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 Liuban-Little Wooden Houses

The road from St. Petersburg to Moscow.
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Off the highway, in a village called Liuban, we find a school named after Radishchev—the fact that he visited this hiccup on the road is a high point in Liuban's 500-year history. The village roads are rutted, even when there is a veneer of pavement. Potholes the size of small ponds are filled with water from a recent rain.

"It's a very little town," explains a 60-year-old Liuban English teacher, Nelly Lukyanova. "One musical school. The cinema is shown—no," she corrects herself, "films are shown. And most of all [there are] little houses, wooden houses."

Wooden houses with outdoor toilets and communal water pumps. The infrastructure is so fragile that a strong wind has knocked out the heat and electricity, yet again.

The school is chilly. Principal Galina Kudrina says the fervor of the early years of reform has dimmed.

"Wages are simply too low," says Kudrina. "If we had decent wages, there wouldn't be any problems. But with salaries the way they are, it's hard to maintain enthusiasm over the years. You understand: A teacher also wants to eat, to dress properly. And we all have families."

The 37-year-old Liuban principal doesn't want to go back to the way it was, but is clearly confused by the new reality. She misses the protective Soviet cocoon, where information was controlled and planes seemingly never crashed.

"The media shows so many negative things," she says, "not only for our country, but everywhere: some kind of catastrophe, something breaks down, something collapses. It's hard to bear, so we watch less television. It's hard to prepare kids for this new world when we haven't even adjusted. Everything is very difficult."

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