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My new life as an honorary Siberian

By Michael Oliver-Semenov
03 April 2013

As I endeavour to show the world that Siberia isn’t simply a land full of bears, spies and nuclear reactors I am also painfully aware that it has also become my duty to help my fellow Siberians understand my home country.

My new life as an honorary Siberian. Picture: Michael Oliver-Semenov

Following on from my last blog I can see from the comments left by you dear readers that there are some points I need to cover. 

Let’s begin: I am a WELSHMAN, meaning I am not English. 

This is a point of particular importance because if you travel to Wales and call a Welshman ‘English’, you will probably wish that you were back in Siberia surrounded by hungry bears. Wales is not England, but a separate country.

The confusion comes from terms such as the United Kingdom and Great Britain. All these terms mean is that Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are ruled over by the English, AGAINST THEIR WILL. You see, Britain used to be populated by Celtic people known as Britons. 

After the Romans (who had invaded in 43AD) departed in the 5th century, Britain was left vulnerable and was promptly invaded a second time by Anglo-Saxons who stole part of Britain and called it England. Since then Welsh, Scottish and Irish culture has been corrupted and violated by English folk who continue to have their wicked way. 

I am Welsh first and British against my will. It’s a bit like calling all Russian, Polish and Ukrainian people ‘Soviet’. 

Michael Oliver-Semenov, the Welshman of Krasnoyarsk

If you travel to Wales and call a Welshman ‘English’, you will probably wish that you were back in Siberia surrounded by hungry bears. Picture: Michael Oliver-Semenov

It clumps a whole group of different cultures and identities under one flag largely against their will. The identity of the Soviet ‘Union’ is something that most Siberian people that I have met wish to move away from, much in the same way that Welsh people wish to move away from the identity of the 'United' Kingdom. 

Believe me; even though Britain is a group of separate countries stuck together we as a people are about as united as Gerard Depardieu and France. 

Now the history lesson is over I’d like to continue with the recent events in my new life as an honourary Siberian.

Over the past week I have received 3 care packages from my family and friends in Wales. Mostly chocolate, OXO stock cubes and chocolate mints. This at first made my wife slightly annoyed as she couldn’t understand why I would want these things. 

Siberia is after all a chocoholic’s paradise, in most supermarkets and smaller independent stores you can normally find hundreds of varieties of chocolates and candies. There are so many in fact that I have never managed to eat the same one twice, even though I have visited Siberia 5 times and have been a resident now for 5 months. 

The fact is I simply missed the taste of home, especially chocolate mints as they for some reason are not easily available in Krasnoyarsk.

Now I am in possession of at least 8 kilos of British chocolates, I find myself being over protective of them, like a zek from Solzhenitsyn’s ‘One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich’ would covet a fish eye in his soup in. 

This kind of behaviour, although understandable as I am far from home, can be seen as offensive, especially here where Siberians have a culture of sharing. Indeed I couldn’t have survived so long without the help of my wife and her family. As I am only just beginning to find work as an English teacher I have been supported mainly by my wife, an IT engineer. 

Michael Oliver-Semenov, the Welshman of Krasnoyarsk

Siberia is a chocoholic’s paradise; in most supermarkets and smaller independent stores you can normally find hundreds of varieties of chocolates and candies. There are so many in fact that I have never managed to eat the same one twice. Picture: Michael Oliver-Semenov

When I needed a warmer coat I was provided one by my father-in-law; when my wife and I were short of food or cooking utensils, these were provided by my mother-in-law or one of our neighbours. When it came to Nastya and I moving in together, had her parents not helped us with the deposit we could never have afforded our own apartment, or the furniture inside it. 

The 3rd care package arrived yesterday. It was full of Cadbury Dairymilk bars and Crème eggs; perhaps when I am finished counting the chocolate eggs over and over I will begin to share them out amongst my Russian family. There is after all 8 kilos of the stuff.

Coming back to the subject of warm winter clothes, when I returned to Siberia in November last year, I packed mainly for winter, completely neglecting the fact that I would be spending the next 3 years in Russia and would therefore need summer clothes too. 

One of the things I brought and was very careful about choosing was my Snow boots. I spent hours in shops and on the internet trawling over very expensive boots with elaborate descriptions and specifications. 

This was all a waste of time. The boots I brought from Britain cracked and began to fall apart after only 2 months use. In hindsight I wouldn’t have wasted my time or money, because Siberia being full of snow in winter has the most fantastic and inexpensive snow boots you can imagine, plus everything else you need to survive. 

If any of you ever consider a holiday in Russia over the winter period, such as a trip on the famous Trans-Siberian railway, I would suggest ignoring all those ‘outdoor’ clothes available in your country; you know the ones, they have famous names and cost a small fortune. 

I used to buy those products because I thought the famous brand and high price was an indicator of quality and hardiness. It isn’t. 

Michael Oliver-Semenov, the Welshman of Krasnoyarsk


Michael Oliver-Semenov, the Welshman of Krasnoyarsk

Russians know more about winter clothes than anyone; my British bought snow boots cost £100 or more and failed in temperatures below -10. My Russian boots cost the equivalent of £30 and can handle temperatures as low as -60. Pictures: Michael Oliver-Semenov

Russians know more about winter clothes than anyone, so if you’re going to visit Russia in winter, buy cheap stuff to come over with then visit a Russian outdoor shop to buy your coat, shirts, trousers and boots, not only will you save lots of money but you’ll get quality clothes and boots that can withstand a severe beating. To put this in clear perspective, my British bought snow boots cost £100 or more and failed in temperatures below -10. 

My Russian boots however cost the equivalent of £30 and can handle temperatures as low as -60. 

It’s a no brainer. 

