Artiom and Vadim photos by Elin Unnes, Katja photo by Tom Littlewood, Dmitri photo by Mark Edwards, Maria photo by Patrick Crotty, Yelena photo by Vito Fun.
ARTIOM, 19, STOCKHOLM
Vice: So you left to avoid the Russian military?
Artiom: Did you hear about the guy who lost his legs and his dick? This is how Russian military service works: It’s mandatory, and it’s basically one year of initiation, and one year of bullying. And it’s not cute stuff either, like having guys foaming you up and then shaving your whole body, or being forced to polish people’s shoes with your toothbrush. This is one year of full-on assault and battery, followed by one year of doing it to the new guys yourself.
I have friends who have been to military service and jail, and they say jail is easily way better than military service. And these are Russian jails I’m talking about.
Do lots of people skip out on the service?
People will try to get out in any way possible. Saying you’re a bedwetter is a classic.
KATJA, 31, BERLIN
Vice: What are you doing in Berlin?
Katja: I came here a few years ago because I study German. I ended up staying and working in gastronomy and a little in TV. Then one-and-a-half years ago I had a child, so it looks like I’ll be settling.
What are the main differences between Russians and Germans?
Germans plan a lot—how life is going to go—and the Russians live from day to day, in the present. Maybe because so much in Russia changes.
What do you like and dislike about Germans?
What I like most is they don’t leave things to chance. When Germans say they are going to be somewhere—when they promise—they are there. I like that. There isn’t one universal thing I dislike about them.
What about Russians?
I don’t like their big heads. They believe they are always the best. They are very much like Americans in this way.
What’s the favorite destination for Russian emigrants?
America and Germany.
VADIM, 20, STOCKHOLM
Vice: Were you excited when you were moving out of Russia?
Vadim: At first, but I don’t think I realized to what extent the move would affect me. I had been in prep school in Russia, and the school there is really intense. What you learn in Sweden for the first three years I got from one semester in Russia. And everyone would just look at me like I was the weird Russian kid.
And how was it adjusting to Sweden?
When I meet people, there’s always a few moments of me being nothing but Russian to them. In their mind there’s a huge bottle of vodka standing next to me. But going back to Russia now, I’m not one of them either. Coming to Sweden to me meant becoming even more Russian. People tell me I have a Russian accent, even though I shouldn’t since I’m fluent in Swedish. I guess I just never bothered with getting rid of it. But in Russia, it’s plain for everyone to see that I’m not Russian any longer either. The way I talk is a combination of the way I spoke as a kid and the ghetto slang I talk with the other Russians who come to Sweden.
DMITRI, 25, LONDON
Vice: So you’re from Chelyabisk? Where the hell is that?
Dmitri: It’s a huge city in the Urals.
Can you sum up living in Camden Town in one anecdote?
Recently I was walking home late at night. Out of nowhere a man is coming, you know, asking for money. He was all covered in blood and his clothes were a mess, so I am trying to get an ambulance for him, but he told me that peanuts would help more, you know? So I gave him a little money and he disappeared. But then the next day, as I am walking home, the same guy comes at me all covered in blood, but in different clothes. I told him that I had already helped him, but he did not seem to remember and kept asking for money. This has happened many more times now.
Give me one memory from living in the Urals.
Once some friends and I decided to go out of the city and into the mountains. The train was expensive so we climbed up a bridge and jumped onto its roof when no one was seeing. We sat there and my friend is playing the guitar. When we went over the bridges through the valleys and looked down over the edge of the train, we were laughing and singing and it felt like… I do not know.
A teen movie?
Yes. It was beautiful.
MARIA, 19, STOCKHOLM
Vice: Do you miss Russia?
Maria: I miss my friends and I sort of miss the atmosphere. It was really special there, and there was always stuff going on for teenagers to do. Things were cheaper and I always stock up on CDs when I go back. If you want to party you can pretty much get in anywhere. That was cool, and drinks are only like $2.
Well, what’s bad there?
All the movies and TV shows are dubbed. When I saw Shrek it was really crappy because you could hear the English in the background and then after like a half-second delay the Russian dub would come in.
Oh, and there are no garbage cans there. They took them away because of the bomb attacks after the conflict between the Chechens and Russia. The Chechens have sworn to keep fighting and doing terrorist stuff until they gain independence, and a lot of crazy shit has happened. My dad’s friend’s wife was killed in the Moscow theater hostage crisis, and my friends have been really close to bomb attacks.
YELENA, 18, NEW YORK CITY
Vice: What was Russia like?
Yelena: It was pretty normal. I drank a lot, especially in the summertime. A lot of people work in Russia to live here, like my parents. They work in Russia a few months out of the year in order to live here. They are private lawyers and they have their own practice. Right now they are gone. They will be gone for two months. I’ll be alone in our apartment for those two months. In Russia my parents were afraid to let me out of my house. They had several clients who were involved in the [Russian] mafia. Several clients were killed. There are a lot of kidnapping and ransom situations in Russia. They were always worried that it might happen to me.
So when did you leave Russia?
Two years ago. My parents wanted a better life for me in America and I fucked it up.
There are a lot of other Russians in my building. Every day we would hang out at someone’s apartment and smoke pot. Then we would meet at someone’s apartment and take a nap, wake up, eat, smoke, take a nap. When there wasn’t any more food we would go to school and use our lunch tickets. That was the only time we would go to school. Every day someone would have a new drug. One day we were using coke, another day we were using mushrooms. Then, one day there was Tina [crystal meth].