every inch a Hollywood actor. Actually, this is an ordinary builder of the Bratsk power station. Such husky Siberian lads felled and rafted timber, built houses and dams, extracted oil and mined gold. Eastern Siberia. 1964

Spending some time with a fishing rod on the Angara, right by the dam of the Bratsk Hydroelectric Power Station, is a real treat for a fisherman. Eastern Siberia. 1964



Any modern beauty queen would envy this belle from a Siberian animal farm. 1973


Furs from Siberia and omul fish from Lake Baikal are still part of the wealth of the Russian land. 1964


This hydroelectric power station, built in 1927– 1932 on the Dnieper, Ukraine and designed by constructivist architect Viktor Vesnin, still impresses with its perfect form. 1983



The 5300-room Rossiya Hotel, the biggest in Europe, is only just being built. It was intended for delegates to the CPSU congresses because it was within walking distance of the Kremlin Palace. For the sake of prestige, a historical area of the capital with 15th–18th century landmarks was destroyed. In 2007, 40 years later, the hotel was demolished. What the city architects will build in its place is yet unknown.


A smoking break that lasts a bit too long. Kosogorsk metallurgical plant. Tula. 1976


Far Eastern beauties. The Kamchatka Peninsula, bounded by the Pacific Ocean. The red caviar they are packing is sent all over the country. Way cheaper than black caviar, it was and is widely bought, and even issued as a reward to foremost workers in the USSR. 1977




“Distances grow shorter…” when a letter from home arrives. The postman is a vital figure in a nation that reads more than any other. People subscribed to a variety of newspapers and magazines, which they later shared with one another. A land of forests, the USSR was short of paper. While the women studied the national press, the men had their own idea of relaxing: shashlyk from grayling, washed down with vodka and a song. Krasnoyarsk Region. Divnogorsk. 1964


1967. Togliatti. The main assembly line of the VAZ motor works is under construction on the banks of the Volga. The project was started by Italian FIAT, which was not scared away by the main Soviet slogan: “The victory of Communism is inevitable”. For a long time, we produced popular and affordable Zhiguli (Lada) cars ourselves. Now we make them better with the help of the French company Renault.

Every construction project at the time needed a hero to emulate. A welder’s portrait belongs to the category of commissioned heroic photographs. I put it in the album because it reminded me of an interesting historical fact. After major gas fields were discovered in Siberia, Moscow agreed to deliver gas to Western Europe via a 4500‑km pipeline. At the time, though, our country did not produce large-diameter pipes.


The Urengoi-Uzhgorod Gas Pipeline, the direct route of Russian gas to Western Europe.. Lipetsk Region. 1973

West Germany offered its pipes in exchange for an annual supply of 10 billion cubic metres of gas. The contract, the biggest deal between West Germany and the USSR, suddenly met with stiff opposition on the part of the USA. The Germans withstood the pressure from across the ocean and even Washington’s economic sanctions. The project went ahead. Common sense and cool heads prevailed over the Cold War.


Two famous aircraft designers, Academicians Andrei Tupolev and Sergei Ilyushin, at the exhibition of new aircraft in Vnukovo. World famous Tu and Il planes are the pride of Soviet science. The country built more than 60,000 Ilyushin combat and passenger planes. Tupolev developed more than 100 types of aircraft, 70 of which went into serial production. Many are still in service. 1966


“The golden heads” of Soviet science, Academicians Igor Glebov (left) and Nikolai Blokhin. A prominent scientist in the field of electrical physics and mechanics, Glebov created his own school of electrical engineering; he was the head of the international organisation for large energy system. The surgeon and oncologist Blokhin is President of the Academy of Medical Sciences, the founder and head of the Russian Oncological Centre on Kashirka, one of the biggest cancer centres in the world. Moscow. 1966


The Siberian branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences, headed by Academician Mikhail Lavrentyev, became a new scientific and cultural centre in the country’s east. An outstanding mathematician and mechanics specialist, he developed the first Soviet computers. On the initiative of Lavrentyev, who was a brilliant teacher, a university and several scientific institutes were established outside Novosibirsk. Soon, the Akademgorodok (Science City) got Russia’s first physical-mathematical boarding school for gifted children. Mikhail Lavrentyev and colleagues scouted for young talent all over the country. The teachers there were not professional educators but scientists from Akademgorodok institutes. The school’s graduates later dispersed all over the country and the world. Some of them made discoveries of global importance and became the pride of Russian and foreign universities. Lavrentyev’s pupil, Academician Vladimir Titov, is Director of the Lavrentyev Hydrodynamics Institute. Another graduate of the boarding school is Academician Mikhail Elov, who heads up the Oil and Gas Geology and Geophysics Institute… It is impossible to enumerate all the talents that emerged from that powerful science centre.

The physical mathematics boarding school computer centre. The computer occupies the whole wall; today we all have PCs. Novosibirsk. 1966


Informal communication. Academician Mikhail Lavrentyev with his pupils. 1966


Formulae on asphalt. Youthful talents, graduates of the famous Siberian physical mathematical boarding school, live in the world of formulae even when they play. Novosibirsk. 1966




First-grader wearing her Sunday best. Moscow. 1974

The state and school assumed responsibility for education and even upbringing of children. School meals were free. School uniforms precluded parents from parading their social superiority. On well-to-do households, however, they preferred to order uniforms for their girls from a tailor and not buy ready-made ones. One could choose a better material and a prettier collar. But the cut did not change.

Young Pioneers’ Meeting. Girls became leaders that way. At this age, they are much more socially active than boys. Moscow. 1974


Mother’s helpmate. Moscow. 1970


A ballet dancer is born. Moscow. 1965


He reached the summit. What next? Ryazan Region. 1967


The “Three Warriors” crew. 1980. I took this photograph in a new three-room apartment into which the family of a young Moscow journalist had just moved. The apartment was a reward from the editorial office for the birth of triplets. It was based on a government decree whereby a family with triplets was entitled to additional living space. Free of charge. The decision of the authorities was effective in encouraging the birth rate. The experience would come in handy today.


Exchanging news. Divnogorsk. Krasnoyarsk Region. Siberia. 1966 The Crimea. 1979. Leonid Brezhnev visiting the world-famous Artek Young Pioneer camp, where the children from various countries of the world spent their holidays. The Soviet leader is obviously in bad shape: he had recently checked out of a hospital where he experienced clinical death. The Kremlin doctors did everything to reanimate the General Secretary and bring him back to a working condition. The country’s leader would file four official requests for retirement but his comrades could never agree on who would occupy his post. Communicating with children. One of the few joys remaining for the sentimental Leonid Brezhnev.




The Three Graces. Donetsk Region. Ukraine. Khomutov steppe. 1981. This botanical preserve, established in 1926 on an area of 1000 hectares, remains unique. The region’s diversity of relict plants provides a basis for fundamental scientific research. It is here that the famous Soviet film director Sergei Bondarchuk filmed the adaptation of Chekhov’s The Steppe.


The nationalities issue is a very sensitive one in our country. Economic development and distribution of resources, culture, preservation of traditions and native tongues, relations with neighbours… and all this amid an infinite diversity of living conditions, customs and history. I have been in the north, east and south of our country. Both the north and the south are exotic areas. Of course, they attract photographers, but they also create professional problems. In the north, cameras

A mountaineer. Dagestan. The Caucasus. 1968


mist up and freeze over, as the temperature often drops to minus 30, but sometimes to minus 50. I felt this on Kotelny Island (one of the New Siberian islands of the Arctic Ocean), 1500 km from the North Pole. Climate determines the life and occupations of the inhabitants. In the north, it is reindeer herding. In the south, it is vine growing and animal farming vine growing. The magnificent and beautiful nature produces proud, freedomloving people.

Horsemen. Dagestan. The Caucasus. 1968


I had the honour of being entertained by the famous Chechen dancer Makhmud Esambayev. I took photographs of the great Dagestani poet Rasul Gamzatov. It was thanks to Rasul that I became acquainted with one of the many peoples inhabiting Dagestan. The small people had managed to preserve its native language, which no one else spoke.

Buddies. Abkhazia. The Caucasus. 1985


Another scoop was an invitation to a traditional rural Abkhazian wedding party of a thousand people. As a child, I read “Hadji Murat” and “The Cossacks”, but it never occurred to me that I would meet with Leo Tolstoy’s characters face to face. You raise a horn of wine and… you part as real friends.

