LLike most Moscow kids, 10-year-old Stas Bespoly has a complete set of built-in friends waiting for him when he finishes school each day. Stas, a freckled computer fanatic who loves to play games on the family computer every evening, lives in a typical Moscow apartment complex that boasts a large, tree-lined courtyard.
Most afternoons he comes home from school, eats a snack his mother has left for him in the kitchen, and plays outside in the yard with a group of other children whose parents work during the day. ``Most of my friends are from my building,'' says Stas, whose name is short for Stanislav. ``We play a lot of games - hide-and-seek, jumping, running. Usually we just play in the courtyard.''
Just a few years ago, most children living in what used to be the Soviet Union were offered a host of extra-curricular activities such as sports clubs, field trips, and hobby groups, funded by the Soviet state. But today, most children, most of whom have two parents who work, are now on their own after school. Natasha Ratnikova says she worries about her daughter, Yuliya, and son, Kostya - especially as some Moscow children sell newspapers, wash cars, or even beg in their spare time.
But Yuliya, a chubby, independent 11-year-old, says she is happy the state-funded Young Pioneers are gone - mainly because she no longer has to wear the outdated polyester Pioneer uniform: a scratchy brown dress and white pinafore.
When her father is free, Yuliya enjoys mushroom-hunting with him in the forest near her house, picking huge mushrooms the family will use in salads and soups. But when she's on her own, she thinks up her own amusements. ``I like to go to the movies, I play volleyball, and I read a lot of books. I love comedies and detective movies,'' she says.
Stas, who was accompanying Yuliya to the cinema, adds that he wishes that more school sports could be extended after school. ``I like basketball and soccer, and now we also have wrestling,'' he says.