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For And Against Putin, Russians Share Their Opinions


This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

With a presidential elections just a week away, thousands of Russians formed a human chain around Moscow today to demonstrate for a, quote, Russia without Putin.

Much has been made of all the big opposition rallies held recently in Moscow and St. Petersburg. But Russia is vast, and its provinces are very different places than the major urban areas.

NPR's Corey Flintoff caught up with some voters from the provinces at a bustling rail station in the Russian capital.


COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Kazansky Station faces east, its tracks running toward the Ural Mountains. On a winter's day, it's a damp, cavernous place that smells of coal smoke, where passengers rattle their suitcases over the platform tiles.

Sergei Lozhkin is waiting for a train heading home to Ufa, an industrial city on the edge of the Urals, about a thousand miles east of Moscow. He looks relaxed and prosperous, younger than his 51 years; with a sandy, bristling mustache. He's fairly cheerful about his life.

SERGEI LOZHKIN: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: My wife and I both work, he says. We're not eating our last piece of bread - meaning, we're doing all right.

He's proud that his son has an advanced degree in chemistry, and that his daughter-in-law is a doctor. They got everything they have with their brains, he says. Lozhkin himself is a welder who's been in his current job for 20 years. He and his wife lived through the turmoil after the fall of the Soviet Union.

LOZHKIN: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: He says he prizes stability, and credits Vladimir Putin with achieving it. He says Putin has done a good job and will get his vote.

Valentina Dregunova is waiting for a train to Tolyatti, a car-manufacturing town on the Volga River. She's an imposing figure, a tall woman of 69 with white hair clamped under a helmet-like hat. Dregunova is a retired teacher who says things have gotten better over the past 10 years or so.

VALENTINA DREGUNOVA: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: She says she and her husband have had their pensions raised several times recently, and state workers have seen a salary hike.

Dregunova says she, her son and her daughter live well, with nice apartments and a dacha, or summer house.

DREGUNOVA: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: As to the presidential candidates, she's impressed by Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire newcomer to Russian politics. But this time, she says she'll vote for stability and Vladimir Putin.


FLINTOFF: Further down the platform stands a young man who's also waiting for the train to Tolyatti. His name is Dmitry Chevozyorov. He did his schooling and started his working life during the Putin years, but he knows his family suffered in the years before Putin came to power. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Chevozyorov's father started a finance company, but lost it to a bribery scheme.

DMITRY CHEVOZYOROV: It's criminal. And people in power, they take his business. They said, it's not good; you don't pay for us. You must pay for us. He said no and so now, he's jobless.

FLINTOFF: He's had no job since 1999, and Chevozyorov blames the political movers and shakers in Tolyatti. It may not be surprising that Chevozyorov became a lawyer, or that he thinks corruption is one of the country's biggest problems. He looks as if he belongs in a play by Chekov - tall and thin, with rimless glasses, and sandy hair that reaches to the collar of his turtleneck sweater. Now 26, he says he and his wife plan to have children but that they're waiting.

CHEVOZYOROV: I worry about money. And I worry about my own house, or flat.

FLINTOFF: He says if the Russian government really wants to raise the birth rate to counter the country's population decline, it must provide affordable housing.

CHEVOZYOROV: I think it's wrong. Our government must change politic, because I'm not interested to born a lot of children when I haven't got own house or flat.

FLINTOFF: Chevozyorov says he's certain that Vladimir Putin will win, but he likes Mikhail Prokhorov.

CHEVOZYOROV: But I think he can't win. But I think I'll vote for Prokhorov. Why not?

FLINTOFF: Chevozyorov welcomes the big opposition protests in Moscow, and says there were demonstrations in Tolyatti as well.

CHEVOZYOROV: I think it's popular to be interested in politic, and lots of young people interested now.

FLINTOFF: And, he says, boarding the train, that includes his friends at home.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.