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On Victory Day, an old woman wearing her medals is accompanied by a much younger escort. For Leningraders who survived the siege of their city, which lasted nearly 900 days, it was a defining event in their lives. An estimated 1.5 million people died during the siege.

Four Leningraders proudly show off their medals on Victory Day.

Veteran with medals and cane

A group of young artists and musicians invited Gigi and me into their Leningrad apartment for dinner.

Two elderly women

Woman with flowers.

Five people on a bench in the Catherine Garden, a lovely retreat from the chaos of the Nevsky Prospekt in central Leningrad

We met Vanik running a shell game in a tunnel under a road in Yerevan. He invited us to his home and plied us with liquor until we could barely stand. His dream was to move to America and join the mafia. The father of twin one-year-old daughters, he actually had it good by Soviet standards -- a large home surrounded by grape vines and fig trees, a wife who worked as a hairdresser, and a shiny Volga car that he kept locked in a garage.

I met Sergei, Tania, and Dima through my brother. Sergei was a Ukranian who spent time in prison as a dissident. His girlfriend Tania seemed to come from a somewhat privileged background, with a very nice apartment on the Nevsky Prospekt. Dima was a brooding radical who was practically on a first-name basis with the KGB agents who continually harassed him.

One of the most impressive people I met that summer was Olga Lipovskaya. She produced an undeground "samizdat" (self-published) feminist journal and was active in the Democratic Union, probably the most progressive of the opposition groups working for political reform. She remains active as a feminist writer and political commentator to this day.

When I first encountered Lena, she was mopping the floor of Leningrad's jazz club. She invited me to her home, offered me tea, introduced me to her son, and told me of the trials of her life. She and her son lived in a couple of rooms with a shared a kitchen -- which was typical in Soviet times. Lena once complained to me about how hard she worked -- 4 hours a day, 3 days a week -- which said a lot about the problems that plagued the Soviet Union in the late eighties.

Simple pleasures on the street in Minsk.

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