My First Trip to Russia 1991

Tasha Poduska
11 min readSep 5, 2021


So for those of you following my blog, this will detour a little as this is more of a “Photo Blog” or you could save “A Blog on Demand”. So many of you have reached out to me requesting more photos, which I understand, I’m adorable and you want to see more of me :) but as a writer and future podcaster, I’m trying to share a story through words. To compromise, I think deviating every once and awhile to do a photo timeline is ok. For those of you who just want to move on and hear about the rest of my life journeys and adventures, you can skip this blog, it’s sort of like a Steinbeck novel in a since, you can read every other chapter and understand the whole book without reading the ‘tangent’ chapters as I call them. Anyway, here we go…

Even though I told you about arriving in the airport, and the whole customs experience, I didn’t take any photos due to the soldiers in uniforms with guns. I had this overall fear built up in my head about Russia from all the movies I’d seen. I assumed like everyone else that if I broke a single rule in Russia I would end up in a Russian Gulag, so scared little Tasha just behaved for once in her life.

Breaking Bread

It is traditional in Russia to break bread and dip it in salt when you arrive, the Russian team greeted us at their University with this beautiful bread, they showed us how to break it, dip it in salt, and eat it and we broke bread with them.

The Russian Team, So Beautiful and SO TALL

Here they are greeting us, they were all dressed so nice and we were all in our usual American casual wear. They were all so tall, their shortest person was taller than our middle blocker, but we were all so jet lagged and hungry from our strange hotel breakfast that we just wanted the bread.

Example of American Casual Wear, Me with my “The Rock” Fanny Pack

After the bread came the roses and a kiss on the cheek, the Russians have so many traditions and we were just absorbing them all.

The University of Physical Culture

This is where we met the team and saw the inside of a Russian building. This is the University of Physical Culture, you attend this school if you want to be a coach or teach athletics in school. We assumed the team we were competing against was the university team, but we later found out that this was a semi-pro team they mixed with the university players, not that it mattered, I think their 6th graders could have beat us, they were so good.

Our Team Off on a Tour of the City, Notice our Two Bodyguards with Us, Guy with “OK” Sign

After meeting the team, our team was off to see the city and tour a little. We had two “Master of Sports” boxers with us, a Master of Sports is given to a sport person that has mastered that sport, usually given to someone who wins a lot of competitions, achieves a status or something like that. It is very hard to get and a huge accomplishment. Later when Russia hosted the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, the Olympic torch traveled through Russia, so that everyone felt that Russia was hosting the Olympics, not just Sochi, and in each city, it was the Masters of Sports that carried the torch and kept that torch. Russia loves their athletes. Anyway, we just thought these guys were cute, but later found out they were our bodyguards. Never felt like we needed them, so more there as a preventative measure.

Street of Khabarovsk

So we walked the streets, saw common vendor like this, the twig looking things is from a vine and it’s used to make the best tea. Remember that we are in Russia before the Soviet Union collapsed or dissolves, we are visiting in November, 1991 and the USSR collapses on December 26, 1991. So on this day, the typical Russian doesn’t need money, the transportation is free on Tram Cars and buses, you get a car and apartment through your employer. the ruble to dollar exchange is 1 dollar to 6 rubles. I return to live and play volleyball on December 23, 1991.

Typical Russian Day

On the day I took this picture, I think I was just capturing everything, not realizing that now in 2021, some 30 years later, I would share how life was in Russia before it all changed.

Open Market Place, Me Sporting the USA Flag, This Jacket Stays in Russia

Did I mention it was cold :) Yes, these tours where fun, but wow cold and even though we lived in Alaska, we didn’t wear hats, why? The obvious, we didn’t want to mess our hair up! The Russians would look at us so funny and they were so concerned we’d get sick, we should have been concerned too, but we were all about the fashion. As you can see, we had none. Funny story about this USA jacket I’m wearing, I end up giving it to one of the Russian players, who held onto it no matter how much money she was offered for it, and she was offered a lot of money.

Fit Right In

As you can see, we just blended in with the crowd so well, no hats and colorful clothing. Yes, the loud, walking billboard Americans have arrived. So enough of this touring, it’s time to play some ball and get out asses kicked.

We Got A Point

I’d like to start with this picture, as I believe we actually got a point or two and this was one of them. I had the luck of blocking their best player once (when I say best, I mean, this girl could jump in the air and then decide to hit the ball with either her left or right hand, yep, she had injured her hitting arm, so she taught herself to hit with her other arm).

The Dual Handed Hitter

I blocked her once because I was so short, a 5' 7" that I had to wait for the hitter to jump, then me and my 36" vertical would jumped to block so she couldn’t see me before she committed to hit, I was still coming up. When I actually blocked her, the whole gym erupted with joy and the Russian player came under the net to hug me. I think the Russians where so happy that we could actually play their sport.

The Russian Team
Our Team

I think those two pictures speak for themselves. We are just trying to understand when our names get called and we’re taking bets on how fast this game is going to go down, do we really even need to warm up?

