I’d spent 7 years in Russia — July 1997 to September 2004 — before moving to Finland.
Those 7 years were quite an experience (and that’s an understatement).
When people ask me : “Did you like Russia?”, my response is always short and sharp : “NO!”. I most certainly did NOT like it there. Oh, I found the culture appealing; in fact, the Russian culture used to be one of the richest in the world. Their history, their heritage, and even the language itself — all attest to an empire that ruled most of Asia at one time.
But, that’s all in the past. Russia in the late 90’s, and early 2000s was a cesspool (and, from what I see and hear today, this hasn’t changed). Vulgar, barbaric in some respects, the Russian people were the most distasteful I’d ever encountered (not ALL, of course. I never generalize an entire nation or society. I pass judgement only on individuals, who are responsible for their own actions, and not the actions of others).
Never in my life had I encountered a more racist, aggressive, and openly-hostile environment!
I lived in fear almost daily. I always had to be careful when I stepped outside my apartment —- day or night! Every time I was on the streets, I was both physically and mentally alert. Always looking over my shoulder, watching who was coming, or going, and in which direction. I never ventured anyway where I w as secluded; I always made sure to stay in crowds whenever and wherever possible. But, even this was no defense.
Most people only experience verbal racism; after living in Russia for a while, you learn to ignore the verbal insults, name-calling, “N”-word being thrown at you DAILY. !! It’s so much a part of their daily lexicon, that you become immune to it.
I could have easily learned to ignore all that, though; I was no longer a child at the time, and any society can be adapted to, with the right attitude and state of mind.
What I could NOT adapt to, however, was the xenophobia! Russia is probably the most xenophobic nation under the sun. Living there, day to day, one had to be extremely careful and vigilant always. Day or night, one never felt safe. I was physically assaulted on several occasions. I even took up martial arts, just so I could defend myself if need be.
Several times, I was physically accosted and assaulted. Sometimes, I could stand and fight (if there were no more than two). But, being the low-life cowards that they are, they never dared to initiate a physical confrontation, unless they knew they had the upper hand, in sheer numbers —- they wandered the streets in groups of 15 or 20, seeking to start physical confrontations with ANYONE was either Black or Asian.
Russia taught me to read body-language. But, the outright hostility and hatred of the people there was so open and naked, that I didn’t need to read too deep whenever someone came into my line of vision; didn’t need to guess what he was thinking. The look on their faces said it all.
Anyhoo, 7 years of that was 7 years too long. When the chance came in 2004 to get the hell outta dodge, I did just that. Packed my bags, sold everything I owned, and headed to Finland. I didn’t even bother looking back.