Montpelier-based ‘Russian Life’ magazine suspends publication due to war in Ukraine | cultural | Seven days

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  • Courtesy picture
  • Featured in the January/February 2022 cover of “Russian Life”

On the war in Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the position of Russian lifeThe publisher of is clear as vodka: “We condemn the aggression of the Kremlin”, we read on the site of the Montpellier magazine. “Love the people. Hate the state.”

Russian life, a bimonthly English-language publication that covers the people, history and culture of Russia, has become another casualty of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. On March 7, the magazine announced that it had suspended print publication indefinitely due to the war, although it will continue to publish articles online.

“The kind of stuff we normally write about would sound tone-deaf, and we just don’t want to do that right now,” said Paul Richardson, creative director of StoryWorkz, which owns Russian life. “We don’t hesitate at all to write what we feel. But now is not the time to write about the glorious Russian culture, [Pyotr Ilyich] Tchaikovsky and all that.

Richardson, whose company has published the magazine since 1995, said in an interview with Seven days that he could not in good conscience continue to entrust reporting to his Russian-based freelance writers and photographers, as he could not guarantee their safety. Since the start of the invasion, the Kremlin has effectively eliminated what was left of a free press in Russia. Journalists there can now be accused of spreading “disinformation” and jailed for years for writing articles that criticize the invasion or call it a “war” rather than the Russian government’s preferred term, “operation special military”.

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March/April 2022 cover of 'Russian Life' - COURTESY PHOTO

  • Courtesy picture
  • March/April 2022 cover of ‘Russian Life’

Moreover, because the West has imposed strict sanctions on Russian financial institutions and cut them off from international transfers, Richardson has no way of paying his contributors, 90% of whom are based in Russia. Major credit card companies have suspended operations in Russia, as have internet money transfer companies such as PayPal.

Launched in October 1956, Russian life was originally called USSRso Soviet lifeand was what Kevin McKenna, professor emeritus of Russian language, literature and culture at the University of Vermont, once called the Kremlin’s “pure propaganda” tool. Soviet life ceased publication in 1991, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and became a private entity in 1993.

In 1995, Richardson, a self-proclaimed “child of the Cold War” – born four days before the Cuban Missile Crisis – took over publication of the magazine with then-business partner David Kelley as Russian life.

In the years that followed, the magazine mainly addressed Russophiles and Russian expatriates living in the West. In fgeneral, Russian life does not cover government affairs or politics, he said, “except when we can accuse politicians of being idiots”.

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The magazine’s circulation has steadily declined over the past 15 years as Putin’s foreign policy has become increasingly bellicose. He currently has about 5,000 subscribers worldwide.

“A magazine called Russian life is not something people want to have on their coffee table,” Richardson said. “Russia is no longer the romantic, interesting and exciting place it once was. It has increasingly become this place that is a source of threat.

But aside from a canceled subscription since the start of the war, Richardson said he had received nothing but support from his subscribers, many of whom expressed concern over the growth of Russophobia in the United States and in Europe.

“Now we have to cancel Tchaikovsky and [Alexander] Pushkin and [Leo] Tolstoy?” he said. “They didn’t know Putin very well.”

Richardson could not say if or when he expects Russian life resume its printed edition.

“It’s been pretty tough watching the first half of our name go toxic,” he added. “But the second half of our name gives us a little hope and a little reason to believe that we will be reborn.”

Jacob L. Thornton