By Vasily Fedosenko
To Vladimir Ablogin, it may still seem like a fairy tale, but as he touches his new squeezebox “garmoshka” accordion, which had covered thousands of miles to find him in his dilapidated wood hut, he knows what has happened is real.
I arrived in his run-of-the-mill Russian village in the Smolensk region at Belarus’s border on an early December morning to take pictures of local peasants voting in Russia’s parliamentary election. Looking like it was still from the Soviet era, the election day soon turned into a rare holiday in this backwater settlement, which was until recently prosaically named “Gryaz” (Mud).
Paying little heed to my presence and already warmed up with Russia’s national tipple, a bare-footed Ablogin sat on a bed in his higgledy-piggledy home, playing a traditional Russian “garmoshka” button accordion to amuse his audience of several women and men.
He played his scarred and worn-out folk instrument adroitly, running his fingers down its buttons and squeezing joyous tunes out of its tired bellows. Displaying no avid interest in the vote — now overshadowed by Ablogin’s improvised show — his few spectators quickly ticked their ballot papers and cast them in a portable ballot box standing nearby.
The photographic assignment suddenly continued the next day as Jill Downing, Reuters Pictures Sales Specialist, forwarded me a letter from Maddalena Bucher in Britain, who spotted Ablogin’s picture.