“Russia can look very normal on the surface… but actually there is a deep darkness there that can reach out ruin your existence if you are somebody who is against the system,” explains presenter Simon Reeve.
For his latest series, Reeve travelled to the country on the centenary of the Russian Revolution to find out what life is really like in the Federation. In the far east of the country, he experienced the darker side of Russia, as he and his crew fell foul of the FSB, the Russian security service.
“We had all the paperwork necessary… but they took against us from the moment we landed at Vladivostok airport,” Reeve recalls.
The ensuing harassment meant the production team was subject to multiple police checks, including one occasion where the transport department closed a bridge to stop the crew leaving town to go filming.
Despite this, Reeve found the people he met on his journey to be friendly and welcoming on the whole.
“The stereotype of Russians is that they're pretty hard and pretty cold,” he says. “They are tough, and they can be slow to warm, but once you get through the hard outer shell, we found a very warm welcome from almost everybody.”
On his journey, Reeve travelled from the snowcapped mountains of Kamchatka in the far east of the country, to the great cities of Moscow and St Petersburg in the west. Along the way, he passed through some of the coldest and most remote areas on the planet.
The sheer size of Russia is perhaps the most surprising thing about the country, says Reeve.
“I don't think anyone from our island could go and not be completely astonished by the size of the place. That is really key to the story of Russia.”
Home to more than 100 different ethnic groups, and with half of Russian territory permanently frozen, the country is, as Reeve puts it, “intriguing and extraordinary.”
On his journey, he travelled to Dagestan, a Russian republic that the UK Foreign Office advises against visiting due to the threat of terrorism and violence in the region.
“It was absolutely stunning,” says Reeve. "The Dagestanis are proud, independent-minded lot. They suffer terribly from Islamic militancy there, both from terrorist attacks within the country and preachers who have brainwashed hundreds, probably thousands, of Dagestanis, into going off to fight with so-called Islamic State.”
Heavily fortified roadblocks in the mountain republic served as a reminder of the dangerous side of the beautiful scenery, although “actually almost everywhere I had a very lovely time there,” Reeve says.
Russia is the latest in a long list of destinations the presenter has reported from for the BBC. Alongside his current affairs travelogues, which have seen him travel to countries including Madagascar, Uzbekistan and Venezuela, he’s recently branched out into other factual genres, presenting Arctic Live and The Big Life Fix.
Broadcasting live in the Arctic was a nerve racking experience for Reeve, who is more used to chatting with locals in remote parts of the world than speaking live to the nation.
“There was that sweaty palm moment as the red light goes on and you suddenly realise that there's more than 2.5 million people, including your family, watching,” he remembers. Despite the fear factor, Reeve says he would “love” to work on similar projects.
That doesn’t mean he’s packed away his passport and flak jacket yet, however, as he is currently planning his next top-secret trip. He’s also filming a Big Life Fix special for Children in Need for later this year.
After nearly 15 years of travelling the world for the BBC, Reeve is still passionate about the work he does.
“We have always gone on a ‘journey to discover’, whether that's through the stories we tell around a camp fire, or whether it's the tales we tell on the television. It is just a brilliant way of getting people to understand us and our world. Hopefully I'll be allowed to keep going for a while yet.”
Russia with Simon Reeve starts on Thursday 28th September at 9pm on BBC Two.