Khabarovsk - The Search for Larisa

David and I took a night train from Vladivostok to Khabarovsk on Monday, arriving bleary-eyed after a fitful night. It's not easy to sleep on a rocking, creaking train hurtling through the darkness, but that's not why David slept badly. He could hear a man snoring in the next coupe over.

At the Khabarovsk train station, we were met by Yulia Kultaeva, the young woman who agreed to host us during our stay. Yulia spent a year in Illinois as a high-school exchange student in 1996, and her English is exceptional. She was excited to see us, having spent the previous few days reading through the entire 1995 Russian Chronicles site -- she even knew a few details from those stories that I'd forgotten myself.

We're in excellent hands with Yulia, who brought us to the offices of Winrock International, where she works, and let us use the DSL connection -- definitely a first for me in Russia! She's also trying to help me track down Larisa Fedotova, the young businesswoman I wrote about in 1995.

Yulia Kultaeva, 25, is hosting Lisa and David while they're in Khabarovsk. (David Hillegas)

I've already tried several ways of finding Larisa: calling her phone numbers from 1995, Googling her, and calling her old employer, the Wm. JR Wrigley company. No luck so far. But with Yulia on the case, I'm hopeful we'll be able to track her down soon.

In the meantime, we talked with someone who remembers Larisa from the late '90s. Though Svetlana Zhukova, a deputy in the regional legislature and president of the Union of Businesswomen, could not tell us how to get in touch with Lisa, she was happy to discuss how things have changed for working women in Khabarovsk since 1995. Having started her own employment services company ten years ago, she was full of insights:


First of all, in a lot of positions, both women and men can now find higher-salaried jobs for their experience. That's the first thing. And of course, now people get their salaries paid on time. In 1995, people worked and then didn't get cash in hand when they should have -- especially those working in government services.

The quality of life is higher than it was in 1995. People are getting richer than they used to be.

Svetlana Zhukova is a member of the regional legislature, an entrepreneur and the president of the Union of Businesswomen. (David Hillegas)

I think women have more opportunities now. In 1995, there was more discrimination in employment. It was typical for a man to be hired for the top job, and for the women to have to fight to even be considered. Now the top job can go to a woman or a man; it's more democratic. It depends more on a person's experience and skills rather than gender.

It's true that for some positions, some companies still will only considering hiring a man. But we're seeing less and less of that every year.


We're still on the hunt for someone who knows how to find Larisa. Fingers crossed we'll find something more concrete tomorrow...

By Lisa Dickey |  September 8, 2005; 10:51 AM ET
Previous: Vladivostok - The Lighthouse Keepers | Next: Khabarovsk - A Spotless City


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What a joy to read these 2005 chronicles.
As for feeling guilty about undertaking this "frivolous" project when others are suffering in New Orleans, my philosophy is that one can only grieve about such misfortunues for a limited period of time, and then one is better to purposely turn to the things that really do make life worth living - one small example of which is reading about your adventures and the life stories of the people you will interview.
God Bless your journey.

Posted by: dastorhaug | September 8, 2005 05:35 PM

I'm very disappointed by the fact,that I was not able to meet you in Khabarovsk with Yulia.I would be really happy to talk to so exceptional people and to converse about situation in Russia. Because, to my mind,the situation changed a lot to compare with a one 10 years ago. I'm very happy,that you've found Larisa Fedotova.I think, it will be wonderful to meet her after 10 years.Have a nice travel!Good luck!

Posted by: russian_skydiver | September 8, 2005 07:54 PM

Svetlana Zhukova's optimistic comments on the situation of Russian women are great. There's one aspect that she doesn't mention, however. Russian women are doing well partially because of the absence of qualified Russian men. So many institutions that men could participate in and be proud of have collapsed: the army, industry, and the scientific establishment, among others. The government is still a stable employer, but low salaries (and the resulting corruption) mean that it's not very prestigious. The new service sectors have not emerged as places for men to become responsible wage earners, and so many simply aren't. The dramatic problem of alcohol is an aggravating factor. Bravo for the women who have taken full advantage of the wrenching economic changes. But it's a pity that so many men haven't done so as well.

Posted by: Mark | September 8, 2005 10:44 PM

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