Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia

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So these women began a singing group together, singing in their native Udmurt language.


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And they made sort of international fame because they had YouTube videos and they did some Beatles covers. And they just started singing and got a lot of attention. They're 60's, 70's.

I think one was over And they just started getting attention so much so that they represented Russia at the big international Eurovision contest. And they were an absolute hit. And I think that's the tape we were hearing right there. And you just can't imagine these wonderful, brilliant, adorable women in their native Udmurt outfits onstage. It's exactly what we were talking about. Many of them had lost their husbands and sort of turned to this singing group for friendship and to sort of get by together. They're just -- I -- the time I spent with them I just felt so honored to hang out with them.

REHM You know, you mentioned they raise money for their orthodox church. Did you, on your travels, infer the kind of religious discord between those who were orthodox and those who did not believe? There's some who just -- you know, they'll have orthodox icons hanging on their dashboard or from their rearview mirror. And so, you know, I think religion gives them, you know, a feeling of -- you know, a feeling of support, you know, to get by in the day.

But they're not that religious. And I think it comes from living through Soviet times perhaps in a time when religions wasn't encouraged and a lot of Orthodox And, you know, orthodox churches are -- they're Some people who are more cynical, you know, journalists and westerners will say, I've finally gotten sick of going to an orthodox church because you go to one after another in every city you go to.

I never got sick of it. And you'd always go in, there'd be a different style of icons all over the walls. And there would be people who would bring you in and candles and, you know, something really special.

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REHM Absolutely beautiful. David Greene. When we come back, it's time to open the phones, read your email. I look forward to speaking with you. REHM Welcome back. He's written a new book all about his 6, mile train journey into the heart of Russia. The book is titled, "Midnight in Siberia. He says Russia has over 80 republics and regions, many of which have non-Russian indigenous populations.

Has Putin exposed its own multi-faceted federation to the risk of secessionist sentiment with his Ukraine inadventure of stoking Russian separatists in the Ukraine? I mean, Russia is full of different republics and ethnicities. I mean, Udmurt Republic that we talked about earlier Diane, it's where these babushkas come from.

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I don't know. I mean, I wonder what the reaction is going to be to what's happened in eastern Ukraine. There was an outpouring of patriotism after But there's been chatter and some polls suggesting that support for eastern Ukraine has been much less so. And what we've seen has been this sort of very powerful terrible story where the Kremlin has denied actually having deployed, officially, Russian troops into eastern Ukraine. But you had these journalists who were going and finding families who had lost, lost sons who were deployed, it appeared, to eastern Ukraine.

GREENE And, you know, one of -- one hypothesis is that the Kremlin is really sensitive about this, because they don't know if Russians are willing to sacrifice for eastern Ukraine. You know, they don't know whether they believe in that cause. Now, whether the idea of sort of republics being separatist, I'm not sure.

I will say, you know, it's one of the things in Russian politics. Putin's party, the United Russia Party, he's really taken firm control over the regions as best he can. And so you have prosecutors, you have city officials who are literally tied to him politically and bureaucratically. And there's a feeling that he has, you know, that division is actually Putin's strategy of avoiding some sort of large scale opposition movement.

Because if you keep people feeling divided, it's hard for an opposition movement to come together. But it's -- Mark, it's a really interesting question to explore. Can you please have David talk more about the Russian countryside and the people and less about politics?

My fault. I mean, Lake Baikal is this stunning, stunning place in the Far East. It's considered the sister lake of Lake Tahoe. They look similar. I would argue that Lake Baikal is even more beautiful. It's this huge, huge deep, deep water lake with mountains that just rise on all sides. And the lake freezes during the wintertime. And you can walk across it. You can ride bicycles across it. You can -- they literally form snow roads across it.


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  • And you can take a hovercraft across it, which Sergei and I did. We hired a hovercraft.

    I was expecting some sort of high tech hovercraft. This was like a Russian latta stuck on top of a pontoon. I mean, it was just bizarre, and I thought that this is the way Sergei and I were gonna go. But wow. I mean, it's just that the ice on Lake Baikal, it freezes, and when it's not snow covered, it's like this sort of green, cracked glass that just shimmers in the sunlight. It's beautiful, and then it becomes snow covered and you're -- you know, it's just a snowy landscape and it is one of the most stunning places I've ever seen in my life.

    REHM All right. Let's go to Torrance, California. Aaron, you're on the air. Hey, that was a great show. I'm confident about listening to this. It was long. It was fascinating trip, though. So I had to have like a boots on the ground, so I really wanted to visit that place. Then I saw that "Doctor Zhivago," I said, wow, that place to be so we drove from unintelligible all the way to Sochi.

    Midnight in Siberia : A Train Journey Into the Heart of Russia - smaragclocrentpror.ml

    And I went through some villages and even noticed that those villages, like civilization hasn't touched for hundreds of years. I mean, when we saw -- we got lost so many times, and we ended up in a village, people would just come straight to us. Some of them scary looking, some of them totally curious what we were doing over there. They didn't know that it was American car. But yeah, we had a lot of good times with the local people, but so good time with the police.

    I mean, we ended up putting a lot of bribes, and we got in the jail a few times. They would start bargaining with us for like a thousand euros unintelligible. The moment they see American passport, you are done. REHM That's interesting. Once they see an American passport. No, it's -- that's really interesting, and that can, that can -- I mean, I felt like that helped sometimes in reporting. But the police in the -- spending time in jail, that's really In talking with people, I know you had a translator with you, but how did you approach people?

    Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia by David Greene CD

    Why would they want to talk to you? Why would they trust you and not fear that perhaps you had some ulterior American motive? I mean, when I do journalism in the United States, I sometimes wonder why people talk to me.


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    Because I'm thinking, if a journalist came up to me and started asking about my life, would I just start, you know, pouring out facts and my history and my emotions? And so, I'm grateful all the time that people will talk to me. In Russia, the rate of people talking probably was even higher than in the United States. I think Russians are, because of the Soviet education system, they are, on average, so educated and so sort of knowledgeable.

    Rich, poor, no matter where, what part of the country you're in. I mean, it would just be stunning. I remember being in this village and meeting this woman who was scared that this mill was going to close in town. She was, you know, she was screaming out food, food, food. We need food.