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'The power of the taiga... perhaps only migratory birds know where it ends'
Anton Chekhov, 1890

I had a pretty robust preconceived view of Siberian life

By Michael Oliver-Semenov
26 March 2013

In my mind Siberia was a place where bears outnumbered people ten to one and the words summer, sunshine and sunbathing weren’t even in the Russian dictionary as it was winter all year round and people lived in small huts made of mud and hay.

Having recently moved to central Siberia from the UK, I now see it as my duty to dispel the Siberian stereotype that had me so fooled, hence I have joined forces with The Siberian Times to write this blog. Picture: Michael Oliver-Semenov

This was partly due to how Russia is portrayed by Western media but if I’m honest, it was largely due to my own ignorance. 

Having recently moved to central Siberia from the UK, I now see it as my duty to dispel the Siberian stereotype that had me so fooled, hence I have joined forces with The Siberian Times to write this blog.

Saying this, I have no intention of covering anything up or ignoring those things that can be seen as a negative; I plan to document everything, from the delicious cakes at the local bakery to the wild Siberian hounds, that according to my wife, you’re never supposed to look directly in the eye.

The point of this, you may have wondered is to offer some kind of perspective on Siberian life to would-be travellers and future expats/immigrants (Why British immigrants require the special title of ‘expats’ I’ll never know, perhaps something to do with an outmoded sense of power and ‘ye olde empire’). 

As a relatively new addition to the population of Krasnoyarsk city, you will be able to see just how well I do (whether I find a job, rise above the ranks, become an oligarch and take over the world) and should therefore be able to make an educated decision on whether this life would suit you also. 

Michael Oliver-Semenov and wife Nastya

'I have a wife Nastya, who is native Siberian. When she wants to she can be very scary; there’s an old saying in Russia that goes something like: 'a Russian woman can stop a running horse in its tracks'. Picture: Michael Oliver-Semenov

It is my intention to update this blog weekly or at the very least fortnightly. This should be easy as I am (or was at least) a professional writer. 

However, I can’t promise any kind of regularity or even a second blog entry if my father-in-law (Borya) has his way. 

During the past three days he has asked me more than five times if I want to go into the taiga with him to build a new hut. 

You see, Borya likes to go hunting; he is a hunter from birth. At any and every opportunity he disappears with his rifle, home-made 10ft skis and a 50 kilo rucksack into the Taiga to hunt Caribou and is normally gone for a month at a time. This morning he told me that the hut he is accustomed to bunking down in (that he built himself from trees cut down on his own with a small hand saw) has gone a bit wonky and needs replacing. 

Naturally I’d love to oblige him, but there are several factors that, when given serious consideration, terrify me.

For one, I have a wife (Nastya), who is native Siberian. When she wants to she can be very scary; there’s an old saying in Russia that goes something like: a Russian woman can stop a running horse in its tracks. 

While this may not literally be true, all these old sayings have to come from somewhere and so I think it’s best not to test my wife’s patience. 

Michael Oliver-Semenov


Michael Oliver-Semenov

'It’s hard to imagine now but in just 3 months’ time the temperature will have increased by 40 degrees,  all the crops will be planted and Nastya and I will probably be sat on our dachas veranda, eating home-made strawberries dipped in chocolate melted by the sun...'. Pictures: Michael Oliver-Semenov

The other more obvious reasons for not wanting to skip merrily into the taiga are: I don’t speak Russian (how could I call for help if I get attacked by monsters?), I don’t know the area, the forest is full of bears, lynx and lots of other things with big teeth, as a westerner I have NO SURVIVAL SKILLS WHATSOSVER, and lastly, I’m a Welshman with a beer belly that probably weighs too much to go dragging it over mountains. 

My plan is to avoid Borya until his itchy feet get the better of him.

Outside right now (1am Krasnoyarsk time) it’s snowing like billyo. 

As it’s nearing the end of winter the weather has taken to snowing at night and thawing out by day. 

After 5 months of freezing coldness this change is most welcome, however, what you probably don’t know and what I have just discovered is that the transition from winter to spring is actually the most dangerous time of the year here. 

