I was 20, living in St Petersburg and desperately in need of a warm coat. But as I saw the gift, my face turned ashen
In December 1993, I was living in St Petersburg as part of the year abroad for my university course in Russian. This was in the heady days of glasnost, perestroika and newly opened branches of McDonald’s where you met Russians who burst into tears of disbelief when they realised you were from “tam” (over there).
It was the innocent time of trading Levi’s and hard currency in the street. People would ask endless earnest questions about the Beatles, Deep Purple and King Crimson. With the strains of the Scorpions’ Winds of Change ringing in our ears (“Let your balalaika sing / What my guitar wants to say”), it was completely normal to assume that Russia was on its way to becoming a beacon of democracy and freedom like any other responsible independent eastern European state, just a rather large one. How times change.