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Inside the 11-Story Building That's Calling Itself the People's Republic of Donetsk

The Kafkaesque saga of a reporter trying to gain access to the world's smallest—and quite possibly most bureaucratic—nation.

When I first arrived in Donetsk (the city) a Russian journalist who has been stuck covering this place since May 9 advised me and my photographer Max Avdeev to go and get accredited with Donetsk (the people’s republic). The PRD has been in existence for just over a month and is fighting for its survival. But it is also rigorously accrediting journalists.

To get into the country—which is basically just the seized Soviet-era building that once housed the Donetsk city administration—Max and I had to get through a series of checkpoints set up in the adjacent square, now piled high with tires, barbed wire, and signs decrying fascism, Kiev, America, the E.U., and, weirdly, Poland. At each of the three checkpoints, Max showed his Russian press card and I showed my New Republic business card to an endless series of sun-burned, black-fingernailed men in Adidas track pants.

PUBLISHED: May 21, 2014
LENGTH: 7 minutes (1957 words)


As NASA seeks their next mission, Russia holds the trump card: access to the International Space Station.

Mastracchio’s unglamorous return home last week in a Soyuz capsule has been described by some veteran astronauts as akin to going over Niagara Falls, in a barrel, on fire.

Around the world, in Houston, mission control could only watch for critical signs of success, such as parachute deployment, listen to Russian flight directors and review the data being relayed from Kazakhstan.

When he finally reached the ground Mastracchio remained far from home, but at least it was spring, and the landing spot on. All Soyuz astronauts undergo two nights of winter survival training in case their spacecraft landing goes awry, and they’re stranded in the central Asian hinterlands for a couple of days. It’s a far cry from the handshake with the NASA administrator on a sunny Florida runway that awaited most shuttle astronauts.

PUBLISHED: May 18, 2014
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2923 words)

Putin's Long-Term Strategy: The Eurasian Union

Neyfakh explores Vladimir Putin’s pursuit of a Eurasian Union, and the roots of Eurasianism:

Putin famously once said the breakup of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” and has also reportedly promised that the Eurasian Union would be based on the “best values of the Soviet Union.” But to say the project is simply an effort to reassemble the USSR is crude and incorrect, say Russia analysts. Instead, Putin’s efforts should be seen as a realization of an entirely different, and much less familiar idea called Eurasianism—a philosophy that has roots in the 1920s, and which grew out of Russia’s longstanding identity crisis about whether or not it should strive to be a part of Europe.

PUBLISHED: March 19, 2014
LENGTH: 9 minutes (2311 words)

Being Gay in Russia Today: A Reading List

This week's picks from Emily include stories from n+1, GQ, and The New York Times.
PUBLISHED: Feb. 9, 2014

Inside the Iron Closet: What It's Like to Be Gay in Putin's Russia

Violence, threats and living in fear that things are only going to get worse:

“Something is coming,” says Pavel. What it will be, he’s not sure. He’s worried about “special departments” in local police stations, dedicated to removing children from gay homes. He’s worried about a co-worker discovering him. He is worried about blackmail. He is worried, and he does not know what else to do. He wishes he could fight, but he doesn’t know how. Sign a petition? March in a parade? Pavel would never do that now. “My children,” he murmurs. “This law,” he says, referring to the ban on “propaganda.” “If something happens, it touches only me. And I can protect myself.” But the next law: “This is about my child. My baby.” If the next law passes, they will leave. The two women are doctors and Nik works in higher education, careers that will require new certification. Which means that only Pavel, a manager for the state oil company, will be able to work right away. They will be poor, but they will leave. They might have to separate, Pavel and Irina and Emma to Israel, where Irina can become a citizen, Nik and Zoya and Kristina to any country that will take them. They might have to become the couples they pretend to be. For now, they are staying. “We’re going to teach them,” he says of his two little girls, Emma and Kristina. “How to protect themselves. How to keep silence.”