Brides. Abkhazia. The Caucasus. 1985



From the “Visiting Reindeer Herders� series. Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Area. Western Siberia. 1977


There are different kinds of sleds. Those drawn by dogs are every bit as good as deer sleds. Yamal. Western Siberia. 1977


Sledging in one of the streets of Komsomolsk-on-Amur. Eastern Siberia. 1976


An impressive purchase for a family – exceptional luck for those times! 1969


A Moscow courtyard is a very special world. Children playing, boys kicking a football, men playing dominos, girls flirting and women gossiping. Sometimes they have parties together – and have a drink, of course. Until recently, people lived in communal flats with a shared bathroom and kitchen. Now most people have their own flats, although they are usually quite small. But coming out into the courtyard to exchange the latest news is not only fun, it is essential. 1971


A typical apartment of a high-ranking official of the time: a whole three rooms. All the furniture, including rugs, belongs to the state. Every object has an iron tag. Moscow. 1978


More and more people have their own flats but one thing that “Advanced Socialism” is short of is jeans. Underground tailors are busy making fashionable trousers at home, for themselves and for sale. Moscow. 1976


Moscow. May 9, 1974. Gorky Park. A reunion of Great Patriotic War veterans. Himself a war veteran, Leonid Brezhnev made sure that the country took care of its veterans and their families. Life became easier, the health service “woke up” and began to take care of the veterans. Veterans were given flats. First, the holders of decorations and distinguished people, then all the rest. Subsidised prices were introduced for furniture and household appliances. The


families of war veterans were the first to acquire refrigerators, washing machines and even cars. Wheelchairs helped people crippled by the war to emerge from indoors, breathe fresh air and talk with their families. Leningrad perked up. For the first time, the people who defended the city were granted substantial benefits. The category of “siege veterans” was broadened to include all those who survived the siege of Leningrad, the 872 days of horror and

hunger. The friendly Germans paid “guilt money” to the survivors of the Leningrad siege. In 1965, the 20th Victory anniversary, was marked on a grand scale for the first time. Brezhnev declared 9 May a national holiday. For the people, it became the main red-letter day, which has been marked by a military parade every decade ever since. Free use of all kinds of transport enabled veterans to get together on Victory Day in various cities across the country at their convenience.


Ulyanovsk, situated on the Volga, is the birthplace of Vladimir Lenin, whose monument in the local museum is still watched by a guard of honour. The rigorous discipline of the past, however, seems to have abated. 1975

One of the most popular spots in Moscow. It features a monument to the legendary poet Alexander Pushkin, made by sculptor Opekushin and erected in 1880




At a youth club. Tatarstan. The Volga region. 1978

The Estonian holiday resort of P채rnu. 1979


Moscow, 1980 Olympic Games. The summer Olympic Games, called upon to assert the country’s prestige, were held in a truly Soviet spirit. The city was spruced up. It became half empty, as all those who might spoil the party – alcoholics and prostitutes – were removed. Along with children. Some were sent to places 101 km from Moscow, some to Young Pioneer camps. Out-of-towners were forbidden to enter the city. Foodstuffs and drinks familiar to the guests but

On the cycle track, I used a new fish-eye lens that had just become available. Moscow. 1980


unknown to Muscovites had been procured. They even opened a direct telephone line with foreign countries, which was switched off immediately after the competitions ended. In addition to hotels, the Olympic Village, the Olympic sports complex, a cycle track, a rowing canal and a roof over the Small Arena at the Luzhniki Stadium were built… Everything would have been fine if the Kremlin had not, six months before the Games started, decided to move its troops into Afghanistan to

help the local Communists. In protest, the West called for a boycott of the Olympics and launched a massive political and propaganda war. As a result, the Games were attended by athletes from only 80 countries, while 62 countries boycotted them. A retaliatory conflict arose four years later over the Olympics held in the USA. The socialist countries, in turn, did not send any of their athletes to those Olympics. These Olympic shots brought me a Gold Medal.

Flowers for a champion or a gift from an admirer? Moscow. 1980


I managed to photograph boxing bouts with a remote-controlled camera fixed above the ring. 1980


Moscow. 1980 Olympics. Young gymnasts open the festival.


My profession has enabled me to meet different people: world-famous politicians and cultural figures, great scientists and celebrated artists, talented musicians and popular sportsmen… I included some of their photos in this album. Moscow. 1976. The 25th CPSU Congress. I was asked to take this unofficial photograph with the Cuban leader. For that purpose I went to a guest house on Leninskiye Gory. Fidel had been warned we were coming and received us cordially. But he immediately sat down at his desk with a stack of documents in front of him. For an hour, he read


and signed papers without raising his head, as I stood with my camera ready. Finally, he shoved the documents aside and asked me: “Well, have you taken all the pictures?” “Almost”, I replied smiling, although I had not managed to take a single one. I gave him photographs of his speech at the Kremlin Palace. It was time to say goodbye but I still had not taken any photos. We shook hands and I started edging my way towards the exit facing Castro, my camera cocked. Fidel produced a cigar. And then I started clicking my camera. I managed to take three photos. This is the story behind this portrait.

My acquaintance with Marshal Ivan Konev, twice Hero of the Soviet Union and military commander during the Great Patriotic War, began with an official photo session. Some time later, I came to his home to show him the photographs. He was preparing to go on a fishing party. I persuaded him to take me along. We stopped about a hundred kilometres from Moscow in the Tver Region. The Marshal was fishing with a small fishingrod called a mormyshka and I was fishing with

my camera. Honestly, his catch was modest, but he was pleased anyway. I was even more pleased. My catch was a successful series of pictures. And the party had a happy ending: towards evening, the Marshal managed to catch a small fish. The event called for a celebration… When we were about to go home, the organisers of this exciting event gave us three huge pike perches apiece. The Marshal and my family were ecstatic. Tver Region. 1966


Legendary musician, singer and actor Leonid Utyosov. The founder of Soviet jazz, director and conductor of the Tea Jazz group. The prototype and hero of a cult Soviet film “Jolly Fellows”, 1934. In 1965, he was the first variety actor to be awarded the title of People’s Artist of the USSR. Moscow. 1964


Family tournament. World chess champion in 1963–1969, chess theoretician and journalist Tigran Petrosian. Moscow. 1967


Lezginka dance performed by the world famous Makhmud Esambayev, the best dancer from the Caucasus region and pride of the Chechen people. In the foothills at Grozny. 1971

Outstanding musician, conductor and teacher Aram Khachaturyan. Author of the music for the Spartacus ballet. The composer’s hallmark is the inimitable voice intonation. He wrote music for stage plays and films. Moscow. 1974



Soviet writer Mikhail Sholokhov, Nobel Prize winner (1965). Author of the world-famous novels And Quiet Flows the Don and Virgin Soil Upturned. Moscow. 1966


The “Thaw” poet Robert Rozhdestvensky, with daughter Katya. Moscow. 1980


Popular film actor and member of the Vakhtangov theatre company Mikhail Ulyanov at the Lenin Komsomol Automobile plant. He was registered as a member of the Communist Labour Team: the workers fulfilled his daily work rate on behalf of their favourite actor. The theatre, in turn, invited the automobile plant workers to see its plays – at no charge. Moscow. 1977


Veronika Dudarova, the first Soviet woman conductor. From 1960 to 1989, she was chief conductor and art director of the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra. Her name is in the Guinness Book of Records as a woman who worked with the world’s major orchestras for 50 years. Moscow. 1977



Popular idol, actor and poet Vladimir Vysotsky at the start of his career at the Taganka Theatre. Shakespeare’s Hamlet is his best known role. Vysotsky appeared in dozens of films, but he was mainly famous as singer / song writer. But the government recognised the man who had given 1000 concerts in and outside the USSR as a professional singer only two years before his death. Moscow. 1975

Leonid Kogan, famous virtuoso violinist, a brilliant representative of the Soviet violin school, teacher. Moscow. 1980


December. 1976. Leonid Brezhnev’s 70th birthday is marked at the Kremlin with great pomp and circumstance. The celebrations last several weeks: every day, the leader of one of the socialist countries presents him with the top national decoration. The head of capitalist Finland is also among them. TV broadcasts all the ceremonies live. Only Brezhnev’s speeches are brief. The celebrations are crowned with a meeting at the Vladimir Hall in the Grand Kremlin Palace,


where Leonid Brezhnev receives yet another Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union and an Order of Lenin. His loyal “armour bearer” Chernenko hands him “an honorary weapon, with a gold picture of the state emblem of the USSR” and proudly demonstrates a gi lded sword. A documentary film “The Story of a Communist” devoted to the General Secretary goes on release. Needless to say, the authors of the film are rewarded with a Lenin Prize.


