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Russia's lost punks Squatting in homes, breaking each other's faces, and living the hardcore life. A photo series

Meduza
Photo: Ksenia Ivanova / “On the Verge”

Beginning in May 2014, photographer Ksenia Ivanova began a project dedicated to St. Petersburg's punk community. Titled "On the Verge," Ivanova's work, she says, is first and foremost a personal exploration of her own generation. Born during the Soviet Union's Perestroika period, her contemporaries grew up amid the ruins of Soviet ideology, when there was still nothing to take its place. "The uncertainty and despair of this time are reflected in our generation," Ivanova says.

A common Russian punk concert in the 1990s.
A common Russian punk concert in the 1990s.
Photo: Ksenia Ivanova

"You can safely call yourself a punk without being an anarchist, and just be 'anti-social,' without adhering to any particular ideas, just riding the nihilistic wave of it all. What does it mean to be anti-social in our time? It's either renting your place and using the money to travel abroad, running off the the forest, to somewhere in Siberia, and building yourself a hut, or something. Or in modern society you can just fucking consume, steal, drink, and be on your own. Most people choose the second route. It's a lot simpler."

Photo: Ksenia Ivanova

A get-together on the rooftop of a cafe shut down after a fire.

Photo: Ksenia Ivanova

Self-made tattoos. The hand and the tattoos belong to a man who calls himself "Mouse."

Photo: Ksenia Ivanova

Dima (32 years old) stands in his room at home. He grew up without a father, while his mother struggled with alcoholism. Dima works at a bookstore now, and is trying to finish his education in IT. He says he's not sure what he wants to do in the long term.

Photo: Ksenia Ivanova

"I grew up in a small Siberian town, where there was hardly any punk music at all. The core of the punk community in those days was made up of teenagers and students who'd dropped out of society and didn't fully understand why everything was happening or what they should be doing. Their protest was an act against school and against their families. And I gotta tell you: it was pretty fucking awesome for its time, and I was the same way. But if you look at it now, it's all pretty laughable: a bunch of skinny-ass school kids screaming about something, getting wasted, getting high on cough syrup, and then barely being able to walk. We were all a bunch of fake-ass punks." –Oliver

Photo: Ksenia Ivanova

Oliver cooks peas in a communal kitchen. Like many punks today, he's a vegetarian, and he doesn't smoke or consume alcohol.

Photo: Ksenia Ivanova

After a concert, a group hangs out in somebody's rented room in a communal apartment complex. Many punks from out of town rent rooms in communal apartments, built in St. Petersburg during the Soviet era. It's some of the cheapest housing available in the city today.

Photo: Ksenia Ivanova

Punks at a demonstration on January 19, 2015, in St. Petersburg in memory of slain lawyer Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova, a journalist and activist in Russia's anarchist-environmentalist movement, who were murdered on January 19, 2009, in downtown Moscow. Two radical nationalists, Nikita Tikhonov and Yevgenia Khasis, were later convicted of the crime. Tikhonov was sentenced to life in prison, and Khasis got 18 years behind bars.

Photo: Ksenia Ivanova
Photo: Ksenia Ivanova
Photo: Ksenia Ivanova

Sasha "Tsoi" (after the beloved Soviet rock pioneer Viktor Tsoi) is adding to his forearm a tattoo copied from a photograph of American punk artist John John Jesse. Tsoi calls the design "Sins of a Generation." "More people don't think about anything at all. They listen to the music, they get the haircuts, and they walk around and hang out like that for like seven goddamn years. And then they're done. But the handful that remains will carry on the ideas of anarchism, and keep up the protests. And I know we're not going to do shit, and that our kids aren't going to do shit, and that our kids' kids aren't going to do shit—and that there's no use rocking the boat, because if it tips and we're all stranded, we'll fucking eat each other. And then the whole world will just go up in flames from global capitalism and the fact that nobody gives a single fuck." –Tsoi

Photo: Ksenia Ivanova

Oksana (25 years old) at the gym "Vegetarian Force." A vegan, Oksana does powerlifting and lives by the principles of "straight edge," as evidenced by the cross tattoo on the inside of her elbow. Like most punks in Russia, she supports the so-called anti-fascist movement, which actively fights back against neonazi groups.

Photo: Ksenia Ivanova
Photo: Ksenia Ivanova

"Mutagen" Sasha and "Rotten" Lena ride the metro to a punk concert, organized in honor of their wedding. They've been together for three years already and they're planning to have children, hence the decision to formalize their union, even though they regard it as "playing into the system," which is frowned upon in the punk community.

Photo: Ksenia Ivanova

The parents of the bride and groom greet their children outside the city hall registration office after the marriage is made official, sharing a traditional celebratory bread. Sasha was seeing his father (on the right in the photo above) for the first time in five years. "I don't know how it turned out that way... we don't even live that far from him," Sasha says. "He's had another family for a long time now, and he generally has more right-wing views."

Photo: Ksenia Ivanova

Dana (24 years old) dresses her daughter, Marina, to go out for a walk. The child's father is a drummer in a punk band. He doesn't live with them or visit his daughter.

Photo: Ksenia Ivanova
Photo: Ksenia Ivanova

A friendly brawl between two punks in an illegally occupied building. A tenant in an average "squat" in Russia sticks around for several months. Usually the police come through and evict everyone, so punks try to keep the locations of these lodgings a secret. Most squats exist only in the summer, as they're not fit to sustain residents through the Russian winter. The organizer of this squat is proud that his group has managed to stay put for 11 months now, having wired the building for electricity and survived a winter that included temperatures 20 degrees below zero (negative 4 degrees Fahrenheit). Throughout this time, the building sustained two fires, one of which killed a member of the group.

Photo: Ksenia Ivanova

A trip to the mosh pit ends with a torn tendon. He'll need to wear a cast for several weeks afterwards.

Photo: Ksenia Ivanova

Sanya's forehead tattoo reads, " Young until I die." "I understand that I can create anarchy right here [gestures to his friends in the room], but there, beyond the doors of this place, I can't. Out there, I'm part of consumer society, of capitalism, and all the rest of it... out there nobody gives a fuck about anything, I think. Right now, we can create small anarchist cells, and live according to universalist principles—not material or capitalistic, but precisely universalist ones. And the main principles are life, equality, and love." –Sanya