Ryan Bell

When life gives you wool, make felt. That was the lesson Kalimash Baimuhanova learned in the difficult years following the Soviet Union’s collapse. The village of Zarshiganak sits on the ironing-board flat steppes of northeastern Kazakhstan. During the USSR, it was a thriving community of shepherd families who worked on the Kalinsky Collective Farm. In...

The “dacha,” or country cottage, is a cultural institution in Russia. The tradition began during the Soviet Union when dachas were given as rewards to good workers. The communities were organized by profession. In St. Petersburg, my friend Katya took me to her grandparents’ dacha. They worked as city planners during the USSR, and their dacha...

With all the hullabaloo of The Oscars died down, I direct your attention to Russia’s movie industry where Westerns are the rage. Not Westerns of the Clint Eastwood variety, but promotional Western videos about Russia’s ranch industry. The cattle bonanza has created a pool of customers — ranchers — who are eager to show off their accomplishments. Without further...

American cowboy Shane Stotler points out his truck window at a herd of cattle just cresting a hill on the horizon. Normally, he’d be out there riding with the Russian workers he’s been hired to train by Miratorg, Russia’s largest cattle operation. Instead, he’s waited for me at ranch headquarters so we can drive out...

Mr. Demin shakes hands like a snapping turtle bites a carrot. Then he pulls you close and says, with a mixture of sincerity and urgency, how glad he is to meet you. This one-two punch of a first impression is the secret of success for a man who has salvaged a bastion of the Soviet...

If a street dog or cat could read a calendar, it would circle in red the last Tuesday in February. It’s World Spay Day, when volunteers round up stray animals in an effort to humanely control the feral populations. The campaign was started in 1995 by the Doris Day Animal Foundation, with the goal of...

The ribeye steak was called the MosCowBoy. When I cut into it, juice squished out onto the ceramic plate. Each tender bite made my taste buds light up with all six of the essential flavors (sour, salty, sweet, bitter, and especially umami and fat). This was five years ago, in June 2011, when I’d just finished...

Picture two giant farms: one the size of France; the other the size of Wisconsin. That is how many acres of agricultural land sit fallow in Russia (45 million) and Kazakhstan (35 million).   The 250,000-acre Chilinka Collective Farm, in northern Kazakhstan, was once known as an oasis on the steppes. It was home to 500...

“Faster!” Zhylkybai Aga said. The driver increased the truck’s speed to 25 m.p.h. Zhylkybai leaned out the window and whooped at his dog, named Akbakai, who loped alongside the vehicle. The lanky dog was hardly exerting himself. My first impression of Tazy, a Kazakh dog breed, was that it looked like a bag of bones. But now, in...

With 2,500 head of livestock, it can be hard to notice when a few go missing. Especially for Dauletgali Zhaitapov, whose business Kaz Horse Mugalzhar LTD operates on 75,000 acres of unfenced rangeland in northern Kazakhstan. During fall roundup, Zhaitapov realized his horse herd was 100 animals short. These weren’t just any horses; they were...

Kazakhstan is a land where people revere, and eat, horses. Meanwhile, in America (and much of Europe) eating horse meat is taboo. In a blog post for The Plate, I explore these differing attitudes about equus caballus as a protein source.  ...

They hide in plain sight. When shooting street photography in Russia, odds are good you’ll encounter them. Anti-photobombers. They’re everywhere. Let’s play “Where Are the Anti-Photobombers.” In the picture above, can you can find them?...

Which has more firepower: an air-to-air missile or a Roma tomato? One can down an aircraft, but the other can cripple a food industry. When Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet, President Vladimir Putin said he felt “stabbed in the back.” There would be consequences, he promised, for the attack that ultimately killed two...