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Is Russia as gloomy as these pictures make it seem? Looks fairly miserable.
I have only seen a part of St. Petersburg and one of its suburbs, but what I saw was very mixed. It has a distinct European feel, yet is also somehow different. Life is clearly a lot harder (and dirtier) than in Western Europe, but it also has amazing splendor from the days of the Tzar. However, it is a couple of steps up from most Middle Eastern countries, for example. An in-between. Most of the people I met were very friendly and helpful, one woman even taking the time to walk me over to the correct train platform and explain things to me. On the other hand, there is a tangible tension in places, with frustration lurking just under the surface. People are working hard and long hours, but many don't have much of a safety net under them, and disease can lead to poverty quickly. In this sense it is similar to the States, but even tougher. There is a very visible upper class which drives hugely expensive cars and dresses in the most expensive brands, again, much like the States, but the general feel and infrastructure is more like Detroit than New York.
Apparently the further you go from St. Petersburg and Moscow, the more neglected it starts feeling, with low budgets and a youth which is slowly leaving. 75% of Russia lives in urban areas. Russia is just absolutely massive, and on the current budget, it cannot begin to cope with keeping the entire infrastructure modern and maintained. The population is quite concentrated in a few areas, and outside of that, there are just vast spaces crossed by few roads and traintracks. Much of the population of roughly 400 million of the Soviet has now left, in countries like Kazakstan and so on, and there are just 140 million now. As far as I understand, Putin's politics have heavily favoured St. Petersburg and Moscow development over the rural areas, so the gap is widening.
There might be errors in what I have written. Perhaps some of our Russian members can add more.