The party is staged at St. George Hall in the Grand Kremlin Palace. Next to the General Secretary of the Communist Party are his comrades and followers: Mikhail Suslov (left), Alexei Kosygin and Nikolai Podgorny (right). 1976


Leonid Brezhnev’s relatives: Daughter Galina Brezhneva with husband Yuri Churbanov and son Yuri Brezhnev (right), with his wife Vera. 1976


1982. The Hall of Columns. Brezhnev’s funeral. The state of his health had long been the subject of gossip all over the country and in the political world. Yet his death, after 18 years at the helm of the Soviet Union, came as a surprise. Two days earlier, the General Secretary stood on top of the Mausoleum throughout the October Revolution celebrations. The sad news was announced to the people after a day and a half. Four days of mourning were announced. Factories


stopped for five minutes and sirens wailed for 3 minutes. Army officers in front of the hearse carried Brezhnev’s more than 150 orders on silk pillows. Not only allies and friends, but also the leaders of all the major powers came to the Hall of Columns to bid farewell to the General Secretary and be present at his burial beneath the Kremlin wall. In the next two and a half years, they were to do it twice more. However, the guests’ main interest was to become acquainted with the new Kremlin boss.

Bear hugs exchanged between the new Soviet leader, Yuri Andropov and the leader of socialist Germany Erich Honecker. However, as the future would show, not all kisses can be taken at face value. In December 1991, after the collapse of the socialist camp, Russia would deny asylum to the former head of East Germany. Moscow. 1983


Changing of the guards at the Lenin Mausoleum. Moscow. 1982


The post of Communist Party General Secretary is filled by Yuri Andropov, head of the State Security Committee. Konstantin Chernenko becomes the number two man. Even so, the situation in the country did not change. The promises of social and political change boiled down to exposing corruption among the ruling elite. The authorities vainly tried to enforce discipline. In his last months, the General Secretary ran the country from

hospital. Chernenko made even less difference to the life of society. He was elected to replace the late Andropov in 1984. During their tenure, meetings of the Politbureau were sometimes held in a hospital ward. The last two general secretaries reigned for a year each. During the five years from 1980 to 1985, a whole generation of Soviet leaders was replaced. Next to Kosygin, Suslov, Brezhnev, Andropov, Ustinov and Chernenko passed away…

Right to left: head of the ruling party and the state Yuri Andropov, Chairman of the CPSU Central Committee Konstantin Chernenko, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR Nikolai Tikhonov. Moscow. 1983


As I brooded over the string of events in the country, I recalled Stalin’s death in 1953. His demise caused universal despair. I was 16 years old. I tried to find my way into the Hall of Columns, where the idol lay in state, by crawling under rows of trucks and climbing rooftops. I failed.

Yuri Andropov’s funeral: Moscow. 1984


Now I have just to flash my photo correspondent’s pass to enter the same hall. But the feeling is different. Expectations of significant change in the country have been frustrated again and again. Of course age and a new look at reality play their part.

The funeral of Konstantin Chernenko. Moscow. 1985


2600 days in power Washington. The White House. 1989


The USSR Foreign Minister proposed that Mikhail Gorbachev be elected as the new Party leader at the meeting of the CC CPSU Politbureau. Andrei Gromyko explained that, with this man at the head, the country would feel confident in the world. The Soviet veteran diplomat chose not to say out loud that what the country needed was a young leader. Gorbachev, 54, was the youngest Politbureau member. I accompanied Mikhail Gorbachev on many of his foreign trips, when he was usually accompanied by his wife Raisa. That couple made a strong impression on me and on everyone, as I later realised. The leader’s wife was good-looking, a smart dresser and a past master at establishing contacts. As for Gorbachev, over the years I had a growing feeling that he was more words than deeds. He began by introducing the policy of “glasnost” and liquidating censorship. There was freedom of expression. The Soviet press was the best in the world in those years, political scientists admit. The democratisation that the General Secretary conducted under the slogan of “perestroika” (restructuring) turned out to be a veritable revolution. Some people today, though, describe it as counterrevolution. Be it as it may, destiny gave him only 2600 days, from the spring of 1985 until the winter of 1991. The attempt to reform the Soviet Union ended up in a dramatic collapse of the state, a collapse of the world socialist system, reunification of Germany and the end of the Cold War. As Mikhail Gorbachev admits, he failed to foresee all the consequences of his policy, above all the economic ones. But he managed to put an end to the war in Afghanistan, take the first steps towards a market economy and government reform, allowing many parties to exist. The most popular Soviet leader was named “man of the year” in 1990 and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He became the hero of the transition period. Assessments of Gorbachev’s activities and his achievements vary. He was both cheered and jeered.

CC CPSU General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and Soviet Defence Minister Sergei Sokolov. 1985


The new General Secretary went hammer and tongs at the outstanding international problems, but was obviously mistrusted by the West. This was natural because he had to do business with Ronald Reagan, who had described our country as “the empire of evil”. After the first round of negotiations


with the US President in Geneva (left photo), 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev had to admit that the partners were not ready for “major decisions”. It was not until their next meeting in the Icelandic capital Reykjavik (right-hand photo, 1986) that some steps were made to meet each other halfway.


December 1988. Gorbachev is in New York to attend the UN General Assembly Session. His aim is to attract attention to the new Soviet foreign policy. That policy puts universal human interests above social class interests. The Soviet leader proposes “to solve political problems only by political means and human problems in a human way”. He also announced that the USSR was unilaterally cutting its army by 500,000.

Mikhail Gorbachev meets the new President George H. W. Bush (left), who would replace Ronald Reagan within weeks. Governors Island. New York. 1988


Moscow’s new foreign policy has to fight its way to recognition. The first to come to trust Gorbachev was the British “Iron Lady”, Margaret Thatcher. After meeting him in London in 1984, before he was elected to the nation’s top job, she said that he was a man “you can do business with”. They would preserve a special relationship forever. I remember an incident that happened to me during Gorbachev’s next visit to Britain. Together with the cameraman and Thatcher’s personal photographer, we were waiting for the General Secretary at the Prime Minister’s residence in Downing Street. Nearby stood Mrs Thatcher, surrounded by her ministers. Something that lay on the floor attracted her attention and she suddenly bent down. I reacted instantly like a true paparazzi. I lifted my camera and clicked

the button, not seeing anything except the lady surrounded by ministerial feet. Thatcher stood up and fixed me with her gaze. I realised that she might mention my reaction to Gorbachev and that could have dire consequences for me. I might be sent packing to Moscow. Before everyone’s eyes, I removed the film from the camera, exposed it and gave it to Thatcher’s aide. Gorbachev entered a minute later and the negotiations began. During an evening reception given by the British, I was approached by the British Premier’s advisor: “You can move about freely.” Usually photo correspondents had limited access and the area where they could move was determined in advance, but after the official’s words I realised that I could move about all the rooms unobstructed. London. 1989



The Gorbachev couple itself became a symbol of change in the country. The Soviet Union never had a real “first lady” or even an image of one. Raisa turned out to be the first woman to emerge from behind the shadow of her politician husband. But she had to pay for it. She was reproached for meddling in politics, her “mentor’s tone” and for exerting an excessive influence

on Mikhail. And, what is more, the criticism came from the female part of the population. I do not know whether the real reason was envy or jealousy. Anyway, it was a sure sign of conservatism in society as a whole and among women in particular. Raisa’s grave illness and early death changed people’s attitude to her. People sympathised with Gorbachev.

Mikhail and Raisa. 1989

Margaret Thatcher in Moscow. 1994


The Kremlin. 1989. The great scientist and the nation’s conscience, Academician Andrei Sakharov, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (1975), is brought back from internal exile by Gorbachev. He is elected deputy to the First Congress of People’s Deputies. I remember him sitting on the front row, together with everyone, but looking lonely. In spite of his age and poor health, he took an active part in the meetings throughout the second half of 1989.

The scientist demanded repeal of Article 6 of the Constitution that established the CPSU’s monopoly on power. He was backed by a small group of radical deputies, later joined by Boris Yeltsin. The majority in the hall see Sakharov as a dissident and take his proposals with mistrust. The scientist is booed and prevented from speaking. Gorbachev does nothing to stop it. After another clash, the Academician shuffles out of the hall. That was his last public speech.

Andrei Sakharov leaves the session of the Congress of People’s Deputies in Kremlin. Forever. 1989


Andrei Sakharov. Moscow. 1988


That very Cessna. 1987

Moscow, Red Square. 1987


On 28 May 1987, a small Cessna plane piloted by 19-year-old German amateur pilot Mathias Rust landed on Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge. Having taken off in Germany and using local benchmarks, he flew at low altitudes across the European part of the USSR. The plane was detected by our air defence and military fighter planes but, because it was flying at such a low altitude and at a low speed, they could not follow it and they had no orders

to shoot it down. The event caused a row in the army, the resignation of some top brass and led to a trial of the “air hooligan”. I attended the trial. During the interval, I spotted where Rust went and surreptitiously took a picture of him having lunch with his guard. He spent just over a year in prison. These photographs earned me the World Press Photo “Golden Eye” Prize in Amsterdam in 1988 in the “People in the News” nomination.


