Generations within Moscow family echo the hope, despair of a fractured Russia

February 06, 1992|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- The earthquake that has jolted Russia's social, political and economic structures has revealed deep fault lines around the generations.

On a snowy but bright Sunday afternoon, one Moscow family sits at the kitchen table, talking, laughing, eating and embracing -- across formidable distances.

Grandmother Lydia N. Litvishko worked until retirement in a radio factory. She is 60 and everything she ever made has been eaten up by inflation. She spends a lot of time worrying and complaining about prices.

Yet, when she searches her soul, she pronounces herself happy and fulfilled. She has her family, she has a home, she has food.

Daughter Ludmilla Shaverdova has a doctorate in psycholinguistics and was an academic at the prestigious Academy of Sciences until she decided there was no future in working for the government and took a hotel public relations job.

Ms. Shaverdova, divorced, is 38 and despairing. Her hard-earned degree won't buy her the basic necessities.

Where once she felt cared for, though constrained, by her government, she now feels insignificant, helpless, waiting to be swallowed bypowerful forces she doesn't quite understand.

Granddaughter Kseniya is 13 and fearless. She wants to get out of Russia. She wants to make some real money. Her plan is clear-cut -- go to Los Angeles, become a movie director, marry a man who loves her, have children. The former Soviet Union already seems a thing of the distant past to her. She expects great happiness.

Of course, parents and children the world over see each other across great chasms. Teen-agers tend to have vastly different visions of theworld than their elders.

But here, where most of the conventions of everyday life have been reversed, where what was vilified yesterday is glorified today, differing perceptions of the world take on deeper resonance.

Mrs. Litvishko, a child of war and deprivation, feels deeply grateful for the very basic necessities of life, for the roof over her head, a decent apartment, food on the table. She is comfortable here on the fifth-floor of a high-rise apartment building, clustered with a dozen others on the edge of Moscow's Lenin Hills.

Mrs. Shaverdova, her daughter, was brought up in a world of postwar dreams -- her generation grew up building communism and expecting something better at any moment. All that she was taught has vanished.

Kseniya inherited few expectations and supplied her own dreams. A child of the television age and the video player, she watches American films, absorbs the golden images of California and sees no reason it can't be hers.

Mrs. Litvishko, the grandmother, smiles at her daughter and shakes her head, unable to comprehend.

"I'm happy," she says. "She's not."

Mrs. Litvishko mends life's fraying edges with infusions of hot soup and fragrant tea.

"I'm happy because I'm helping my children," she says. "I was one of nine kids. Often we only had a bowl of porridge to eat. We lived on hope."

'Happier under old system'

In many ways Mrs. Shaverdova was happier under the old system. Then, she knew as long as she went to work, she would have enough to live on. Now she works at a hotel because she gets part of her pay in credits at a hard currency store, where she can buy goods unavailable in the state stores.

"I'm 38," she says. "I'm looking at my life and there's a big gap between dreams and visions and reality. I feel my country's troubles inside. We're on an island and the water is getting closer and closer. I don't see the person or the idea that can save Russia."

Grandmother Litvishko looks ahead optimistically even though she is horrified by the rising prices.

She sits at her kitchen table, her stove crowded with simmering pots, and gives her own accounting of the politicians she sees on television every day.

She is well satisfied with Russia's President Boris N. Yeltsin. She is disdainful of Mr. Yeltsin's critics, like Ruslan Khasbulatov, the chairman of the Russian parliament. "I don't like Khasbulatov," she says with finality. "Yeltsin is at least trying to do something. Sometimes he makes mistakes, but he accepts criticism. Khasbulatov hasn't done anything. He hasn't created anything but is only destroying the hopes of the people."

Her daughter, Mrs. Shaverdova, has no use for any of them. "The wheelers and dealers and the government are on one side," she says, "and the Soviet people are on the other, still sheep. I see them as sheep, but there is no grass in the field. The sheep have to fight with the wolves."

Young Kseniya remains unmoved. She and her contemporaries have no hopes or disappointments in their nation's leaders. They are looking elsewhere, to the West.

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