Restless in Russia

American photographer and visiting professor Victoria Crayhon finds a rising generation that’s impatient to see the world beyond Vladivostok, Russia, and find better jobs and opportunities.

Victoria Crayhon
Wedding parties like this one (left) typically roam around the city taking pictures at each of Vladivostok’s famous sites. This group is near Central Square.

“I was intrigued to come to Vladivostok,” says photographer Victoria Crayhon. The port city of 600,000 in Russia’s far east was closed to Westerners during the cold war. Young people here think she’s crazy, especially when they hear she’s from New York.

“You left there to come here? Why?” they ask incredulously. College students here want to see the world, move to western Russia, Japan, South Korea, or the United States. They want good jobs, homes, families, and – like teens everywhere – ­iPhones, which can cost eight to 10 times as much in eastern Russia.

The city is on the doorstep of a bustling Asia, and has a “distinctly European feel,” Ms. Crayhon says. Japanese cars are cheap and plentiful, resulting in huge traffic jams on inadequate roads. The one to the airport, for example, is teeth-rattling dirt. It will be paved for the Asia-Pacific Economic Coop­eration summit here next year – but not until then. Air pollution is heavy. Cookies and bread are exquisite. Broken sidewalks and plumbing tend to stay that way. Dairy products are outstanding.

The older generation tells tales of coping with repression: A sailor could bring back only chewing gum and two pairs of jeans from his travels; an artist educated himself about Western art from the foreign stamps he saw.

“I am already getting sad thinking about leaving,” Crayhon says. Her six-month Fulbright grant in photography ends in late July.

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