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Russians' political apathy frustrates feisty young journalist

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Maybe her defiance is rooted in the six years she spent in the US during her childhood, or the fact that she claims two distinguished great-grandfathers who both tangled with the Soviet state: children's poet Korney Chukovsky and renowned composer Dmitri Shostakovich. Or maybe it's just her familiarity with Western media. But Chukovskaya doesn't lack for words when she talks about the thrill of investigative projects or comments on the five newspapers she reads daily, dishing out wry remarks about a headline calling President Vladimir Putin's protégé "the new president" ("He hasn't been elected yet!") or a Russian Orthodox mass dedicated to nuclear weapons ("That's absurd!").

Just 21, she has already served as an assistant to visiting foreign correspondents and landed a regular gig freelancing for Cosmopolitan. "All you need to do is send in three good story ideas," she says, walking briskly through the February slush after a long day at Elle, a firm grip on her weathered leather briefcase.

Chukovskaya also worked with the prominent French director Nino Kirtadze on "Durakovo: Village of Fools," a documentary about a Russian Orthodox businessman. The film won an award at last month's Sundance film festival – and inspired her thesis on what she says is the manipulation of religion in Russia. "The main idea of the film was to show what Russian think about themselves, and what I heard shocked me," she says. "They say that all men who have power, have the power from God. If Putin has power, he has it from God ... for me, it is something barbarian."

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