Growing Up Soviet: A Firsthand Photo Essay

Growing Up Soviet: A Firsthand Photo Essay

Olga Boyarskaya has been guiding MIR travelers to Russia and beyond for more than 15 years. A native of St. Petersburg with a great sense of humor, she has traveled extensively throughout Russia, China, Central Asia, Iran and along the Trans-Siberian Railway.

For me, growing up Soviet in St. Petersburg was happy, safe and carefree. Everything was free, including summer camps and after-school activities; we had lots of opportunities and our education was very good. I was very lucky to study English in Soviet School No. 1, one of the best in all the Soviet Union.

Soviet School No. 1: Learning EnglishI spent ten years of my life in this special school, from 1980 till 1990. Many parents wanted their children to study there. We had 42 pupils in our class for eight years; half of them stayed for the last two years. We started studying English at age 8, with far more English language lessons than students in a typical school.

Our teachers weren’t native English speakers, but Russians. That’s why it was so special when a foreign delegation would arrive at our school so we could practice our English. In Soviet life, that was rare: our No. 1 school was one of the chosen few honored to receive foreigners.

These photos (below) capture my first meeting with foreigners. I was 8 years old, dressed in an Uzbek costume with braids and hat, dancing for the delegation. I guess we were trying to demonstrate the unity of the different republics. I remember how proud we were to meet these foreigners and perform for them.

Growing up Soviet: Olga Boyarskaya meeting Uzbek foreigners. Photo credit: Olga Boyarskaya

Growing up Soviet: Olga's class meets and performs for foreigners who visit her school. Photo credit: Olga Boyarskaya

 

I always liked English as a school subject – and it paid off. As I got older, I had more opportunities to talk with foreigners privately. I was a well-behaved young girl, so I was rewarded with meeting people from other countries.

The Party LineI don’t remember talking much about communism, growing up. Nevertheless, in school I was a Little Octobrist and a Young Pioneer, both communist youth organizations. In the below photo (left) you can see my Lenin pin. It’s 1983 in this photo, and I was 9 years old.

In the next photo (right), I’m wearing a Young Pioneer’s red tie. You couldn’t forget to wear it or mistreat it any way. This red tie was something you were supposed to take care of and wear in school all the time; otherwise, you would be reprimanded.

Olga's school photos

 

In this next photo (below), we’re a bit older, and have become Young Pioneers. That’s our English language teacher, Yelena – so young and energetic. I really liked her. I was happy to meet her later when I started working; today Yelena is a tour guide.

In this photo, we’re a bit older Young Pioneers and in the center is one of my favorite teachers, Yelena

 

I think I was among the last Komsomol members, ever. Talk about a rare document: my Komsomol membership ticket. I entered Komsomol at the age of 15 in 1988, just before the entire organization collapsed.

I think I was among the last Komsomol members, ever. Talk about a rare document: my Komsomol membership ticket. I entered Komsomol at the age of 15 in 1998, just before the entire organization collapsed.

 

Lenin – Here, There and Everywhere
Notice the little Lenin statue above my sister on the bookshelf.

Notice the little Lenin statue above my sister on the bookshelf

This is my sister Masha (who also works for MIR) in her second year of school. She’s giving an answer; notice the little Lenin statue above her on the bookshelf. Check out the red banner on the wall as well. Lenin had to be somewhere in every school and institution, as though he was watching us.

In the next photo (below) my mom and dad are getting married in one of the registration offices known as “wedding palaces,” often real palaces of the former nobility. Behind them you see our friend again. Lenin is watching young couples getting married and creating strong Soviet families in the former palaces of aristocrats. He was everywhere – we got so used to him that we didn’t really notice him any more.

Lenin is watching young couples getting married and creating strong Soviet families in the former palaces of aristocrats

Lenin is watching young couples getting married and creating strong Soviet families in the former palaces of aristocrats

Celebrating New Year’sNew Year’s is still the main holiday for Russians, and not much has changed since 1977 when this picture (below) was taken. I was four years old, and so happy to meet Father Frost and his granddaughter, the Snow Maiden, who brought me gifts for New Year’s. Now I know they were my parents’ colleagues, chosen every year to visit their co-workers’ homes to greet their children. All of this was organized at work and free of charge.

Olga and Father Frost, celebrating New Years

Olga meets Father Frost and his granddaughter

Mushroom MemoriesI don’t think I know any Russian who hasn’t done it: picking mushrooms in the woods is a favorite Russian pastime, starting early in your childhood. In this photo (below) I’m just a three year old and tasting berries my grandma collected. Look at those baskets filled with mushrooms. I don’t recall if they took us to the woods at this age, but I’m sure by age four, I was already learning how to pick mushrooms with my whole family.

My little brother lives in Los Angeles today, and he misses this mushroom tradition tremendously! Come to pick mushrooms with us and enjoy Russian nature in our post-Soviet life.

Picking mushrooms, a Russian tradition

Picking mushrooms, a Russian tradition

Travel with MIR to Russia

You can see the kinds of Soviet relics that Olga grew up with in St. Petersburg, as well as the rest of Russia, although perhaps many are now in museums. MIR has a number of ways to travel the breadth and depth of this formerly communist country. 

MIR has 30 years of travel experience to Russia, with affiliate offices in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Siberia offering on-the-ground support, and tour managers that clients rave about. MIR’s full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”

If you’re looking for a ready-made tour of Russia, MIR offers a variety of scheduled departures to Western Russia, Siberia, and along the Trans-Siberian Railway

MIR has specialized in personalized, private journeys experience and we love to take your ideas and weave them into a trip tailored especially for you. Travel wherever, however, and with whomever you like, relying on our expert assistance. Contact us to find out more about our custom and private travel expertise – each trip handcrafted to your interests, dates and pace.

Contact MIR today at [email protected] or 1-111-111-1111.

 

Top photo: School days  at Soviet School No. 1, in St. Petersburg 

PUBLISHED: February 18, 2016

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