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'The Yenisey began life with a groan and ended with a boldness we could never dream of'
A.P. Chekhov, 1890

I AM living the life I always wanted

By Michael Oliver-Semenov
18 April 2013

There is so much to see and do in Krasnoyarsk that when I am asked by a student in an accusatory fashion ‘why did you move here?’ I find myself replying ‘why on Earth do you want to leave?!’

It’s now impossible for me to imagine life without this; without this freedom: freedom to enjoy the city, to enjoy the country, freedom to grow large amounts of healthy crops that will last us till the middle of winter. Picture:Michael Oliver-Semenov

After a short while in my new job I have found myself with Friday off, all of my students had plans for this day, so we squeezed all my classes into a 4 day week. I can’t complain! 

After a brief lay-in I had to go into the city centre for ANOTHER job interview. Language School number 3 looks even more promising. As a native English speaker in Krasnoyarsk with a background in literature, I have discovered in the past 2 weeks that there is no shortage of work; I am going to have to start turning work down! What a difference from my life in Britain.

Before I came to Russia I used to work part time in an art centre as an assistant in the theatre. I wrote a few shows for the stage but I mainly worked collecting tickets and supervising audiences.

The centre also had a bar and café. When the cruel austerity measures were introduced and many people were fired from their jobs, a dish washing job in the art centre café attracted more than 100 applicants: professionals, academics, even those with high medical qualifications.

It was and still is a dire situation. So after I left the job interview today I felt something I hadn’t felt in a long time: liberation. Yes. I feel liberated.

I took a walk in one of the parks and the sun was shining, it was about 17 degrees, all the snow had melted and was gone;  I have taken to wearing a very smart spring coat (that I just bought) and my summer shoes. Not only do I have plenty of work, new clothes and money in my pocket but my career as a writer is also flourishing; Siberia has had a wonderful effect on my writing and it’s beginning to pay off: I had 3 acceptance letters this week alone from publishers in the UK and the states.  

Consequently I feel slightly bemused when students or other teachers ask me ‘why have you come to live in Krasnoyarsk’, ‘what do you mean you have no plans to return to the UK?’ ‘Why would someone from Britain choose to live here?!’

All of them are under the false impression that western countries offer a much greater quality of life. 

Michael Oliver-Semenov the Welshman of Krasnoyarsk

I feel slightly bemused when students or other teachers ask me ‘why have you come to live in Krasnoyarsk’, ‘what do you mean you have no plans to return to the UK?’ Picture: Michael Oliver-Semenov

They seem to think people in the UK are healthier and have more options when it comes to work and pleasure. I can’t argue with the fact that streets in Britain are cleaner, repaired faster and have smoother road surfaces, but having these things doesn’t necessarily constitute a better quality of life.

Yes there are imperfections in Russia, the roads almost always have pot holes and the streets are always messy in the spring after the snow has melted and exposed all the litter people threw into the snow over winter; BUT I would argue that people in Russia, working class people, like myself, enjoy a much higher standard of living in Siberia compared to similar people in Britain.

When I lived in Wales I either rented part (not all) of a house in a city, or a rented part of a house in the country.

I couldn’t ever afford to rent both at the same time, so I was either stuck in the country, wishing I could spend more time in the city where they have theatres, cinemas, cafes and so on; or I was stuck in the city wishing I had instant access to trees, mountains and lakes.

In Russia we have both. Summer dacha lifestyle is ingrained in Russian culture. Ok, our dacha isn’t a chalet, it isn’t very big and it doesn’t have a bathroom, but it serves its purpose. Over the next few weeks, as the weather picks up, I will be able to pick and choose where I spend the night.

If there’s a play I want to see I can go and crash at our city apartment after. The following day, if I fancy a beer and a barbeque out in the sticks I can crash at the dacha, which is close enough to the city that it still enables me to get to work on time the following day. I can’t say that I ever had this much choice in Britain: I was either stuck in one place or stuck in another; I could never enjoy my life to the full unless I had shed loads of money. 

