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 Dmitriyeva

30 years old, born in Moscow
In a long-term relationship, has one son

My mother left my father when I was five years old. She was in love with someone else. After they separated, I mostly lived with my father, but I stayed close with my mother too.

I think she made the right decision because, you know, you can’t save a loveless marriage. We have always been open with each other, and she’s explained to me why she left.

But my father was very resentful, and he would project his emotions onto me. “You’re just like your mother!” was something I heard him say one too many times.

Divorce was quite common then, so I didn’t feel any shame. I’m not against divorce but parents should talk to each other. Mine used me as a mediator and an outlet for their anger. Families that are separating should see a therapist because all of this can be traumatic for children.

My father promised he would never leave me. And I tolerated the women he dated — except for one. She and I were from completely different planets. I was 16, and I was jealous and resentful. I’m sure a psychoanalyst would have something to say about all this.

Rebellious youth

I went to three different schools in the 90s and everyone there dressed like hip-hop stars. I wore these really baggy pants. If you dress differently nowadays people will stare at you on the street.

The first school I went to was in a well-off neighborhood and most of the students there came from wealthy families. There were a few kids whose fathers were in organized crime. At the time, I may have been jealous of the expensive brands the other kids were wearing, but looking back now, it’s terrifying.

When I was 13, I became friends with a girl from a rich family. We hung out with skateboarders in the Chertanovo neighborhood, and got up to all kinds of shenanigans, fighting skinheads at rap concerts, shoplifting bread and vodka. The first time I smoked weed I was 14.

I didn’t have a very good reputation at school, but I didn’t care. My parents weren’t talking, so when I’d go out somewhere, I would tell my dad I was staying with my mom, and vice versa.

I was definitely pretty stupid in my teens. At 16, I started going out to nightclubs with other girls. We’d put on heels, and flag random cars down for rides. I remember one night a driver mugged us and left us on the outskirts of the city in some field. Some other guy got into the car, and they tried to have their way with us but we screamed and kicked back. So they just took everything we had and left us. We weren’t dressed properly and it was pretty freezing outside.


In the sixth grade we did the whole banana condom ritual at school, but by that point I already knew most of it from hanging out on the streets in Moscow.

At 18, I started to calm down. I started studying acting, which was very demanding. And at 22 I met Pasha on the set of a television show.

He and I immediately hit it off. We’ve been together ever since. Although we have a child, we’re not married. I don’t think it’s a big deal. Occasionally, we get comments. Our older family members think we’re married anyway. But we have our pledge to each other, and that’s what matters.


As a woman in your 20s, you are certainly expected to have children. I had my son at 28 and people had already been asking me, “So, do you have any kids yet, or what?”

The same day I found out I was pregnant at the doctor’s clinic, I had to do an acting exercise where we had to thank one another. I was overwhelmed with emotion, but didn’t want to tell everyone what I’d just learned. I couldn’t hold back and started crying.

My entire pregnancy was spent working. But it was great to be busy because it distracted me from the stress. And of course the people I was with were very supportive.

I actually wanted to have a girl. I felt we had this female lineage in my family that had to continue. But I had my suspicions that I would have a boy. I mean, I don’t really believe in any of this but it’s as if something different was inside of me. My father-in-law was certain he would have a grandson. And I’d always tell him: “You know, it’s the modern world, it shouldn’t matter whether it’s a boy or a girl.”

And here he comes. [Editor’s note: Alisa’s son runs into the room.]

There’s also this unspoken pressure to have boys. When I was pregnant, the nurses at the clinic kept praising me, as if I’d fulfilled my motherly duty to the Fatherland.

Now the question I keep getting is: “When’s the next one coming?” I know a wonderful couple in their 30s, and everyone is constantly gossiping about why they don’t have children.

Acting and #MeToo

I first noticed the difference between how men and women are treated when I went to acting school.

Every year the school would get three times as many applications from boys. So even if a guy is just applying to dodge the draft [Editor’s note: Russian men are required to complete a year of military service, but can be exempted if they are enrolled in university], it is still likely he’ll be chosen over a talented female actress. In spite of this, I still see many more women building successful careers than men.

New doors are opening for women in Russian theater and film, and there are more and more female cinematographers and directors.

As an actress, I’ve never been harassed. If the #MeToo stories of men abusing power to take advantage of women are true, then that’s horrible. It’s archaic behavior.

But we don’t really have the infrastructure to allow men to work through their problems and it’s made worse because of how our Soviet style of disciplining encourages sexist traits in boys from an early age.

Every allegation should be looked at individually, and if there’s evidence of harassment, then a man should be punished accordingly.

Obviously, in some cases, women might exaggerate their story. But I’d still be inclined to side with them. And it’s important that women are standing up and speaking out. This felt a long time in the making.

Our judicial system is corrupt. Here, the authorities side with men.

So it’s likely that women will stay silent out of fear. If the aggressor isn’t put in prison, the woman then has to fear for her life, because he could try to seek revenge.

In the end, it’s impossible to tell whether women are scared to share their stories or whether cases of harassment are just less common here.

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