Sunrise. 1986

We see the sunrise and sunset in nature every day and get used to that miracle. But there are turning points in the life of individuals and society that suggest comparisons with natural phenomena. Gorbachev’s perestroika was one such moment. Soviet people were shaken by the new government and the swift pace of change. Add to this all that they got to know and managed to digest during the years of glasnost. No wonder people’s heads reeled.


The enthusiasm that wilted during the Brezhnev era was back. Young people reacted promptly to the early calls to show initiative. This was when future millionaires made their first money. Even so, the majority were not ready and could not adapt themselves to the opportunities that opened up. Many had lost all they had, including hope. For them it was the time of sunset. Others, retreating, slipped into their habitual apathy, into twilight…

Twilight. Moscow. 1990


In 1988, the country marked the millennium of the Baptism of Rus. Festive prayers began at the St Trinity Sergius Lavra (Monastery) in Zagorsk and were then held in Kiev, Leningrad, Vladimir and continued in the dioceses. After 70 years of rejection and an effective ban on religion, a new stage began in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church. Churches were restored and new ones built, Sunday schools were opened at churches and life in monasteries was reviving. For the first time since the Bolshevik Revolution, the Bible came out in a print run of 100,000 copies. Church representatives finally gained access to the press and television. Various religious and spiritual literature appeared. Along with the marking of the millennium, Russian Orthodox Church sobor (local church council) was held. For the first time in the Soviet period, the Sobor proclaimed new saints, including Moscow Prince Dmitry Donskoy, the icon painter Andrei Rublyov and writer on religious affairs, Maximus the Greek. The main outcome of all these changes was to restore normal relations between the Soviet state and the Orthodox Church.

The Local Council of the Russian Orthodox Church to mark the millennium of the Christianisation of Rus. Zagorsk. 1988



Gorbachev tours the country campaigning for perestroika. Uzbekistan. 1986. But the guests from Moscow are shown the meagre harvest that the first private farms have grown on the fertile soil of the South. It is clear that changing this giant country quickly will be hard. But the General Secretary assures that “the process is underway�...


A roadside stall called “Good Cheer”. Kaluga Region. 1989


A manifestation by Communists and the new opponents of Gorbachev. Gorbachev’s rhetoric is not backed up by any noticeable change for the better. The General Secretary is gradually losing the people’s trust. The Communists and the new opposition come out in defence of socialism. The poster in the foreground calls the people “to fight the cursed pro-Gorbachev hordes”. Moscow. 1990


Democracy on to the streets. Boris Yeltsin, a populist, becomes Mikhail Gorbachev’s main rival. He successfully unites the discontents. Life has become more exciting but less comfortable. Food supplies are shrinking catastrophically. In 1989 even cereals, macaroni and soap are rationed. There are bread lines.

Gorbachev explains, persuades and cajoles people. His velvety voice hypnotises the audience… But, taking advantage of free travel, citizens begin to leave the country. This is the fourth wave of emigration from the country in the 20th century. During the years of perestroika, 1.5 million people were to leave the USSR and Russia. Moscow. 1990


Moscow. 1990. A fierce power struggle unfolds between Gorbachev and Yeltsin. In 1990, the Congress of People’s Deputies elects Gorbachev the first President of the USSR. A year later, he proposes to reform the multinational state and enters into negotiations with the leaders of nine republics. The other six republics do not even want to discuss the topic. Negotiations take place at Novo-Ogaryovo. The Kremlin seeks public support and calls a referendum on the issue


of preserving the USSR. 76% of the voters want the USSR to be preserved. But that makes no difference to the debate and the political infighting. In June 1991, Yeltsin is elected President of Russia. He continues to counterpose the RSFSR to the Soviet Union. The Russian deputies vote to make the laws of Russia prevail over those of the USSR. That marks a total break in the relations between Yeltsin and Gorbachev. In other words, dual power.


Moscow. 1991. Gorbachev announces that he has agreed with the leaders of nine republics on the setting up a Union of Sovereign States. And then he goes on holiday in the Crimea until 20 August, the date the document was signed. Yet, before the President returned to Moscow, USSR Vice President Gennady Yanayev and a group of comrades declared themselves the State Emergency Committee, or GKChP. This was, by all accounts, an attempted military-political coup. They tell a press conference at the Foreign Ministry that they are for preserving the Soviet Union and want to restore order in the country.


Their muddled answers to journalists’ questions were broadcast on television on 19 August 1991. Left to right: Interior Minister Boris Pugo, Gennady Yanayev and CC CPSU Secretary Oleg Baklanov. Hardly a “Holy Trinity”. They are all Gorby’s people. Meanwhile, the President is sitting under house arrest in the Crimea on orders from the Kremlin. Flash mobs form, demonstrating for and against the coup. Troops are moved. Additional military units are sent to Moscow. The first tragedy happens in Moscow when three young people die. Their funeral develops into a spontaneous demonstration.


Moscow. 19–23 August 1991. Neither the Army nor the populace supports the coup. Thousands of supporters gather around the White House, where the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR is sitting. They are led by Boris Yeltsin. He climbs on to the top of a tank, like Lenin climbed on to an armoured car at the Finland Station in 1917 upon his return to Petrograd (later Leningrad and now St. Petersburg) from emigration. Fearing possible clashes, both sides are trying


to win over the military units stationed outside Moscow. The military are at a loss, not knowing whose orders to obey. The provinces waver; the military does not act. The coup-makers do not dare take any active steps and find themselves in isolation. They are arrested. Gorbachev returns from the Crimea and is left without allies. Nobody supports him at the parliamentary meeting. Indeed, they found no better place for him to sit than the‌ diplomatic box.


On 7 December 1991, unbeknownst to Gorbachev, the heads of Russia, Ukraine and Byelorussia meet at Belovezhskaya Pushcha. They declare the independence of the three republics and practically “dissolve” the Soviet Union. Earlier, the Baltic republics declared their independence; now all the other republics follow suit. Nobody is urging Gorbachev to leave his post but he realises that there is no other way out. Abdication is inevitable.


Truly a presidential act. He signs the unique document in the presence of his press secretary and journalists. I barely managed to join them to take this historic picture. Shortly afterwards, I take another historic picture as the USSR flag is furled. It has just been taken off the dome of the Kremlin building in which the Soviet parliament sat only recently. There is no more president, no flag. The abdication takes place in the Kremlin on 25 December.


A radical at the Kremlin In front of the White House. Moscow. 1993


My memory of Boris Yeltsin is of a businesslike, focused and sincere man. Outwardly amicable and approachable, people liked him because they saw him as “one of them”, unlike the verbose Gorbachev. More important, that giant of a man from the Urals promised everyone what they wanted: free-for-all sovereignty to the republics and the regions, freedom and private property to entrepreneurs… The trouble with hail-fellow-well-met guys is that they tend to drink heavily. In June 1991, he would go down in history as the first elected president of Russia and, in August, as the organiser of resistance to the attempted coup. He then became a radical reformer. He banned the CPSU, rejected socialism, together with the Ukrainian and Byelorussian leaders dissolved the Soviet Union and created a weird entity called Commonwealth of Independent States. In his travels about Russia, he encouraged the local authorities to grab “as much democracy as they could handle”. As a result, Chechnya declared independence. He had to declare war on it. He lost. He had to sign a peace that was constantly broken. But it would fall to Yeltsin’s successor, Putin, to clear up the mess. A former builder, Boris Yeltsin put at the head of his government young and talented Yegor Gaidar and launched a cardinal economic reform that overturned Russia. As a result, some went to London with a billion dollars in their pockets, some got hold of a factory, a truck or a stall. Some ended up with a privatisation voucher, i.e., a share of the national wealth with a face value of 10,000 roubles. But the President made a return to the past impossible. Many think this was his main contribution. The years under “Tsar Boris” are remembered as the “time of hope” and the “wild 1990s”. They saw a clash between the President and parliament, the shelling of the parliament building and liquidation of the Supreme Soviet. Russia became a land of financial pyramids and stock exchanges, unemployment and the first millionaires, mob rule and millions of “guest workers”, supermarkets and traffic jams…

Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev. 1988


When Yeltsin came to power, the country was in dire straits. The treasury was empty. There was talk of food rationing. On his first trips to the provinces, the President saw empty shelves and angry citizens. Concerned about the threat of famine in a vast country, the West provided humanitarian aid. To avoid it being stolen, the authorities passed a resolution on “improving the system of aid distribution”.

On a trip to the provinces. Tatarstan. Kazan. 1991

A stop on the road to Kazan. 1991. Now, each time he talks to ordinary people, the leader flatly rejects the Soviet past, symbolically washing his hands of it



The failure of the August 1991 coup meant defeat for the union leadership that had failed to put down the coup. Gorbachev himself was compromised because the revolt was started by his recent appointees. A massive manifestation in support of the new Russian leadership is held in front of the White House. A huge white-bluered flag is carried across Moscow. Yeltsin declares it to be the national flag of Russia. With people’s support, he takes power. He puts the economist Yegor Gaidar in charge of the economic reform.

