Montpelier-Based 'Russian Life' Magazine Suspends Publication Due to the War in Ukraine | Culture | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Arts + Life » Culture

Montpelier-Based 'Russian Life' Magazine Suspends Publication Due to the War in Ukraine

By

Part of the January/February 2022 cover of 'Russian Life' - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Part of the January/February 2022 cover of 'Russian Life'
On the war in Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the stance of Russian Life's publisher is as clear as vodka: "We condemn the Kremlin aggression," reads the website of the Montpelier-based magazine. "Love the people. Loathe 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 its print publication indefinitely due to the war, though it will continue to publish stories online.

“The kind of stuff we normally write about would come across as tone-deaf, and we just don’t want to do that right now," explained Paul Richardson, chief creative officer of StoryWorkz, which owns Russian Life. “We’re not at all shy ourselves about writing what we feel. But this is not the time to be writing 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 couldn't in good conscience continue assigning stories to his Russia-based freelance writers and photographers because he cannot guarantee their safety. Since the start of the invasion, the Kremlin has effectively eliminated what remained of a free press in Russia. Journalists there can now be accused of spreading "disinformation" and imprisoned for years for writing stories that are critical of the invasion or refer to it as a "war" rather than by the Russian government's preferred term, "special military operation."

March/April 2022 cover of 'Russian Life' - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • March/April 2022 cover of 'Russian Life'
In addition, as the West has imposed strict sanctions on Russia's financial institutions and cut them off from international wire transfers, Richardson has no way to pay his contributors, 90 percent of whom are based in Russia. Major credit card companies have suspended their operations in Russia, as have internet money-transfer companies such as PayPal.

Launched in October 1956, Russian Life was originally called USSR, then Soviet Life, and was what Kevin McKenna, professor emeritus of Russian language, literature and culture at the University of Vermont, once called a "purely propaganda" tool of the Kremlin. Soviet Life ceased publication in 1991, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and was spun off as a private entity in 1993.

In 1995, Richardson, a self-described  "child of the Cold War" — born four days before the Cuban missile crisis — took over the magazine's  publication with then-business partner David Kelley under the name Russian Life.

In the years since, the magazine has catered primarily to Russophiles and Russian expatriates living in the West. Generally speaking, Russian Life doesn’t cover governmental affairs or politics, he said, “except when we can skewer politicians for being idiots.”
The magazine's circulation  has steadily declined in the last 15 years as Putin's foreign policy has became increasingly bellicose.  It currently has about 5,000 subscribers worldwide.

“A magazine called Russian Life is not something that people want to have on their coffee table," Richardson said. "Russia is not the romantic, interesting, exciting place it once was. It’s increasingly become this place that’s a source of menace.”

But aside from one subscription cancelation since the war began, Richardson said he's received nothing but support from his subscribers, many of whom expressed concern about growing Russophobia in the U.S. and Europe.

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

Richardson couldn't say whether or when he expects Russian Life to resume its print edition.

“It’s been pretty rough seeing the first half of our name become toxic," he added. "But the second half of our name gives us a little hope and a little reason to think we’ll be reborn.”