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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Village Struggles Into 21st Century

ReutersSergei Kopylov, left, sharing a snack with his father recently in their home in the Tver region village of Zimnitsy.
ZIMNITSY, Tver Region -- Friday is when the action happens in this isolated village, six hours' drive north from Moscow along icy roads, past smoggy industrial towns and through vast pine forests.

That's the day the mobile shop makes its weekly visit to sell life's little luxuries to Zimnitsy's 10 inhabitants.

"I've bought bread, frozen fish, cigarettes and vodka," said Vitaly, 53, as he bent over to load his tattered knapsack. "What more can a Russian want?"

Village life seems to have been dragged unwillingly into the 21st century.

Zimnitsy once was three or four times bigger and boasted its own full-time shop, but the crumbling wooden houses now bear silent witness to a population movement away from the countryside and into the cities.

Alcoholism, devout religious faith and a sense of scratching out a living on the fringes of civilization -- the hallmarks of the countryside down the ages -- linger, sometimes just below the surface.

Vitaly looked up and grinned from beneath his ragged fur hat and grubby, thick-rimmed glasses. He wasn't finished yet: "I know English," he said and stood up straight. "To be or not to be, that is the question!" he bellowed, evidence that Shakespeare has penetrated even rural Russia.

The four people in line for the mobile shop in the center of the village took no notice. They stamped their felt boots to keep warm. Temperatures of around minus 20 degrees Celsius froze their breath.

Some, though, have chosen to move here. In one house, Sergei Kopylov was philosophizing: "It's better to be first here than second in St. Petersburg," he said.

He reached for a large clear bottle and poured another glass of fermented cow's milk.

Kopylov is 50 years old. But his long unkempt beard, unwashed hair, gaunt features and heavily lined face made him look 20 or 30 years older.

"To Russia," he said, and slugged the clear liquor down his throat.

Kopylov's cracked, dirty fingers lifted a fork full of iced cabbage to his mouth, which he swallowed to wash away the taste.

It was midday and Kopylov was in a fine mood. Five shots of the cow's milk concoction had jollied him and he had stocked up on sausages and fish from the mobile shop.

He shares his house with four cats, three dogs, his speechless father and his girlfriend, Tatyana.

He used to live in a cramped communal apartment in St. Petersburg, but gave it up for a quieter life in the countryside.

Dirt coated the wooden interior walls of the house and a wood fire kept the place warm.

An energy-saving electric light bulb dangling by a single wire from the ceiling, a digital clock flickering in the corner and a mobile phone hanging by its cord from a nail in the wall were the only modern intrusions into the 19th-century scene.

Further down the lane, an old woman lives alone in a spartan wooden shack, Kopylov said. She spends her days praying, collecting firewood or drawing water from a well.