Rally in front of the White House. Moscow. 1991


The people are for Boris. Moscow. 1991


January 1992 began with a radical economic reform and the “freeing up of prices”. The bank savings of millions of citizens were devalued overnight. At the end of the month, a decree was passed on free trade and foreign economic activities. It seemed as if all Russia took to the streets to buy and sell. Shops, catering establishments and services were privatised. Markets sprang up


everywhere. “Shuttle merchants” flooded them with cheap foreign goods. People were left to shift for themselves. The press, playing on the notion of “shock therapy” that appeared in the neighbouring socialist countries, christened Gaidar’s reforms “shock without therapy”. The famous Luzhniki stadium was turned into a gigantic fair. Yeltsin begins losing support.

A Lenin monument at the entrance to Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. The proletarian leader looks puzzled at the sight of the Sunday fair in the place of sportsmen. 1992

The first “business ladies”. Moscow. 1992


Some rake in profits from trade; others feverishly invest in the gambling business and the accompanying commodity, sex. The professions of racketeer and stripper become popular. For those who managed to get rich, cafés and restaurants open where unheard of licence prevails. Moscow. 1995


Moscow. 1993. Lots of stalls, kiosks and tiny shops have sprung up around the city – something like flea markets. People are selling things out of their own hands, trading nearly everything possible. Articles of genuine value are bought and sold, from certificates of honour and commendations

to orders and World War II medals. Anyone may become the owner of a decoration for heroic labour or for bravery in battle, or even a banner with the state emblem. The new businessmen who run this trade are often the children or grandŃ hildren of veterans.


Reluctant musicians. 1994. What brings a war veteran and a young lad to the former Arbat pedestrian area? Undoubtedly hardship. But at least they are trying to earn by working. They do not stoop to beg. Unfortunately, very soon there will be beggars in the streets. And there will be street kids whose parents are alive but neglect them. Young homeless children have no compunction about begging. Or about stealing, in a small way at first. The former showcase for tourists becomes a boot sale.


Reluctant musicians: hardship has evidently brought a war veteran and a young lad to the former Arbat pedestrian area. Moscow. 1994


Moscow. 1992. Some grow rich, others, the majority, become paupers. People are unable to adjust to the reforms. They take to the streets. It is an era of search and growing discontent. Yeltsin is starting to lose his popularity.



Moscow. 1993. The conflict between the President and the Supreme Soviet comes to a head. The Constitutional Court and Patriarch Alexy II vainly try to act as brokers. Military action begins. Russian TV channels do not cover it. Tanks on Novoarbatsky Bridge open fire on the top floors of the parliament building, where the leaders have their offices. People in the streets do not hide and do not run away. They see it as a big show. Everybody waits for the Supreme Soviet building to be stormed.



Several shells fired on the White House are enough to force the Supreme Soviet to negotiate. The guns fall silent. Buses pull up at the doors of the parliament building. The arrested deputies get on. The tragedy takes about 150 lives. This was the price of the President’s victory.

On Smolenskaya Square. Moscow. 1993


On the Garden Ring. Moscow. 1993


Autumn 1994. Moscow



A political first. In the autumn of 1993, Queen Elizabeth II of Britain comes to Moscow. This is the first visit by the head of the British Royal Family in the history of bilateral relations between England and Russia since 1553. US President Bill Clinton is not to be left behind. In Moscow, he easily finds a common language with the Kremlin incumbent, Yeltsin. The West unanimously sees these diplomatic moves as signs of support for the Russian President.



The famous writer, Nobel Prize Winner (1970) and public figure Alexander Solzhenitsyn offers his plan for “developing Russia”. In 1994, he returns to his homeland after 20 years in exile from the USSR. He acquaints himself with the new Russia by riding on a train from Magadan to Moscow. At the Kremlin, he is given a polite hearing and even allowed to run a regular programme on television. But before long, the programme is shut down. The country’s authorities feel that

Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Moscow. 1994


his assessments, preachings and recipes for reforming the country are unacceptable for today’s Russia. His strong views scared people. But the world gave its due to the person who gave the soul back to his country and spoke up on behalf of morality. His testament – the idea of a historical blend of the national and spiritual elements in Russia – is still with us. And so is the “GULAG Archipelago”, a book exposing the totalitarian system in the Soviet Union.

Old-new symbols. 1994


Moscow. 1999. Boris Yeltsin’s last appearance on the Mausoleum as the “boss” of Red Square. All that would happen during his time in office has already taken place: the disbanding of the Supreme Soviet in 1993, the disputed presidential elections of 1996, the 1998 financial crisis and finally, the attempted overthrow of Yeltsin by the deputies of the new parliament, the Duma.


History will have a hard time pinpointing when the first Russian President made his mistakes and when the controversial, but popular leader took the only decisions possible. Be that as it may, they exacted a heavy price on the country, the people and the President. Russia has survived. But as he resigns, Yeltsin asks the people’s forgiveness. A rare case in history.

Moscow. 2000. The new Prime Minister Vladimir Putin with former President Boris Yeltsin


Victory Day. Moscow. 2004

Waiting for a century that has already come I don’t think we have realised that the 21st century is already here. It may be because the noughties – as the first decade was dubbed – were somewhat controversial. President Putin established uniform legislation and order across the Russian Federation’s regions and republics. The war in Chechnya came to an end. Moscow improved its relations with its neighbours near and far. Global prices for oil and gas went up considerably, increasing our country’s income and influence. Everybody started buying cars. Our country is said to be “rising from its knees”. These are all good things to see, and so is the revival of faith in Russia. But spiritual life needs its symbols. Hundred-dollar notes, Bentleys and policemen’s batons can hardly be such symbols. Big cities are built up, but the traffic congestion is appalling. The Russian provinces are striking in their rustic beauty, but job opportunities for the locals are increasingly scarce. There are no new iconic figures in culture or art, and no geniuses in science – can they have been among the million and a half specialists who left the country in the past decade? No new holidays have been added to the calendar either. I am happy to photograph Victory Day, celebrating the historic defeat of the Nazi regime, but soon no veterans will be alive to be there. Vladimir Putin and his team’s war on corruption is garnering support, but hasn’t brought victory yet. The constancy of power makes one doubt whether Russian democracy works. The economic crisis coming from the West has exposed severe ills and caused some new troubles: our economy is severely lagging behind, we are experiencing capital flight, ethnic conflict, terrorism, drug abuse… We have made a 100-year leap leap in social equality – sadly, it is a leap backward. The number of millionaires and billionaires in the country is growing, but the working population is on a constant decline. We can only place our hopes on the potential of our children and grandchildren, whose faces you will see in this book. They will surely help the new era break through and help me restore my optimism.


Moscow. 8 May 2001. Improvised meeting chaired by President Vladimir Putin after laying a wreath at the Unknown Soldier’s Grave.



Motorised infantry on parade. 9 May 2011

2005. Red Square sees the parade to mark the 60th anniversary over Nazi Germany. In the front row, left to right, are French President Jacques Chirac, Lyudmila Putina, Vladimir Putin, US President George Bush Jr. and Laura Bush.



Many photographs in this album are connected with the celebration of Victory Day. More than 65 years have passed since 9 May 1945. Some may feel that this great day is now in the distant past. But I would like to emphasise that we pay so much attention to the history of those

violent years because they saved the planet. They preserved freedom for, and gave it back to, millions of people. And the other reason is that our losses were greater than those of any other country. The Soviet Union lost 26.6 million people during the War.

Moscow. 9 May 2005. This holiday is special in Russia. This is why the veterans are so relaxed when they come together by the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow.

The most popular gathering place of war veterans on The Victory Day, 9 May, is in front of the Bolshoi Theatre. Moscow. 2005


For many of those who come here from all over the country, this Grave remains the only surviving memory of the dead. Moscow. 2010

People continue to come to the Grave of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin Wall. Moscow. 1999



World War II veterans celebrating. In 2012, there were still about three-and-a-half million veterans in Russia, including about thirty-eight thousand in Moscow. Many a fine word has been addressed to them. But the country has failed to reward them accordingly. These people gave everything for their country, yet many of them had to live in poverty. Russia must at least honour the memory of those who sacrificed their lives for her.

