Away from the architectural grandeur lies its darker side. Heroin is rife and support is scarce. A small bus is the only needle exchange in the entire city. Methadone substitution is banned. Both mean a big problem with HIV.
Alexsei and Zhanna are both HIV positive heroin addicts
We met Alexsei and Zhanna in their cramped top floor flat. Both are HIV positive heroin addicts. Because of her usage, one half of Zhanna’s body is paralysed. She has not left the flat for three years.
She said: “There is not a single vein left anywhere. Not in my legs, not in my feet, my thighs, stomach or my chest.
“I used to even shoot up in my forehead and my eyes. Wherever you see a bit of blue vein – you stick a needle in there.”
Younger generations are also falling victim to the drug’s ubiquity.
Outside a metro station, we spotted a boy who looks no older than eight. He and his friends are incredibly open about their drug use. They say they steal and wash cars to get enough money to inject daily.
Russia has an estimated 2.5m heroin addicts – most are under the age of 30. For a country in the midst of a deepening demographic crisis, the prospect of a lost generation is a terrifying one.