Since the civil war and the revolutions nobody was really safe, yet Alex's father behaved as if they were. (1.5)
Things are rough in the U.S.S.R. When the Soviet government took power, it promised its citizens that a golden age was coming and all of their problems were about to disappear. Didn't quite work out like that, huh?
If they could have looked down upon themselves from the height of a cloud, they would have seen that they were just a wave […] in a large ocean of people along the roads to Moscow. (2.41)
There are tons of people going through the exact same thing as Alex. They've had their families taken from them and their dreams crushed; they've witnessed things that no human being should ever have to witness. At this point, it's clear as day that the Soviet government is doing some awful things to its citizens for seemingly no reason.
He thought of the city as he remembered it, softly lit at night, people laughing at the restaurants, and the warm, book-lined walls of his uncle's house. (2.9)
Sadly, Moscow has changed a lot—what was once a bustling center of commerce, art, and literature is now a mere shadow of its former shelf. So what happened? What could have caused such a huge downfall? The book doesn't give a definitive reason, but instead places the blame solely on the Soviet government.
The enormous square seemed almost empty except for […] a couple of carts with wooden wheels being drawn, not by horses, but by peasants. (3.17)
Moscow as Alex finds it when he arrives is a pretty far cry from his nostalgic memories, huh? Although Alex can still see shadows of this city's great past in its impressive architecture and massive city squares, the sheer emptiness of this place only makes it look worse.
"Would you like them to take you to the children's home […] in the Khamovnik Quarter? That one is even worse than the one we were in, in the south." (4.8)
We wouldn't stay in a Soviet orphanage if you paid us a million dollars. Let's put it this way: If living on the streets is safer than living in an orphanage, then you can best believe things have gone down the toilet. Additionally, this also shows us why there are so many kids roaming the streets.
"But remember, when you go out you are fair game for […] any of the others out there, all over Moscow, who may not be as… gentle as we." (5.25)
Although Peter's crew is as sweet and cuddly as the cast of My Little Pony (okay, maybe we're exaggerating a tad), there are plenty of groups out there who are downright nasty. Alex might not believe Peter quite yet, but he'll be meeting a few of these unsavory fellows himself soon enough.
All over Moscow, in other cities, in towns, and on the roads, children slept… and not safely in their beds (6.98)
Aw shucks, we're getting all teary-eyed—is someone cutting onions in here? Anyway, this quote shows us that the homelessness problem isn't limited to Moscow. In fact, you can find kids just like Alex and Peter all across this massive country.
Above all, the red flag flew, but it did not mean very much to Alex. (6.29)
Alex is referring to the red Soviet flag, by the way. We think this is a good metaphor for the book's depiction of the Soviet government: Although it claims to work on behalf of its citizens, the results prove the complete opposite.
But this was the first time since leaving Kovrov that Alex had been in a homely town, and he felt a deep longing. (9.51)
Alex is a small-town boy at heart, so he feels way more comfortable as soon as they arrive at the countryside. It's easy to see why: The people are a little bit nicer, there are fewer soldiers, and the weather is downright tropical in comparison to frigid Moscow.
"After the revolution, they did not want to join the collectives," Peter said, "so they left the villages and went into the mountains. Now they keep on fighting." (11.31)
In the end, we learn that there are some—like the Ingush community—who have resisted Soviet rule. Similarly, we see Alex take part in a bit of resistance of his own by successfully getting all of his friends out of the country. This just goes to show that you can never truly break people's spirit—they'll always fight for what they believe in.