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 (30)

Why didn't I read this before! I just bought two suitcases of winter clothing. (I'm bawling inside.) I hope they withstand the Siberian winter. I really like your voice and the multiple stories. (I love stories.)
Shaziane, Antigua and Barbuda
16/09/2015 06:09
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Loves your comments about Wales. I feel the same about Scotland. England needs to get out of places it has taken forcefully. Well said.
Heidi, Cary, NC
18/11/2013 03:08
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Loves your comments about Wales. I feel the same about Scotland. England needs to get out of places it has taken forcefully. Well said.
Heidi, Cary, NC
18/11/2013 03:07
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Hi Oliver,
I was re-reading your message to me about the last name "Semenov" and defecting from the Red Army. You mentioned that you found names in a museum in Moscow. Can you please tell me what museum? Did you go there or contact them in another way? I'm not planning a visit to Moscow anytime soon...Thanks again for your help! chris
christine semenow, chicago
15/05/2013 21:14
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As a friend and 'comrade' (can I use that word?) of Mao, I have to say that unfortunately there isn't any great movement for separation of my country Cymru (I prefer it to 'Wales', which means 'foreign') from the UK. As a socialist and republican, I wish there was.
Scotland is more in the vanguard regarding this and Ireland will become totally independent when the 'Nationalist/Catholics' outnumber the 'Unionist/ Protestants'.
I look forward to getting Mao's book next year and reading about his experiences over there.
Mike Jenkins, Merthyr Tudful, Cymru / Wales
07/04/2013 17:39
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My apologies christine it seems i have told you about a branch of my family who were previously of another name. I have only scant info on the Semenov side, but what I do know is that my wife's father's father was a native Siberian who never left Siberia....
Mao Oliver-Semenov, Krasnoyarsk
06/04/2013 22:50
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Christine - just so you don't give up hope take a look at this previous article: http://siberiantimes.com/other/others/features/woman-in-tearful-re-union-with-her-sisters-and-brother-for-the-first-time-since-world-war-two/ As you can see it's quite possible to find anyone will a little determination. Best of luck. Let me know what progress you make.
Mao Oliver-Semenov, Krasnoyarsk
06/04/2013 19:59
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hi Christine, thanks for reading and your kind words. Yes unfortunately you heard right, it is quite a common name. I have done some research into my my wife's family as far back as WW1. I can't see that any went to America. the family divided at the time of the February Revolution, the whites escaped to France and the Reds stayed and joined the NKVD. Quite a division ! If however your family were from a welathy background and or defected from the Red army, chances are they will be on a list in one of the museums of Moscow. My wife's family are listed in such a book. Is your father still with us? Does he have any documentation that can help you? It's quite possible you will be able to find your family.
Mao Oliver-Semenov, Krasnoyarsk
06/04/2013 19:54
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Hi, I happened across your article through "The Siberian Times" and noticed your last name. Can you tell me a little bit about you and your wife's family history? My father left Russia after WWII and I've been searching for family. As you can see my family name is Semenova, as I was properly informed on my trip to Moscow...I've heard this is a fairly common name...do you find that to be the case...love your article and wish you continued success. I have a dream of teaching English in St. Petersburg and making the journey out to Siberia as well..
christine semenow, chicago IL
06/04/2013 16:58
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My, oh, my! Mao, you're making the comments more interesting then the blog itself!)
Kate, Russia
06/04/2013 06:40
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and to add to my point - by saying Wales seeks a divorce from England suggests some kind of marriage. I can assure you no such marriage took place. Is your idea of marriage to take someone or something against their will? And finally, I have to ask, what is so laughable about a country wishing to rule itself? I am not saying that it's not at all possible that both Scotland and Wales will look to stay in the UK, you do after all have a very powerful and well funded propaganda machine in England. I've seen it at work, it's quite impressive. Much in the same way as the Big Brother machine was impressive in Orwell's 1984.
Mao Oliver-Semenov, Krasnoyarsk
05/04/2013 10:33
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Henry - what a brilliant stand up comic you would make, you must go to Wales sometime and do the comedy clubs, I'm sure you'd go do well. I have to ask...have you ever met anyone from Wales or Scotland? And are you syre Scotland will be so easily defeated? I also have to ask, have you read anything, anything at all about politics in Wales and the the republic movement? I would leaving Oxford sometime and visiting both countries. As for Siberia feeling rules against their will, well, yes and no: no because it is THE SAME COUNTRY, and yes, there has been talk of moving the seat of power to Novosibirsk because Siberians recognise Moscow is quite powerless without Siberia. By your comment you suggest that 'the Wales' is as much a part of England as The Wirral, which it of course isn't. Wales is a separate country ruled over by another nation against its will.
Mao Oliver-Semenov, Krasnoyarsk
05/04/2013 10:26
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Cymru am Byth!
Siw Hughes, Caerdydd/Cardiff WALES
05/04/2013 04:16
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"All these terms mean is that Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are ruled over by the English, AGAINST THEIR WILL......"...Michael your blog is a great read and congratulations to The Siberian Times which is also packed with good information .... BUT.... this quote is surely wrong and misleading, much as you think otherwise. Unlike in Scotland, there is no significant political movement in the Wales to leave the UK, and even in Scotland it is a minority interest which will be defeated. Surely an analogy for Wales is actually your new home, Siberia: there is no movement there to leave Russia, anyway none to speak of, and I assume most Siberians do not feel ruled against their will by Moscow but are content to be part of a large and increasingly successful federation. To imply the Welsh would vote to divorce from England in an open referendum is a laugh. So when you say....ruled 'against their will' ? I don't think so.....
Henry, Oxford
04/04/2013 23:24
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Cheers Mr local - yes it is late. Spokonoi Nochi !! And thanks for reading the blog by the way
Mao Oliver-Semenov, Krasnoyarsk
04/04/2013 23:16
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