September 01, 2021

Profiles in Courage



It takes something special in a human being to create a thing from scratch, to see a slab of stone and carve it into a sculpture, to see an empty storefront and turn it into a store, to sketch out a multistory building on paper and then shepherd it into existence in the real world.

It takes not just imagination and vision, but grit, dogged persistence, and a good measure of foolhardiness. For it is far easier to reproduce something someone else has created, or to get paid to execute on someone else’s dream.

Now consider how much harder it is to do all these things in Russia – no matter whether it is late imperial Russia, early Bolshevik Russia, the hopeful era of perestroika, or even the present day. The bureaucracy and corruption is far more insidious, social inertia has greater historical weight, and there is far less trust for outliers or those who dance to the proverbial beat of a different drummer.

A major impetus of our Spine of Russia project back in 2015 was our interest in meeting such courageous “doers” all across Russia. And the amazing individuals we met and profiled on that adventure changed our lives. I hope that time and opportunity will conspire to allow Mikhail Mordasov and I to revisit many of those people in 2025, to see what they have been up to in the intervening decade.

Meanwhile, this issue contains several stories about courageous souls. Whether is the composer Sofia Gubaidulina, the explorers Bering, Chirikov, and Steller, the architect Le Corbusier, or the Karelian store owner Galina Suvorova, all put their lives and fates on the line to pursue a passion or vision, to make an idea into something that lives in the world. It is a large part of what makes them interesting as human being.

Yet it is also worth noting that delivering to you the stories of these courageous souls, and the many others we have profiled over the years, would not be possible without the excellent work of the writers, editors, translators, and photographers who help us assemble each issue Russian Life. It is not a stretch to note that, without their work, many of these stories of courageous and interesting Russians might otherwise remain unknown to the English speaking world.

So, on this 65th anniversary of the magazine that was the progenitor of Russian Life, which we have been shepherding now for 26 years, I want to express a special thank you to all our tale-tellers, not just those who appear in this issue, but in all the 200+ issues we have assembled over the years.

Telling stories is hard. As Hemingway famously said, “There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” But the payoff is very satisfying.

Thank you for being there to read the stories we publish. And enjoy the issue.


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See Also

Everything is Material

Everything is Material

What is most important is to keep telling the individual stories, making human connections, sharing the important ideas that we meet.
What a Difference a Decade Makes

What a Difference a Decade Makes

US-Russian relations are on ice. We aim to challenge the prevailing trend with a cross-Russia trip by two photojournalists. Join us, won't you?
Hunting the Kola Super Deep Borehole

Hunting the Kola Super Deep Borehole

Last fall, Russian Life editor Paul Richardson and photojournalist Mikhail Mordasov set off on a Kickstarter-funded, month-long, 6,000-kilometer road trip between Russia’s northern and southern borders.
Driving Down Russia's Spine

Driving Down Russia's Spine

The story of the epic Spine of Russia trip, intertwining fascinating subject profiles with digressions into historical and cultural themes relevant to understanding modern Russia. 
The Spine of Russia

The Spine of Russia

This coffee table book is the photographic journal of an epic 6000-kilometer road trip. The book includes over 200 compelling images of Russians and Russian places met along the way, plus a dozen texts (in both English and Russian) on everything from business to education, from roads to fools.

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