Charles Maynes

Updated October 2, 2021 at 3:08 PM ET

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Descendants of the czarist Romanov dynasty were married in the country's first royal wedding in over a century — kicking off a weekend of lavish events that sparked public curiosity, awe and derision in seemingly equal measure.

MOSCOW — It has been more than a month since the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and Sergei Opalev is still trying to wrap his head around the chaotic end to America's 20-year war.

It's not the defeat that confounds him — he understands that part all too well. Opalev served as a captain in the Soviet army as it was gradually humbled by Afghan mujahedeen fighters during a decade of war in the 1980s.

The problem, he says, is how U.S. forces left.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit


Russian President Vladimir Putin is in self-isolation because of a COVID-19 outbreak among his inner circle of staff, according to the Kremlin.

Putin said he got his second COVID-19 vaccine in April, but received the shots off camera.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit


Updated August 28, 2021 at 5:05 PM ET

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — In early 80s Leningrad, change was in the air — if you knew where to look.

For Natasha Vassilieva-Hull that was through her lens. Then an aspiring young photographer, she found herself at a small apartment gathering where she spotted a guy with long hair. Two sticks. A drummer.

"And when he started actually playing and I heard it close up?" says Vassilieva-Hull.

"Oy ... this is different," she thought.

A U.S. diplomat warns that her Belarusian American husband's health is in "immediate danger" following his late-July arrest by security forces of the authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Russian President Vladimir Putin provided a limited lifeline to Alexander Lukashenko as the Belarusian strongman paid a visit to the Russian city of Sochi on Monday amid the biggest crisis of his 26-year rule.

For the past four weeks, Belarusians have repeatedly taken to the streets demanding Lukashenko's resignation following an August presidential election that demonstrators say was rigged to keep Lukashenko in power.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit


In Belarus, another member of the country's opposition has been detained by security agents — the latest in a series of disappearances that have prompted the country's most famous living author, Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich, to speak out against "terror against the people."