When the troops are together, the morale is high. Moscow. 2005

Riding through Red Square on famous war-time trucks. 2005



The sisters-in-arms meet at last. Moscow. 2003

Each of them has somebody to be proud of. Red Square. 9 May 2011



The oldest part of the city of Moscow, the Kremlin, was built using wood in 1264 to house local feudal princes. Its walls and towers were rebuilt at the end of the 14th century with white limestone. The largest fortress in Europe served as the residence for the heads of the Russian state – great princes, tsars, emperors, general secretaries and, finally, presidents. In addition to offices, state rooms and ceremony halls, the Kremlin has operating Orthodox churches, museums and concert halls. This unique architectural ensemble is estimated at $50 billion on the real estate market. I love seeing the Kremlin from the banks of the Moskva River, where it looks particularly solemn and even magnificent. Moscow. 2007



Moscow. 2005. This is the only surviving outdoor monument to Vladimir Lenin in Moscow. The sculptor is Lev Kerbel. Russian communists assemble here every year on 7 November to mark the anniversary of the Socialist Revolution of 1917. The monument is decorated with red flags for the rally, and a portrait of Stalin appears at its foot.


Moscow. 1999. Sadly, care for architectural and historical heritage in Russia goes alongside disdain for the monuments of the passing regime. Soviet symbols were systematically destroyed throughout the last decade of the 20th century. The first to go were communist posters and slogans. Then the monuments and sculptures of the era were dumped on waste grounds. The largest outdoors stockpile of this kind was organised beside the Central House of Artists. Sculptures of Lenin and

other communist leaders, as well as other state symbols cast in metal or concrete, lay covered by ice and snow‌ It looks like a graveyard. All that had been associated with the Revolution of 1917 and the USSR is exiled, if not destroyed. Some individual items stay in their place, like the giant granite head of Karl Marx opposite the Bolshoi Theatre. But many true works of art that provide an insight into our history are thrown away, works whose fate should be decided in a calm and sober debate.


Democracy opened the doors to various political parties and groupings, sometimes even of a puzzling orientation. A great number of youth groups also appeared, including radical ones. It is not always clear exactly what they want, but they are obviously angry. Radical protests provoke fear in society and worry the authorities. Perhaps this is why the Kremlin has been turning its attention to internal troops and the army. Moscow. 2009

Guarding democracy. Moscow. 2009



The parliamentary and presidential elections of 4 December 2011 and 4 March 2012 spurred mass opposition protests and gave rise to a new political phenomenon that had not been seen in Russia for the previous two decades. On 10 December 2011, tens of thousands of protesters gathered on Bolotnaya Square in Moscow calling for “fair elections” for the first


time since the 1990s. The protesters are carrying a silhouette of the Aurora cruiser – the ship that fired a salvo in Petersburg in 1917, giving the signal for the uprising that led to the October Revolution. The Aurora, moored on the Neva River in the centre of St. Petersburg, has been a symbol of Revolution ever since.

24 December 2011. A second rally took place on Sakharov Avenue in Moscow, attracting even more protesters. Similar scenes were played out in 99 Russian cities and 42 cities abroad. The massive popular discontent is due to growing social inequality, rampant corruption among the elite, the lack of jobs for skilled workers, infringement on freedom, and the lack of any real representative power‌

Another rally in central Moscow, 1 May 2013. Among the protesters is this old lady. But she also seems to have a cause: “Russia demands change!� Will she achieve her end? Will anybody hear her voice?


Moscow. 2004. Special forces training exercises. It is not just about physical fitness and military skills, but about keeping up the morale of the armed forces. These units are intended more for protecting against internal, rather than external, enemies. That is, they mainly protect the country against terrorists and drug traffickers.



A rare natural phenomenon in winter – an ice storm‌ Outside Moscow. 2011



Moscow. 2004. The miracle-working Tikhvin icon of Our Lady returns to Russia. It is thought to be an icon of the Novgorod region and of the entire Orthodox state. Legend has it that the icon was painted by St. Luke, a disciple of St. Paul., It was brought from Constantinople, which had been conquered by the Turks, in the 14th century and was kept in a monastery in the town of Tikhvin.

Crowds of believers on the Kremlin Embankment.


During the war it was moved to Germany, and then to the Orthodox Church in Chicago, USA. The Tikhvin monastery was restored and reopened in the mid-1990s. In 2004, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia returned the icon to the Moscow Patriarchate. It passed through St. Petersburg and Moscow en route to Tikhvin.

The Tikhvin icon on Red Square.


Moscow. 2009. The Christ the Saviour Cathedral was built in 1883 using donations from the common people to commemorate the victory over Napoleon in the Patriotic War of 1812. It was demolished on Stalin’s orders in 1931 to give way to a gigantic Palace of Soviets, which was to be crowned by a sculpture of Lenin. World War II prevented the project from being implemented. A huge open-air swimming pool operated in its place from 1960 to 1994. The church was only reconstructed after the fall of Soviet rule, and became operational again in 2000. When I saw the church on a gloomy winter day, I suddenly realised that this was how I should photograph it.




Moscow. 1 February 2009. The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, elected Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, is enthroned.

Moscow. 2009. The enthronement of Patriarch Kirill is an exceptional event, both for believers and the Russian state as a whole. The country’s leaders are present. Left to right: Lyudmila Putina, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, President Dmitry Medvedev and Svetlana Medvedeva. In the background: Naina Yeltsina, widow of the former president.


Moscow. 18 January 2010. Epiphany is one of the oldest Christian holidays. In Russia, it is traditionally observed at the height of the winter frosts. I photographed Epiphany on the Moskva River, at the walls of the Novospassky Monastery, founded in the 13th century. A cross-shaped hole is cut in the ice. Steps leading down to the water are prepared in advance for those who want to take a dip. For the uninitiated, it is a veritable feat, considering the Russian cold. But the amazing thing is that people hardly ever fall ill. On this feast day, water is thought to have particular powers and does not go stale for several years. It is drunk, applied to wounds and sprayed in new homes, hoping that it will bring order and calm to the household. The cross was magically luminous in the moonlight. I felt like taking a dip myself.



For almost three quarters of a century, the Soviet government was combating religion. Thousands of priests and believers died in the repressions. Churches were destroyed and closed down. In the 1990s, with the demise of the USSR, the mentality of the people changed dramatically. The social is being replaced with the individual. Man still needs communication,

The Church of the Holy Sign at Znamenskoye village. Moscow Region. 2008


comfort and hope. Having lost faith in the recent past, people are looking for and discovering new values. Very often, these are old pre-revolutionary values that the Church has preserved. We go to church more and more often for baptisms, weddings and when bidding farewell to our dead. These rituals have become part of our lives, like icons‌

Church wedding. Outside Moscow. 2007


Moscow. The Bolshoi Theatre. 2001. Russia is renowned for its culture. I have constantly revisited this theme over the 50 years of my work as a reporter. And now I am happy, for there are so many portraits of world stars in my collection. Performers, musicians, singers... I will open this theme with the timeless symbol


of Russia, the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow – founded by Empress Catherine the Great in 1776, opened in the coronation days of Emperor Alexander II in 1856 and reconstructed in 2005–2011. This photograph was taken before reconstruction, so you can see the state emblem of the USSR on the façade.

Moscow. 1990. The famous singer Galina Vishnevskaya and her husband, the gifted musician Mstislav Rostropovich, at the Bolshoi Theatre after their return to Russia. They were the best-known musical family in the Soviet Union. The Bolshoi’s chief conductor Boris

Pokrovsky described opera diva Vishnevskaya as the “Bolshoi’s trump card”. The family was stripped of all its titles and decorations by the Soviet government and expelled from the country in the mid-1970s for giving refuge to the dissident writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn.


Maya Plisetskaya, the most famous ballerina of the second half of the 20th century. Moscow. 1998


World-famous pop singer Tina Turner (USA). Concert in Moscow. 1996


American megastar Michael Jackson on his first visit to Russia. Moscow. Luzhniki Stadium. 1993


French singer Patricia Kaas amazed me with her grace. Moscow. Olimpiysky Concert Hall. 1994


Super-soprano and enchanting woman Anna Netrebko. Moscow. 2007


British singer and song-writer Elton John is a frequent visitor to Russia. Rossia Concert Hall. 1978


Famous American composer, pianist and vocalist Ray Charles with his orchestra. Moscow. 2006


Art director of St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre Valery Gergiev. Chief conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. I had taken a lot of photos of him at the conductor’s stand, but ultimately picked a portrait without the baton. Moscow. 2008


Fashion designer and the first fashion trendsetter in Russia Slava Zaitsev and his “living exhibits”. Moscow. 2010

Famous Italian designer Giorgio Armani is ever ready to autograph. Moscow. 2002



Real joy. No matter if the bills are fake or genuine. Moscow. 2007

Behind the scenes at a fashion show. Moscow. 2010



Moscow. 2008. The annual Vienna-style ball at the Moscow Manege. The guests can expect snow-white tablecloths, exquisite food and beverages, classic dances and exorbitant prices. What is this? A return to the times of the Russian Empire? A yearning for luxury? An imitation of the West as it is seen by Moscow today? Or is it the imperishable thirst for high society the Russian people were missing for almost a century?..


