Young people from former Soviet Union countries share their impressions of Seattle (Produced by Valeria Koulikova in a UW Communication Dept video workshop)

I’m proud to be one of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Russia and Post-Soviet Republics currently living in Washington State.

I’ve been in Seattle for over seven years now and I’ve met a lot of fellow immigrants. We’ve built friendships and helped each other preserve our cultural values. One thing almost everyone has in common is a love for the Pacific Northwest.

But no matter which country they come from, modern Russian politics have always been a sensitive subject. Disagreements over political issues–especially opinions about Vladimir Putin–have even created tensions between strangers and friends.

Corina Bakker of the Tempers delivers her “Free Pussy Riot, F**k Mitt Romney” message at the Comet last weekend. (Photo by Sarah Stuteville)

The music is defiant, the bartenders studiously inattentive and the balaclavas sequined.

If it weren’t for the smell of grilled onions wafting in from the hotdog stand outside and the cold beer (instead of warm vodka) I could still be in Moscow.

But I’m at the Comet on Capitol Hill watching Corina Bakker of The Tempers growl out “Free Pussy Riot!” in all of her ecstatic, bloody-kneed and mini-skirted glory.

This is one of at least three benefit shows for jailed Russian punk band Pussy Riot in Seattle in the past few weeks.

And around the corner on 11th Ave a huge feminist mural featuring Free Pussy Riot graffiti and fliers has taken over the entire side of an abandoned building.

This is all to say that Seattle is a real Pussy Riot kindofa town.

I spent my first night in Kazakhstan at a punk show in the hills surrounding the capital, Almaty.

There were 22’s of local beer, calf tattoos, bikes, a guy named “Joy” bragging about his small family farm and French Screamo music. It could have been a late summer evening in Seattle – well, minus the presence of heavily bribed park guards and bored-looking horses.

Globalist video on Zhanaozen shooting and interview with survivors. Contains graphic imagery.

What do a communist, an ultra-nationalist and a gay rights activist have in common?

In Russia, they all oppose the regime of President Vladimir Putin.

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in central Moscow on Saturday in the first major protest in three months, proving that the anti-Putin movement still has the numbers, even if they can’t agree on much else.

It could have been Olympia.

Audio/Visual Postcard by Jessica Partnow, Sarah Stuteville and Alex Stonehill

Zombie Fest could have taken place in a sunny mountain meadow somewhere in the Northwest. It just so happened it was in Kazakhstan.

But that didn’t change the homebrew hairstyles and patched jean jackets, the unhinged, angsty music, or the enthusiastic welcome we got showing up as total strangers asking questions about music, life and politics.

It did mean it was harder to communicate across an English/Russian/Kazakh language barrier.

But when it comes to Screamo, I don’t think you’re supposed to be able to understand the words anyways.

Two waitresses work at “Victory,” a nostalgic diner chain in Ukraine. (Photo by Sarah Stuteville)

A crescent of twinkling lights and the blown-out mouth of a comic book style submarine cave are the last I see of Balaklava before we fly off the side of the road.

We’re in Crimea, a little semi-island to the south of Ukraine and the east of Russia. Most Americans my age would know this region for that photo of Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill at the Yalta summit we all studied in our history classes.

But in addition to WWII battlefields, Crimea is home to some serious Cold War history, including hidden caches of nuclear warheads (that submarine cave was rumored to house some of them).  If you’re old enough to remember Soviet missiles trained at your town, they may have been stored here.

A letter from Jessica Partnow’s pen pal, Sasha Krizhanovsky, in 1990 from Ukraine.

When the Seattle Globalist reporting team – Sarah Stuteville and Jessica Partnow – took off for a 2-month reporting trip in the Former Soviet Union, they had a secret goal: to find Sasha, Jessica’s childhood pen pal from 1990. Sarah chronicles the journey in photos (after the jump), which all started with an aged letter, a name and one address.

Femen Ukraine Pussy Riot protest
Ukrainian activist Inna Schevchenko takes a chainsaw to a wooden cross, erected in memory of victims of political repressions under Stalin, to protest the conviction of Russian band Pussy Riot for hooliganism. The group may face a similar charge in Ukraine for the stunt. (Photo from REUTERS/Anatolii Stepanov)

Yesterday, Russian punk band Pussy Riot were found guilty of “hooliganism” and sentenced to two years in prison. The case has dominated the Internet and the airwaves for weeks, forcing well-mannered newscasters to cringingly utter one of our most taboo words in nightly news roundups.

The trouble started back in February when the group staged a direct-action protest concert in a Moscow church that offended religious Russians, and perhaps more importantly, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Big name celebrities like Paul McCartney and Madonna have jumped on the bandwagon calling for their release, alongside the Olympia chapter of Pussy Riot and pioneers of the Northwest riot grrrl scene, which the band drew some of its inspiration from.

But the balaklava wearing punk heroes from Russia are not the only politicos in the former Soviet Union challenging the world to notice a new generation of young feminists.

“Classical feminism has already died, it doesn’t work anymore,” says 22-year-old Inna Shevchenko, “it looks like a meeting of old ladies only talking to each other.”