Michael Oliver-Semenov the Welshman of Krasnoyarsk

If I fancy a beer and a barbeque out in the sticks I can crash at the dacha, which is close enough to the city that it still enables me to get to work on time the following day. I can’t say that I ever had this much choice in Britain: I was either stuck in one place or stuck in another; I could never enjoy my life to the full unless I had shed loads of money. Picture: Michael Oliver-Semenov

In Krasnoyarsk I am able to say that I AM living the life I always wanted: it’s affordable; there are plenty of jobs as far as I can see; there are plenty of cultural attractions and parks to enjoy during the free time.

There is so much to see and do in Krasnoyarsk during every season that when I am asked by a student in an accusatory fashion ‘why did you move here?’ I find myself replying ‘why on Earth do you want to leave?’

Migration is a funny business. One man’s plateau is another man’s hell; likewise, one man’s cramped, economically clapped out western city (with perfect paving stones) is another man’s paradise.

Granted, one of my students has never seen the ocean before (Krasnoyarsk is in the middle of Russia!), so he’s looking forward to his first dip in the sea (technically one doesn’t have to leave Russia for this).

I can perfectly understand his longing to experience the ocean and all it has to offer, there is after all only one seagull in Krasnoyarsk that I know of and it lives in the zoo (no joke). Just imagine how he’s going to feel when he experiences his first smell of the ocean, the first lap of waves over his toes, his first seaside ice-cream being stolen by a seagull. I suppose, as an islander that I took those things for granted.

In less than a month I will be spending all my free time at the dacha. 

We will grow potatoes, kabackoks, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers - I could go on a while.

It’s now impossible for me to imagine life without this; without this freedom: freedom to enjoy the city, to enjoy the country, freedom to grow large amounts of healthy crops that will last us till the middle of winter. I can’t imagine why anybody would want a life without such qualities; but then again, it’s so easy to become complacent, to feel blasé towards the gems of our culture and environment.

When I am sitting on our veranda wondering how my soon-to-be seaside student is doing, maybe, just maybe, he will spare a moment to wonder about me, as he floats across crystal clear waters on his large inflatable rubber duck just off the coast of paradise island, and ask ‘why would anybody leave here?’

Comments (25)

Hi everyone, I am fascinated by this thread. I have been researching my father's life and as a small boy in 1920, he remembers the Krasnoyarsk art school. He told me the teacher there was named Dobrovolsky/Dobrowolski? I wrote to someone in the culture department but got a very bureaucratic answer which took me a week to translate. What I would like to find out is the human side of the story. In around 1920/21 a monument to the revolution was built and my father helped to build it. It was made of concrete covered in marble dust and there was a lantern with red glass on top. Sadly the statue didn't survive but I saw a photo of it years ago. Does anyone know anything about this? Or about any Polish community which settled there in the 19th century? I am desperate to find out anything at all on these subject and don't read Russian….
Clementina zielenkiewicz, U.K.
12/08/2016 04:39
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Excellent article. Trying to find where i want to move to and this was a great story that hit some perfect points. Thanks
Quinton, Sydney
27/10/2014 10:29
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I am trying to contact the author of this article. Is it possible to get his email address? Thanks.
p, India
22/08/2014 20:07
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Hi Michael.
I have just seen your article in The Siberian Times about Krasnoyarsk.
I have being to Krasnoyarsk in February and am going back in the summer to live there for a few years and hopefully find a job.
I be interested in talking to you about Krasnoyarsk and asking you a few questions if you don't mind

Anthony, Dublin - Ireland
06/05/2014 18:57
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Dear Michael, your Krasnoayrsk story is heart warming. This Summer I will be spending my first time living away from home in Krasnoayrsk. As a Russian language student and native English speaker, I got offered a job there for the summer and I can't wait to go. I've always had a fascination with Krasnoayrsk. I'm glad to see expat stories like this! Thank you for sharing your experience!
Michael Walker, Drogheda Ireland
17/02/2014 17:57
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@Emma, Krasnoyarsk

Hi Emma, can you get in touch with the Siberian Times again please and/or leave your email address, we've got a message for you.
The Siberian Times ,
18/10/2013 11:56
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Hello! I'm an American who just moved to krasnoyarsk for

My husbands job. I have a 3 (almost 4 year old ) and was wondering of you knew of any English speaking or international nursery or kindergarten schools. Your blog came up in my search. Any help would be appreciated--Thanks so