Moscow. 2007. The automobile is the point of focus of the new Russian society – beautiful, fast, fashionable, powerful and, of course, foreign and expensive! It is the car that defines a person’s standing and leaves a lasting impression, and therefore it should be changed often. It is an age of auto shows, rallies, races, incredible success and true happiness for the leading car producers of the world. Moscow is their new Mecca.


The Russian province offers a stark contrast to the bustling, frenetic, money-hungry life in the capital. The ancient, quiet, truly Russian city of Suzdal. The Russian hinterland. One breathes differently here. Even the air seems especially clean, and the sky clear. You can hear time flowing. A good place to think about things eternal. You understand that the road must lead to the Church. Some may think that the town is a symbol of moribund Russia; some would say it is a symbol of Russia resurgent. Suzdal. 2009




Tatarstan. Sviyazhsk. 2008. The city’s coat of arms portrays a wooden fortress sailing down the Volga River. This fortress was actually built in 1551 in Uglich by the cunning Tsar Ivan the Terrible and then sent down the Volga River to the capital of the Tatar Khanate, Kazan. Once there, the Russian soldiers carried their cargo to land and reassembled the fortress

in a month. The fortress gave shelter to 1500 troops, who stormed Kazan the following year and prevailed, joining the conquered khanate to Russia. Today, the village on the island has a population of only 250. But the distinctive style and beauty of the Christian monasteries and churches built here have survived to this day.

A chain of towns just north of Moscow makes up the so-called Golden Ring of Russia, including Sergiev Posad, Pereslavl-Zalessky, Rostov, Suzdal, Vladimir, Yuriev-Polsky, Uglich and others. They have preserved unique monuments of ancient Russian history and culture. Local masters of traditional crafts are renowned all over the country. Churches and monasteries that were built here as early as in 10th–16th centuries attract many tourists and pilgrims. 2009


Lipetsk Region. Yelets. 2005. An ancient provincial town in Russia’s Black Soil zone. Its chronicle is dominated by a catalogue of misfortunes brought by Tatar-Mongol invasions. Then follows the list of churches plundered and destroyed by the Bolsheviks. The third calamity that befell this town, according to historians, was the fierce battles for Russian land against Hitler’s troops during World War II.


But the city’s chief landmark today may be the curious collection of busts of world proletarian leaders rejected by history that are kept by one of the local citizens and used as a sort of fence for his front garden. Only Vladimir Lenin has remained in his place: his statue is still towering in the centre of Yelets, indicating “the right way” to the locals with the famous gesture. It’s a rare thing to see in Russian provinces nowadays.



Yaroslavl Region. 2009. There are some small and wonderful places in Russia. They include the town of Myshkin on the Volga, which dates back to the 15th century; although its inhabitants claim it is even older than Moscow. Its life revolves around‌ a mouse, which is the word the town's name stems from. It has the only museum and palace of the mouse and it holds festivals and exhibitions honouring it. The brainchild of local citizens, they bring joy to many tourists and local children. I have visited the town more than once. Myshkin charms with its original beauty and its welcoming, open and ingenuous people.


Yaroslavl Region. Myshkin. 2009. Flushed with the excitement of a concert, their clothes soaked by a sudden downpour, the young performers from the local folk dance ensemble sauntered in their ballet shoes along the Volga embankment. And they remained on my film as a vivid reminder of the unusual holiday and particular warmth of the provincial town.



St. Petersburg. 2003. The city, which marked its 300th anniversary, has an amazing history. Built by Peter the Great as the new capital of the Russian Empire, it changed its name three times in the 20th century from S Petersburg to Petrograd to Leningrad and back to St Petersburg. I am more comfortable with Leningrad, because I had many links with that city at the time it was Leningrad. I find its bridges, its granite embankments, its country palaces and even its fickle weather enchanting. The city is so good that it merits a separate photo album.

The Moika River Embankment. St. Petersburg. 2003

St. Petersburg. 2003. Griffin. A decoration of the Bankovsky suspended bridge over the Griboyedov Canal. Sculptor: P. Sokolov. 19th century



Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, marked its millennium in 2005. The renovated Kazan Kremlin is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Tatars around the world consider this city to be their Home.


Feeling a bit tired after the celebration. Kazan. 2005



Ambulance in the Tula Region. 1977. I caught a bad cold during a business trip. They called an ambulance, a minibus with a red cross that drove me on a bumpy snow-covered road to the nearest rural hospital. Later, sifting through my archive, I recall those who treated me and how. I doubt that you can still get to the hospital via that road. I am not sure the hospital still exists. How does a rural farmer pay for his treatment and medicines after visiting the doctor? At best, he can bring vegetables he has grown himself. Free healthcare is a thing of the past, just like other social achievements.

An ambulance in a rural area in Tula Region. 2001


Moscow. 2007. Cancer centre on Kashirskoye Highway


Reception at a district clinic. Moscow. 2011. The pictures are not comforting. Most visitors at clinics are elderly. Healthcare for retirees is often full of drama. Not enough medicines are provided free of charge. Some vital medicines are unavailable, just like specialist doctors. Old people have to wait for months for free surgery‌ And this happens everywhere in the country!



Moscow. 2010. Evening on the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment of the Yauza River. This apartment block is one of the seven skyscrapers resembling the Kremlin towers that were built on Stalin’s orders. They seem to have raised the city and given it a special style. You can see three planes from the place where I photographed this building: the smooth waters of the Yauza River and two roads. All the seven skyscrapers were built almost simultaneously in the early 1950s. In my opinion, the most attractive one is the University on Vorobyovy Gory. It was ultramodern for its time.


I like taking photographs of children. And the older I get, the more I enjoy it. Children are the most accessible “subjects”, even for a novice photographer. They are sincere, spontaneous, sometimes aggressive. I say children are smarter than adults, because they are so quick on the draw. I’m still struggling with a novel electronic gadget when my grandson Petka is already using it, jokingly scoffing at granddad and grandma, like we were some hopelessly ignorant fools! Children have a different psychology today. Look

Moscow. 2004. A responsible mission.


at the boy whose picture opens the Red Square chapter of this album. He is somewhat scared: he can’t find his parents! The kids of today would have behaved differently. They have many more opportunities to search and discover. New games, films, computers and amazing books… The state used to take care of its children. Now they are mostly left to their parents and themselves. The world is making such giant steps toward children, and they see so many new things every day, that one can’t help envying them.

Another victory. 2011


Moscow. 2010. My family celebrating. My grandson Petka turned six. Three generations of the family have gathered together. According to tradition, the boy blows out all the candles at once. One of the grandfathers, yours truly, had to use his camera.


Moscow. 2007. A wedding party in a surgeon’s family. My friend Lukich, an oncologist, is the best man; his son is getting married and, of course, he wants to have photographs as mementos of the occasion. He invites a professional photographer. I am a guest at the wedding party. But I could not resist the temptation and took this unusual snapshot.


Our flight through time is coming to an end. And so is our acquaintance with Russia. The Russia as I saw it during my half a century as cameraman. I felt it just happened by chance. It was by chance that I chose this simple but exciting profession and did only what people expected of me. I was more successful on some occasions than others. As a result, a whole epic was built up. I never faced such a daunting task. It encompasses all my life and an important part of the times we all shared. Our era. I, and probably you, too, have many questions concerning what we think about it. Questions for ourselves, the country and our times. Are we following the right road? Are we living right? I have no pat answers. Most probably, our children and randchildren will give them. But we all answer them for ourselves. More than once. Did I do the right thing? Did I photograph the right thing? Was I cheating? I am afraid I made many mistakes. Most important, I wanted to be honest with myself and with what I saw. It was not always easy. The book contains all sorts of things. Perhaps you will not like all of it. But the photographs are real. It was you and I. What road we follow depends on you and me.

My fellow travellers on Commander Islands. 1977


Wide Russian spaces. East of the Volga. 1977


Wojtek Laski. 2011

Photographing wildlife in the Oka natural reserve. August 2011


The roads that choose us Roads not only link vast Russian spaces. Some roads are better than others. They are part of our lives. They enabled me to see things that not everyone is lucky enough to see. From Estonian islands to the Pacific, from Yamal to the Caucasus, I crossed the Soviet Union many times. Later, I travelled to Western Europe, America, Asia and Africa. The roads were like living creatures because humans were behind them. They provided me with food for thought and gave me creative stimulus. It is thanks to them that I met and photographed my heroes, sometimes in places no vehicle could reach. But the people I discovered for myself were so much all-of-a-piece and so interesting that I was not deterred by muddy roads. I like untrodden paths. I do not like to backtrack. I prefer new sensations. My whole career seems to me to be one long road. Perhaps the movement of people spurs me on? They rush, ride, sail and fly. And they build, including roads. I think the capillary network of our country roads are like its arteries and veins. Yet, to me, the simple railway wagon remains the symbol of the era. Just like one’s fellow travellers. They tingle with anticipation of new meetings and new impressions. This may be why I have so many photos taken at railway stations and along the way. I have always been lucky with the people I shared a compartment with. Some of them became my friends. Some of them I remember every time I leaf through the albums or come across a faded old photograph. All this is my professional and human wealth. The only kind of road I do not like is one that leads nowhere. That is why I never was eager to go wherever there was fighting. I have no war photographs. My task is to “look for the spot to take pictures from”. All the rest is done for me. I am almost sure that life actually chooses the roads for me.