The Whole Group

We ended up playing them twice, but the real fun came when we went to the sauna together, practiced together and mixed our teams up. I was the first to join the Russian team and play with them rather than against them.

Tasha Joins the Russians

I’m a setter, this means I need to get the second ball that is passed to me and set it up for a hitter. This was a dream come true, their setter Sveta, was amazing, but I wanted a chance with these hitters and I was so ready. Of course I got a perfect pass from the Russian player, I didn’t even have to take a step, so my life as a setter was perfect and I loaded those Russian players up. The Russians like to send a high ball outside and let the player do battle, see the court and just hit the crap out of the ball. If you jump too high above the net, exposing your elbows in Russia, your arm could get broken (I saw this a couple of times later when I went to play there, so painful, but that’s how hard they hit). But today, Tasha was setting and we were going to run a low fast offense. I shot balls at them, learned the word “go” in Russian and sent those hitters everywhere. This is still one of the best days of my life. Remembering it now as I write this bring such happiness to me.

So Much Fun

The Russians loved it, their coach hated it, but for one day it was allowed. A lot of these players are still my friend now, we never lost touch.

More of My Mad Skills

I know I look impressive here, but look at the shoes, we thought these ankle protecting shoes were so cool, we felt bad that the Russians had to play in thin little Keds with no support. Later I learn that our shoes were wrong, you want to feel the floor, jump with no sound and return to the ground absorbing the floor with your technique and not your shoes. The Russians called us elephants when we entered the gym because we made so much noise.

MVP for Me

I was given the award of MVP in a way and the Russians chanted my name. It was so cool and very convenient that I had a Russian name. They wanted to call me NaTasha or NaTalia all the time, but I was just Tasha. My name actual became quite difficult in Russia and I had to correct everyone all the time, no I’m not Dasha, Masha, Sasha, I’m just Tasha. In case you are wondering, even though my last name is from Russian decent, Poduska, which means “Pillow Maker” or a person that worked in a pillow/cushion factory. We are now 5th generation in the USA, so I don’t speak Russian and nor does anyone in my family. My name comes from a 1968 Playboy magazine, yep, there were two beautiful black playmates (and no, I don’t have this picture and my blog would get turned off if I did) featured together, one was name Keisha and the other was name Tasha, so my sister and I are named after two beautiful black women.

Look, an Empty Box

The gift was the box itself, but I opened it of course. I broke a few rules, just to test the theory of the Russian Gulga, but just the stepping over the fence one.

Rebel at Heart

But enough about the playing, we all know the real reason we went to Russia was for the drinking. So I’ll let this next series of photos speak for themselves.

The Drinking Part
Still Drinking
Dancing with the Bodyguard/Boxer
Trying to Out Drink the Boxer
What Happens When You Loose the Drinking Competition

Those were some good nights and times in Russia, but to break all stereotypes, Russians don’t actually drink that much. After living there for 18 years, I can tell you that my USA friends drink more than them. Russians don’t drink after work, they go play sports, do active things and are very healthy. They do drink for parties, but a typical party will last 6–8 hours, so to say that a Russian man can drink a liter of vodka at one party, when you divide that party over this many hours, it works out to be much less than you think. We were all happy college kids, so drinking was our way of life, and we partied with the Russians while we were there, but let’s talk about a Russian toilet for a minute. Back in 1991 all the toilets, except for the hotels, were a hole in the ground. This is very hygienic and as we all know from “Squatty Potty” the proper way to use the toilet, but still, if you need to puke from a night a drinking, they are not your best friend. We found several players on the floor near these potties.

Public Toilet

In one of my later blogs I will try and share with you the experience I had with this type of toilet on a moving Russian train. Skill baby, you gotta have mad skills.

Bandy — Russian Hockey with a Ball

One of the other adventures that the Russians thought we would like was going to a Bandy match. You stand on the side, watch guys play hockey with a small ball you can’t even see and only this little rail around the edge keeps the ball on the ice. After a whole 10 minutes we were so cold that we left the match, I think it was minus -22 C that night. Later the city of Khabarovsk built a beautiful Bandy enclosed stadium for their team which has won the Bandy World Championship 11 times.

Gift Exchange

We all exchanged gifts and started to say our goodbyes. We loved our time in Russia and we were so excited to share all our stories with our friends back home. We gave our new friends our jacket, our jeans, our training gear, anything and everything we had. Most of the people in Russia had 2 sets of clothes, the one they wore to work or out and the other they wore home. We knew they could sell our stuff and we didn’t really need it. I remember returning home and seeing all my clothes and things, at first I felt so ashamed as I had so much and they had so little, but I understood that things just have a different value, my experiences in Russia were far more valuable than my stuff. I leave you now with these parting shots from the airport, now I wasn’t afraid to take pictures on my way out.

Customs Entry Point and Exit Point, Our Friends Seeing Us Off
Still Checking All Our Papers
Me and My Russian Fur Hat, Hard to Leave These Guys



Tasha Poduska

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