Guardian article on unusual things to see in big Russian cities

Two decades after the fall of communism, Russia remains a mystery to many foreigners. And from a distance, the country's most visible aspects – showy oligarchs and an overbearing political system – hardly seem alluring.

But scratch the surface and a different story emerges. For the past year, I've been working with a London-based gallery to develop the Calvert Journal, an online guide to creative Russia. The journal is inspired by a generation of creative talent who are starting to remake the country in their own image.

You can feel their influence in Moscow and St Petersburg, where chic bars and&nbsprestaurants and dynamic cultural centres are springing to life. But the mood is even more striking the further afield you go from those two principal cities. Until recently I'd have given you a blank stare if you'd asked what was happening in Yekaterinburg, an industrial city in the Urals. Now I know it as the site of a critically regarded contemporary art biennale, the centre of a burgeoning dubstep scene and the home of Timofei Radya, a street artist whose grafittied buildings and billboards have won him a reputation as Russia's Banksy.

Within Russia, the provinces have traditionally been regarded as a creative desert. But that view is hard to sustain anymore as initiatives bloom. Often working collectively and on low budgets, artists and designers are taking over disused factories, workers' clubs and aristocratic 19th-century mansions to create galleries, shared work spaces, shops and studios. New festivals of architecture, art and photography are helping the regeneration, providing a platform for local talent and attracting international partnerships.

All of this makes it a great country to visit, and a country that, in cultural terms, looks like it has its best days ahead of it. Here's my pick of the highlights:

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