Monument to Stalin in Prague. 1962. It would be pulled down in a few years’ time

A trip to India. 1976

With Boney M in Moscow. 1978

In a mountain village. Dagestan. Caucasus. 1966

On Lake Baikal. 1964


In the Far East. 1973

With Soviet Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin in Tunisia. 1981

In a deer-hide tent with locals of Yamal. Siberia. 1972

After a work trip. 1969

On Neftyanye Kamni in Azerbaijan. 1969


Visiting the dancer Esambayev. Chechnya. Caucasus. 1971

Felling trees in Siberia. 1964

With airmen on the Virgin Lands. 1962

With members of the project “One Day in the Life of the USSR” in Moscow. 1987

With a London “bobby”. 1989


The roads of Siberia. 1964

With fashion designer Giorgio Armani in Moscow. 2002

At APN office. 1978

In the Karakum Desert. Central Asia. 1973

Receiving the World Press Photo “Golden Eye” award for the photographs of Mathias Rust. Amsterdam. 1988

At the US President’s Camp David summer residence. 1973

In the North. 1977


About the author Yuri Vasilyevich Abramochkin Nationality: Russian. Born 11 December 1936 in Moscow. From 1944 to 1954, pupil at a secondary school in Moscow. From 1958 to 1960, photography student at the Journalists’ Union School of Photo Journalism in Moscow. From 1954 to 1957, worked as a photo lab assistant. From 1963 to 1974, studied law at the All-Union Law Institute by correspondence, graduating in 1974. Married Svetlana in 1966. They have a daughter Tatyana. From 1961 was Novosti Press Agency special photo correspondent in Moscow. Since 1963, member of the USSR Union of Journalists. Yuri lives in Moscow. Titles and awards: Interphoto exhibition diploma in the category “Economics” in Prague, 1962; bronze medal from Interpress-Photo exhibition in Moscow. 1966; prize for the best political report from the USSR Union of Journalists, 1969; Merited Cultural Worker of the RSFSR, 1977; medal from Interpress-Photo Exhibition in Havana, 1979; gold medal from “Sport: Ambassador of Peace” in Moscow, 1980; “Golden Eye” prize for “People in the News” section, Amsterdam, 1988; Yuri Gagarin jubilee medal, 1986; laureate of the Russian Union of Journalists, 1989; UN medal “For Special Contribution to the Development of Culture”, 2004; honorary badge of the Union of Russian Journalists “Honour, Dignity and Professionalism”, 2011. “The Golden Bookshelf of Russian Journalism” laureate diploma from the Union of Russian Journalists. Personal exhibitions: 1970: “USSR Photographers”, city museum, Sopron, Hungary; 1974: “USSR: the Country and Its People”, Photo Artists’ Salon, Belgrade; 1976: “From a Photographer’s Album”, House of Culture, Prague; 1976: “USSR Photographers”, Exhibition pavilion, West Berlin; 1978: “USSR Photographers”, Cultural Centre,


Damascus; 1978: “USSR: the Country and Its People in Photographs”, Mayakovsky Gallery, West Berlin; 1979: “From a Photographer’s Album”, Photography and Cinema Club, Belgrade; 1988: “World Press Photo”, Amsterdam; 2001: “Red Square and Other Photographs”, Izvestia newspaper, Moscow; 2003: “Red Square and People in the USSR”, Paris; 2004: “Two Times”, Russian Journalists’ Photo Centre; 2005: “Personal Photo Exhibition”, Union of Journalists, Moscow; 2005: “Two Periods, Two Eras”, Kolomna; 2005: “The Faces of the Era”, Kazan; 2006: “The Facets of an Era”, Lipetsk; 2009: “Yuri Abramochkin, Photo Essay”, Lumiere Brothers Gallery, Moscow; Selected group exhibitions: 1961: All-Union Photo Exhibition, Manezh Exhibition Hall, Moscow; 1962: International Exhibition of Photo Agencies, Prague; 1964: World Press Photo. World Contest of Photo Journalism, Amsterdam; took part in the same contest in 1965–1969 and 1975–1976; 1966: Interpress Photo, 1966, Manezh Exhibition Hall, Moscow; 1975: “USSR Photographs”, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; 1976: “USSR Photographers”, Fair Complex, West Berlin; 1979: Interpress Photo, 1979, Havana; 1980: “Sport: Ambassador of Peace”, Manezh Exhibition Hall, Moscow; 2010: “Art-Moscow”, Olympiad-80 series of photographs, Victory Gallery. Selected international projects: 1986: “One Day in the Life of the USA”, jointly with 350 photographers from various countries; 1987: “One Day in the Life of the USSR”, jointly with 400 photographers from various countries.

Photo collections: RIA Novosti; USSR Union of Journalists Photo Division; private collections in Moscow, Paris, London, Hamburg, Dusseldorf and Cologne. Publications: Books Soviet Tataria/ ed. A. Osipenko, Moscow, 1975; Kazan/ ed. N. Tkachenko, Moscow, 1976; Yuri Abramochkin. Photographs. Moscow, Planeta Publishers, 1986; Photographs in books Interpress-Photo, 1966/ ed. B. Burkov. Moscow, 1966; Photography 1970: Works of Soviet Photographers, Moscow, 1970; Moments of Bliss/ ed. A. Krasnovsky. Moscow, 1972; USSR Photo Book. Moscow, 1975; USSR Photo Album: the Country and Its People/ ed. Vaclav Jiru, Prague, 1975; Photo Album 1976: For the Sake of Life/ ed. D. Ardamatsky. Yuri Abramochkin. A flight through time. Moscow, Scanrus, 2011. Moscow, 1976; Articles Photographs from the USSR: Exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam/ Foto magazine. Munich, 1975, April; Mobile USSR Exhibition, 1976// Der Abent. West Berlin. 1976, December; The Soviet Union in Photographs// DSF Journal. West Berlin. 1977, April; Yuri Abramochkin’s Creative Biography// Tishrin. Damascus. 1978, 31 January; Conversation: Fine Arts// Die Welt. Hamburg. 1978, 7 April; Franz Ralph, Krekelius Thomas. What the Hell is Going On? // Die Wahrheit, West Berlin. 1978, May; V. Shatrova. The Soviet State in Photographs// Sovetskaya Kultura. 1978, June; USSR. Photo Journalism. An Art of National Importance// American photographer. New York. 1986, March; Reportage on Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit to the USA// A Step into the Future. Moscow, Planeta Publishers, 1988; Modern Photographers/ ed. Colin Nayler. Second ed. Chicago; London: St James Press, 1988; Anthology of Russian Photography, 1960s–70s. 2007; Yuri Abramochkin’s Red Square// Zhurnalist. 2009. Alexei Slavnov. Half a century with a photo camera // Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Moscow. 9 August 2012

The author would like to express his deep gratitude to Yuri Shutov, Chairman of the Board of the Joint-stock Commercial Interregional Fuel & Energy Bank «MEZHTOPENERGOBANK»,

and to Vladimir Larchenkov, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Russian Open Joint Stock Company Moskva Zlatoglavaya, for their assistance in publishing this photo album.


The author expresses his gratitude to his wife Svetlana, daughter Tatyana, son-in-law Andrei and grandson Petya for their support and useful advice during work on the book and also for their patience. Most sincere thanks go to my friends, colleagues and pupils, without whom this book would never have seen the light of day.

Yuri Vasilyevich Abramochkin Russia as i see her Idea: Yuri Abramochkin and Eduard Talanov Concept: Yuri Abramochkin Literary record: Alexander Ignatov Preprint preparation: Pavel Popolov Translation: Russian Translation Company

Scanrus Publishing House 8/1 Bolshoi Levshinsky Per., Moscow, 119034, Russia International Art Fund Tel: +7 (495) 637 79 36 Email: Web: General Director: Mikhail Afanasyev Tel: +7 (985) 766 64 75 Printed in the EU Press run: 1000 copies ISBN: 978-5-4350-0043-6 © The author owns exclusive rights to the photo images © Yuri Abramochkin, text, 2013

RUSSIA AS I SEE HER. Yuri Abramochkin photoalbum 1960–2013  

I have been collecting and preparing this photo album throughout the last 50 years of my life as a reporter. Initially, I did not quite know...