Street Life SAMOTECHNY LANE: Where women tune in to Russia's `Oprah'

FOR THE typical Russian husband, who pays attention to his wife once a year, there was an alternative this International Women's Day to rolling home drunk and thrusting into her hands a bunch of wilting mimosa. He could roll home drunk and give her a copy of the new bestseller Women's Stories. The only snag was, she had probably been out already and bought the book herself.

Women's Stories is based on a confessional television series of the same name. It is hopeless to make a social engagement for a Tuesday evening, as all the bars are empty, the streets are deserted and the blue light of television screens flickers from every home. Russians are glued to a show hosted by the peroxide blonde Oksana Pushkina, the closest they have yet to Oprah Winfrey.

Each week, Pushkina interviews a famous Russian woman about her private life. There is no studio audience. They just have a heart-to-heart chat. Compared with Oprah, the programme is tame. But it breaks ground in Russia where, until recently, Raisa Gorbacheva was the bravest woman here, because she dared to appear in public with her husband, Mikhail, and show that she had something of a personality herself.

The heroines of Women's Stories are mostly unknown in the West, although two names mean something outside Russia. Nanuli Shevardnadze, wife of the Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze, enlivens a dull account of being a political spouse with a description of how her husband howled in an ice-cold Jacuzzi for 10 days when trying to stop smoking.

Lyudmila Rutskaya, wife of the Afghan war hero and Russian politician Alexander Rutskoi, gives a much franker interview about how, on the eve of their 25th wedding anniversary, the man for whom she had sacrificed her own career ran off with a younger woman.

"I did not attach much significance to it at first," Mrs Rutskaya says. "I thought, `He's grey-haired, it's just the male menopause.' But when the articles started appearing in the papers, I realised he had gone completely off his head. At his age, biology takes it toll. He flew to Argentina with her. He came back, I looked at him and noticed he was wearing cosmetics - women's face cream. I said to him, `Sasha, how long have you been using women's face cream?'"

Pushkina, who learnt her interview techniques while working at American television stations, says courage and determination are the qualities her subjects have in common. She answers critics, who accuse her of banality and muck-raking, by claiming to give comfort: ordinary Russians recognise their own problems in the struggles of the stars and know that they are not alone.

If Russian women had hard lives in Soviet times, when the Communists paid lip service to equality while sending them out to work in road gangs, then their lot has scarcely improved. The Russian woman still faces a low glass ceiling at work and does everything at home for the man who might, if she is lucky, wash the dishes on Women's Day.

The celebrities in Pushkina's series probably had servants or dishwashers but their hearts were still broken by unfaithful men, who left them to bring up the children alone. Larisa Latynina, the woman who trained Soviet gymnasts including Olga Korbut, describes how her husband would go off on "business trips", returning a few days later with large sums of money. Only after he was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison did she learn that he was a swindler. His downfall ruined her career too, for the Soviet authorities said she could not be trusted to travel abroad and denied her an exit visa.

Hardship, however, has made Russian women strong and Pushkina believes the time is right for feminism in this most sexist of countries. It should not reject men, she says, because they are victims of the system too. Rather, it should be a hearty babskoe dvizhenie (lasses' movement) of capable and talented women, ready to help each other and do good in society.

Pushkina believes there is no reason why a woman should not one day sit in the Kremlin. The interview that gave her most satisfaction was with the democrat Galina Starovoitova, shortly before she was assassinated. "She was a klassnaya tyotya (a cool auntie), the nearest we have had yet to a woman leader in Russia."

Helen Womack

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?