When the sun is up it melts the snow which causes rivers of slush to run down the street, plus all the snow on the roofs begins to melt, forming large icicles on the gutters. Come night time it all freezes again. 

Every morning you have to remember not to walk at speed because the streets are covered in new powder snow on top of sheet ice and you must never to walk directly beneath the buildings just in case an icicle is caused to drop by the thawing brought on by the rising sun. It’s not all bad though. 

As spring is just around the corner it has prompted most Siberians to prepare for the move back to their dachas (wooden summer houses). 

On Sunday just past, Borya and I drove to our family dacha to make sure it’s ready for our return in April. 

Michael Oliver-Semenov


Michael Oliver-Semenov

The other reason for not wanting to skip merrily into the taiga is: as a westerner I have NO SURVIVAL SKILLS WHATSOSVER. Pictures: Michael Oliver-Semenov

When we got there (it’s located 10 miles outside the city), we had to spend hours shovelling snow that had settled in 4ft drifts, in order that we could get the car close enough to drop off our cured meats and various other necessities. 

As the water tank that we use to feed the garden was near empty, I had to shovel snow into it then climb inside several times to crush it down. 

Repeating this process took up most of the day. It was hard work, though it’s likely to have burnt off some of my beer belly so I don’t really see it as a negative. 

It’s hard to imagine now but in just 3 months’ time the temperature will have increased by 40 degrees,  all the crops will be planted and Nastya and I will probably be sat on our dachas veranda, eating home-made strawberries dipped in chocolate melted by the sun....


Michael Oliver-Semenov is a professional poet and writer from Wales, the small but stoic country parked next to England.

After serving as the first poet in residence for Blown, the British magazine for cultural intelligence, Michael emigrated to Krasnoyarsk, Siberia to live with his wife and translator Anastasia Semenova.

When he is not growing vegetables at their family dacha in summer, or avoiding the wild Siberian hounds of winter, Michael is a freelance English teacher, editor and contributor to The Siberian Times.

His forthcoming expose on Siberian life ‘Sunbathing in Siberia:'A marriage of east and west in Post-Soviet Russia’ is due for release in spring 2014 and will be available online and in all book stores worth anything.

Comments (23)

Do you have central heating? Powered by what? What's the quarterly bill? Sorry for the unpoetic questions!
Dave Guppy, London, UK
29/03/2013 04:05
9
0
Dasha - why so pessimistic? Is it so unbelievable that a Brit would want to live in Siberia? You have everything here for a good life. In fact, I'd say my quality of life is better in Siberia. Why don't you think I am serious - what do you base that on? I was serious enough to visit Siberia 4 times, obtain residency on the 5th, get a job, a mortgage......so yeah, when my wife and I make small people they are very likely to have Russian passports. Why is that so disagreeable and unbelievable to you? Not everyone settles where they were born.........
Mao Oliver-Semenov, Krasnoyarsk
29/03/2013 00:36
19
0
wow clearing up the snow with his russian family! change of stereotypes...)
Zhenya, Novosibirsk Siberia
28/03/2013 22:48
16
0
Sorry but I can't believe Michael is going to stay in Siberia... like will he have children in Siberia? will they be having Russian passports? I don't think he is that serious. I think he came just for a bit of fun; like its a good story to share with your friends back in Wales.
Dasha, Ekaterinburg, Russia
28/03/2013 19:03
0
18
You had me at the strawberries and chocolate!
the hungry writer, Offham, England (via Wales)
28/03/2013 15:39
17
0
is that a new fashion, British men coming to Siberia? I wonder how long will he be able to stay!
Larisa, Russia
28/03/2013 00:04
15
1
clearing snow at 'dacha'... never thought Englishmen can adapt so well to life in Russia)))) Good luck Michael!
Olga, Tyumen
27/03/2013 21:33
23
0
You are brave man! Respect! My wife sometimes is ready to stop a herd of horses galloping and it really scared...
Eugen, Novokuznetsk
27/03/2013 19:45
24
0
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