New East Digital Archive

Trans-Siberian: Two weeks on a train was an existential journey

Great Journeys

Yanina Shevchenko travels the length of Russia... and back

27 November 2015
Text and image: Yanina Shevchenko

The Russian landscape bewilders. Its monotony is mesmerising: the immense empty fields and useless scraps of land, the long straight roads and endless tangle of rail tracks, the lonely settlements, all so much alike. But in the heart of that monotony are the people who dwell there. They give it a sense of place.

My journey consisted of a 14-day train trip on the Trans-Siberian railway, from Moscow to Vladivostok and back, with a two-day stopover in Vladivostok. A journey across seven time zones.

The Trans-Siberian railway strings together 87 cities and villages. With the constant movement of the train, it was impossible to grasp every segment of scenery, every panorama; something was constantly slipping away, and there was no possibility of revisiting the fleeting countryside.

I passed by dense forests stretching to the horizon and expanses of grassless steppes; blurred, distant hills and hidden scattered villages. It is a unique experience to watch thousands of kilometres passing by, and to observe landscapes through the window of a train.

The train stops several times a day, for periods ranging from a few moments to a maximum of half an hour. Even the longest stop did not allow more than a quick tour of the train station. Therefore I had no time to get to know the cities and places I was traveling through. So my goal was to meet and get to know people who live in those places and through them to create a bond, a sense of attachment to specific places.

During the journey I met people from various parts of Russia. With some I shared only brief chat; with others I spent days filled with intense conversation. At their final destinations I accompanied them to the station platform and created portraits that now hold the memory of our encounter and shared time. Their faces and stories became representations of the places they are from. I remember all the people I have met and got to talk to; they are a big part of my Trans- Siberian journey.

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