The 19th century poet Nikolai Nekrasov famously said that Russian women could “stop a galloping horse or charge into a burning house.” More than a century later, the resilience that quote evokes still rings true.

In today’s Russia, however, a different idiom is being used to describe the position of women in society: “If he hits you, it means he loves you.”

Under the current regime, conservative values have become more deeply entrenched and in 2017 lawmakers passed a bill to decriminalize domestic violence.

Gradually, women are raising their voices. In 2018, more women put themselves forward in presidential elections than ever before. And although the #MeToo movement has yet to take off in Russia, several female journalists pressured a lawmaker into apologizing after accusing him of sexual harassment.

Beyond the news cycle, however, women are rarely given a platform.

The Moscow Times has crossed the country to hear women talk about their experiences of life in Russia and the former Soviet Union.

We asked three generations from five families about work, marriage, love, sex and everything in between. This is what they said.

Alisa Akimova

10 years old, born in Khryug, Dagestan, Russia
Studies at school

Boys and girls definitely behave differently. If a small girl falls, an older girl will help her up. A boy wouldn’t help. Girls are also very good students in our school; the boys not so much!

Football and wrestling are popular sports in our village. There’s not a single girl that practices wrestling and girls will only play football during gym class. However, the boys play it all the time.

We’re all still close friends, though, the boys and girls in my class. Our teacher tells us that we’re all siblings.

Because we’re still young, our parents don’t let us visit boys at their homes, unless it's a special occasion like a birthday. I would never become friends with any boys outside of school, this is bad. If a boy I don’t know tries to approach me, I’d immediately tell my brother. I can always rely on my brother for this kind of help.

In our village, brothers are like cliffs that supports the backs of their sisters. As we get older, our brothers will always stay by our sides and help, just like my uncle is always helping my mother.

He’s always there for my aunts too, and my father is there for his sisters. I think my brother will always be by my side, because we’re younger and we’re taught to respect our elder brothers and sisters. I like being a younger sister.

I’m still very young, and I have many years left to study, and figure out which gifts Allah granted me.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a girl or a boy, you still face the same difficulties. Both have to work hard and study, so they can support their families in the future. Without a degree or other qualification, you’re just an ordinary person who doesn’t do anything. In our village, most of the children excel in their studies.

Men and women have different rules for the Salah prayer. My mother doesn’t pray Salah regularly. She only does this during holidays. It is very demanding, and she works all the time. She also tried to fast during holidays, but it was too difficult because she worked.

My father is an example of the ideal man.

Since he didn’t have an education, he didn’t have a career. However, as soon as my mother became pregnant with my sister, he sold cabbages day and night to support us.

My mother gave birth to her at 20, and then she went out to work too. My grandmother took care of me at home when I was born, as did my elder sister, which I’m very grateful for. My elder sister would help my father sell cabbages, and then feed me at home. Back then there were no phones in the village.

My mother is very kind, my grandmother is also very kind, and I try to be like them. I don’t think we’re that different, we have the same blood flowing in all of us. I don’t get up as early as my grandmother to work, I’m still young, but I don’t see any differences between us.

My grandmother had a very difficult childhood. When she wasn’t studying hard, she was helping her mother. Now we have access to wifi and to computers. However, you can’t learn everything from computers! I have time for extracurricular activities.

As a woman, I need to study hard and work to sustain my family in the future. I’ll have as many children as Allah gives me. He decides my fate.

I have never thought of leaving Dagestan. No way! You always hear that there are problems in Moscow.

In our village everything is perfect. Look at the mountains! Maybe I would move to Makhachkala with my mother. Otherwise, I don’t want to leave. The air here is so clean. Out there, there are gases in the air.

More from this family
Anzirat Akimova
Khalisa Radzhabova