PUBLISHED: Feb. 4, 2014
LENGTH: 30 minutes (7543 words)

What It's Like to Grow Up Gay in Russia

For this week's Longreads Member Pick we are proud to feature a chapter from Gay Propaganda, a new collection of original stories, interviews and testimonials from LGBT Russians both living there and in exile. The book was edited by Masha Gessen and Joseph Huff-Hannon, and will be published by OR Books in February. We'd like to thank them for sharing this chapter with Longreads Members. 

Read a free excerpt, and become a Longreads Member to receive the full story and support our service. You can also buy Longreads Gift Memberships to send this and other great stories to friends, family or colleagues.

PUBLISHED: Jan. 30, 2014
LENGTH: 10 minutes (2575 words)

'The Greatest Catastrophe the World Has Ever Seen'

On the 100th anniversary of World War I, severalnewbooks examine how the global powers walked into it, and who really was to blame:

Thus was unleashed the calamitous conflict that, more than any other series of events, has shaped the world ever since; without it we can doubt that communism would have taken hold in Russia, fascism in Italy, and Nazism in Germany, or that global empires would have disintegrated so rapidly and so chaotically. A century on we still search for its causes, and very often, if possible, for people to blame. In the immediate aftermath of war that seemed clear to many: Germany, and especially its leaders, had been responsible; the Austrians too, as accomplices, in lesser degree. The Treaty of Versailles made this official, as the victorious powers there spoke of a “war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.” This was the notorious guilt clause used to justify severe “reparation” payments stretching far into the future. It was a widespread view, and ordinary Germans might have shared it if the vanquishers had not gone for the premise of collective responsibility, which undermined attempts to build a fresh German regime untainted by the past.

PUBLISHED: Jan. 18, 2014
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4424 words)

Bad Blood

A Russian dissident is murdered with radioactive poison:

The doctors treated Litvinenko with a heavy dose of antibiotics. And yet his body continued to break down. Three days after admission, he was being fed through a tube. His hair was falling out, and Marina gathered it in little bundles from his pillow and pajamas. As the medics tested Litvinenko for AIDS and hepatitis, he kept telling them: I’ve been poisoned. On November 11th, ten days after he fell ill, he gave an interview to the BBC Russian Service saying he’d suffered “a serious poisoning”, and implying that it had been carried out by an Italian associate, Mario Scaramella, his lunch companion at the sushi bar that Wednesday.

The next morning, further medical reports arrived. The doctors had run an array of tests. One was for radiation exposure: it came back negative. Instead they found something more complex — and more surprising. Some kind of exotic chemistry, some strange poison, was in his blood. Immediate attempts to identify it left them baffled.

AUTHOR:Will Storr
PUBLISHED: Nov. 28, 2013
LENGTH: 36 minutes (9072 words)

The Way Out of a Room Is Not Through the Door

The story of Charles Manson, from Jeff Guinn’s new book Manson:

Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson is a cradle-to-grave treatment, though the graves belong to other people. The subject remains in California, an inmate at Corcoran State Prison, where he issues statements his followers disseminate via the website of his Air Trees Water Animals organisation. A recent example: ‘We have two worlds that have been conquested by the military of the revolution. The revolution belongs to George Washington, the Russians, the Chinese. But before that, there is Manson. I have 17 years before China. I can’t explain that to where you can understand it.’ Neither can I. Guinn explains a lot in his usefully linear book. The standard Manson text, Helter Skelter, the 1974 bestseller by his prosecutor, Vincent Bugliosi, and true-crime writer Curt Gentry, is a police and courtroom procedural, with no shortage of first-person heroics (‘During my cross-examination of these witnesses, I scored a number of significant points’); the first corpse is discovered on page six. No one is murdered in Guinn’s book until page 232. He brings a logic of cause and effect to the madness.

PUBLISHED: Nov. 8, 2013
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4620 words)