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.

Kristina Grigoryeva

19 years old, born in Sardayal, Marii-El republic
Studying to become a preschool teacher
In a relationship

Growing up I always helped my family to take care of the livestock and the farm. I’d get up very early with them.

We’d get up and go out into the fields to cut the hay. When my mother couldn’t handle it on her own, I would help her milk the cows.

I would always help my mother around the house and on the farm. To milk the cows we had to get up at 5 or 6 a.m. As a child I was excited to do all this. Now, not so much.

I always got on well with my mother. I don’t have any bad habits, so my mother never really had to punish me.

I rarely see my father, especially now that I study in a different village. I usually arrive home just as he is leaving. But he calls me sometimes. I don’t think I would be able to handle a situation like my mother’s when I’m a wife in the future.

I live in a dormitory and am studying to become a preschool teacher at a college in the village of Orshanka. Once every two weeks I travel back home. It’s quite far, three to four hours by bus.

There’s not really much to do in Orshanka. It’s a village, after all. In my free time I play basketball and volleyball. I also really like track-and-field. I’ve won medals and traveled to towns and villages across the republic to compete.

We have four classes a day until 4 p.m., and then I go to my internship. When I get home I only have time to do my homework. That’s how it is.

I live with my classmates. Our college is filled with people from different villages. We spend our weekends doing homework, we have a lot of it. I’m writing my thesis at the moment. It’s about the effect games have on toddlers. I really like working with children.

I don’t really have time to watch any movies or shows. I listen to pop music mostly and use all sorts of social media. My friends from the village are constantly writing me and asking when I’ll return.

My boyfriend has been in the army since July. He has 245 days left to serve. He’s currently stationed in Belgorod, but he’ll be relocated somewhere else soon. He only calls me on weekends because cell phones are forbidden there.

I still haven’t introduced him to my mother.

My mother never taught me about contraception, and we didn’t learn about it in school. After school, kids sort of learned from each other.

I dream of of getting a degree in the city of Yoshkar-Ole, the capital of Marii-El. I’d like to become a preschool English teacher, and I’d like to live in Yoshkar-Ola. My brother moved there after finishing his military service. He’s training to become a police officer. My mother wants to move there, too.

When I get married, I think both my husband and I will contribute to the household, but I think I’ll still do the household chores. Girls are supposed to do these things. I think the ideal man is independent. I don’t like men who drink. We’re used to drunk men around here.

I don’t really have any heroes. I just rely on myself and my own strengths.

More from this family
Larisa Grigoryeva
Lyubov Petrova