Much!!
Emma, Krasnoyarsk
17/10/2013 10:52
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Mr Ayodeji - fancy a beer sometime? Gianni - hey mr Gianni, congratulations on getting married. As for getting a job here, you have no idea how many people ask me this. The answer is the same anywhere I'm afraid. Apply for work and hope you have what the company is looking for. I've never worked in hotels or fitness so I've no idea what the demand is. Beyond this, I don't know. Perhaps you could make a list of your qualifications and see if there are any gaps in the market here. I'm afraid moving here requires a great about of research, but you're lucky in that you have a Russian speaking wife, so you're already a step ahead.
Mao Oliver-Semenov, Krasnoyarsk
01/09/2013 13:35
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Dear Michael, I so envy you to be living your life in the great lovely Krasnoyarsk city ... I'm originally from Belgium, left Belgium 16 years ago to move to the U.S.A and stayed there for almost 8 years and than moved here in Bangkok my professional background is mainly Hotels industry as manager and guest relations, also professional in Fitness And Nutrition 10 years of experience, but I became a Professional Touring Golfer here in Bangkok the last 3 years and I meet my future wife here almost 2 years ago and she's from Krasnoyarsk, since I meet here my whole life has change and now all I want is to move with her over there find a normal decent job there and start our little happy family there ... Can you tell me how I could find a job there as an expat? How can I get a visa to allow me to stay and work there? I really appreciate all the help you could give me since you live there now ... My email is giannihero@gmail.com, I hope to here from you soon ... God bless... Gianni.
Gianni Belfiore, Bangkok Thailand
01/09/2013 11:25
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Dear Michael, I so envy you to be living your life in the great lovely Krasnoyarsk city ... I'm originally from Belgium, left Belgium 16 years ago to move to the U.S.A and stayed there for almost 8 years and than moved here in Bangkok my professional background is mainly Hotels industry as manager and guest relations, also professional in Fitness And Nutrition 10 years of experience, but I became a Professional Touring Golfer here in Bangkok the last 3 years and I meet my future wife here almost 2 years ago and she's from Krasnoyarsk, since I meet here my whole life has change and now all I want is to move with her over there find a normal decent job there and start our little happy family there ... Can you tell me how I could find a job there as an expat? How can I get a visa to allow me to stay and work there? I really appreciate all the help you could give me since you live there now ... My email is giannihero@gmail.com, I hope to here from you soon ... God bless... Gianni.
Gianni Belfiore, Bangkok Thailand
01/09/2013 11:22
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Hi, Where are you in Krasnoyarsk. I guess I also like it here in Krasnoyarsk as International student. It is interesting and people always ask me, questions like....You came from warm country to very cold country why? Some may ask strange questions which is difficult to answer but above all... I like living here
Ayodeji, Krasnoyarsk
03/08/2013 20:40
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M. A. Oliver-Semenov (Mao) and Anastasia leads me, living here in a small town yet part of a national economy. A democratic society that is far from equal. Material goods has replaces the pleasure of a community and cultural society. From the age of 3 to 90 years of age this capitalist society has become a nation of 'must haves' I reflect on 'In Krasnoyarsk I am....' sharing the natural life around them and a human life, support for each other. A sense of place that has many rewards not focused on competition and material gain. Neath; South Wales is very beautiful, yet many residents have no awareness. They are programmed to zoom off to every corner of the globe to lie by a swimming pool in the sun, and to eat as much as they can. I think we are drifting far away from community sharing. Life in Krasnoyarsk that really puts life in perspective
Aida Birch, Neath
27/05/2013 01:32
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Hi Martin. Twas Chapter I worked in. Though it was mainly my drinking hole.
Mao Oliver-Semenov, Krasnoyarsk
26/04/2013 11:44
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Ah yes, the whole dacha culture is just wonderful, isn't it? Your piece reflected the fact that so many people have utterly false notions of daily life for the majority of people in Western countries.
Just out of interest Michael, which arts centre did you work in?
Martin Barlow, Wales
25/04/2013 15:43
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Also to make my point clearer, all the wages are discussed only with 13% tax and they're competitive that way. Once you get your cash you find only one deduction. Everything else that you get with official job (something that would certainly be listed as an additional privilege in the West) is taken for granted.
Andy Dean, Moscow
23/04/2013 17:44
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