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

THE BALTIMORE 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.

Mrs. Litvishko makes the rounds of the stores every morning, hoping to find something to buy. The refrigerator is small -- less than half the size of the average American refrigerator. But she has filled it with homemade pickled cabbage salad, meatballs she has ground up by hand, two dozen eggs, a can of Danish luncheon meat Kseniya received at school as humanitarian aid and some cheese that was a gift from foreign friends.

Somehow, she manages for the family. "I can't understand how prices can go higher every day," she says. "It's some kind of nightmare so many years after the war."

MA Mrs. Litvishko doesn't lose sleep over it; her daughter does.

'There are no controls'

"Before, I felt the country was like a whale and I was jumping on top and finding spots that were safe enough," Mrs. Shaverdova says. "It wasn't that I liked the whale, but I felt I was on the surface and not part of it.

"Now every citizen feels unprotected. There are no controls. Right now I feel like a tiny little person in front of a huge monster that will destroy me."

Her former husband, Alexander, who has come to visit their daughter Kseniya, sees hope, but not for him self. "The only hope is with the people between 20 and 40," he says. "It will take 10 to 15 years for them to start making decisions. Then we'll have a slight resemblance to other countries.

"I'm not optimistic for myself. I'm 45. The good times for me have not come and never will. Still, my life is not as bad as it was before. Yesterday I had no hope for my children and grandchildren. Now I have hope for them."

Mr. Shaverdova is managing editor of Asia and Africa Today magazine. His monthly pay is about to go up from 630 rubles a month to 1,000 rubles.

"Here in Russia we measure our salary by how many kilograms of sausage we can buy," he says. "A year ago I could buy 30 kilos. Now I can buy 4 (with 630 rubles)."

But Mr. Shaverdova would not return to the past.

Friends are impatient

Kseniya looks around at her grandmother and her parents and sees waste. "All their work," she says. "It's not valued here. My grandmother worked all her life and all she has is you," she says to her mother. Kseniya smiles and tells her mother, "And someday you'll have me."

Fondly holding her Barbie doll, she talks about her boyfriend. "He is going to be a businessman or a scientist," she says -- also in America.

Her friends are impatient. They don't want to spend their lives reforming the system. They want to make money and live a good life.

It's growing dark now and Mrs. Litvishko and Mrs. Shaverdova take the family dog, a cocker spaniel named Lucky, for his evening walk. "He's one of the family," says Alexander Litvishko, Mrs. Shaverdova's 33-year-old brother, who lives with the family.

They walk through the Park named after the October Revolution in 1917, greeting neighbors, watching other dogs frolic, breathing the cold night air deeply.

"What's new?" Mrs. Litvishko calls out to her friend Vera, also a pensioner. "The prices are new," Vera rejoins, and both women break into deep laughter.

Mrs. Shaverdova asked Vera if she would soon be rioting to protest high prices.

"I would starve in my apartment first," Vera replied indignantly. Russians always have food on the table, she explains, even though there is nothing in the shops.

"Magic," she says, and laughs uproariously.

In the night, the fresh snow gives the landscape a forgiving veneer. The perpetually grubby, weary cityscape sparkles. The deteriorating housing blocks recede; only the windows stand out, turning into soft squares of warm, beckoning light.

As the women turn around for home, the sound of laughter floats through the air.

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