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Meet the 'richest man in Siberia'… at least in terms of the size of his family

By Olga Gertcyk & Derek Lambie
12 January 2015

Alexey has accrued 13 children, 117 grandchildren and 33 great-grandchildren over his lifetime, and there may be more on the way!

Alexey Shapoval and his 117th granddaughter Lenochka. Picture: Vera Salnitskaya

He has been dubbed the 'richest man in Siberia', but it’s not for his wealth.

For instead of money, Alexey Shapoval has accrued one of the largest – if not the largest – families in the world, with 13 children, 117 grandchildren and 33 great-grandchildren.

And it’s fair to say they are one, big, happy clan since they all live close to one another in the city of Novokuznetcsk, in Kemerovo Oblast.

'My 117th granddaughter's name is Lenochka,' said Alexey, whose own children are all now grown up and married. 'She's daughter of my 'old age' son Matvey. Well, Matvey is actually my youngest child, the 13th, and he's only 39, but when he was born I was 40 so I call him my 'old age son'.'

Now 79 years old, Alexey is quite a character and despite times having often been tough, he maintains a good sense of humour and positive outlook on life. Alexey and his late wife, Claudia, were blessed with 11 sons and two daughters before the arrival of their first grandchildren added to their burgeoning ranks.

Both originally from Ukraine, they had moved to the coal-mining Kuznetsk Basin, in south-western Siberia, with their families. Alexey's father, Pavel, was sent to a gulag in Siberia having been taken as a prisoner of war, while Claudia's own father, a miner from Donetsk, was sent to Kuzbass.

Eventually they met, fell in love, and produced a family but many questioned them when they decided to keep having more children.

Richest man in Siberia


Richest man in Siberia


Richest man in Siberia

General view on Novokuznetsk suburb Bungur where the giant family lives (top). Part of Shapoval's family during church service (bottom). Pictures: Alexandra Kudrinskaya, Vera Salnitskaya

'People said that Claudia and I were breeding poverty,' said Alexey. 'In the maternity hospital they offered her to have an abortion for compassionate reasons, presumably.

'And at work people were pestering me with questions. They asked 'why do you need so many?' or 'how to feed them, how do you bring them up?' But I would say 'You are poor with just one kid' and would rush home to my children and my wife.'

In an interview in the 1980s, Alexey remembers joking about how he did manage to feed his family. Laughing, he said: 'I boil a bucket of potatoes and empty it to the table. The one who doesn't grab a potato would be hungry. So, we're having great laugh.'

However, being more serious during a visit to the Kremlin to give a talk, he explained: 'We live on the land.'

His first home was built by Claudia’s father for their wedding day, but it has been altered and expanded by Alexey over the years to cope with his expanding family.

As they then went on to grow up, get married and raise children of their own, he helped his own sons build, or buy, a house of their own.

He said: 'I believe it's my parental duty. And, after that, they want to expand their living space, then they can please themselves but I will help as much as I can.'

All the Shapovalovs live nearby in fairly spacious homes. Alexey’s son Maksim, for instance, has seven bedrooms, a library, dining room and kitchen.

Maksim is a farmer and has 13 cows, for milking, and he grows vegetables. He and his wife, Vera, have the most children, with eight sons and seven daughters. The youngest, Karina, is in her first year at school, while one of his sons, Filipp, has just done his military service.

Richest man in Siberia


Richest man in Siberia


Richest man in Siberia

Although Alexey has a great memory and knows everything about all of his extended family, he writes down the details of every person, and when they were born, in a special notebook. Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya, Maks Shipenkov

Despite so many children to look after, Vera insisted the family still knows how to relax. 'We know how to get rest too,' she said.

Alexey's youngest son, Matvey, lives close by with his wife, Annushka, and their own brood of eight children, including the smallest of the clan, little Lenochka.

Anna said: 'My parents passed away, so Alexey is my family.'

All of Alexey's 13 children are now married and he took care of their weddings. Maksim and Vera had 500 guests, and the table was said to be creaking under the weight of food.

But there was no wine, vodka, or even champagne - none of the Shapovals drink. They don't smoke either, and they are all hard-working and prefer not to buy things on credit.

Each of the Shapovals has a different job, and there are miners and teachers amongst their ranks. One of Alexey's daughters-in-law graduated after she had five children, while Alexey himself worked as a driver, and still drives his own car. 

'Don’t get a loan, it's like hanging yourself,' he regularly tells his off-spring.

His daughter, Elena, does not live beside them in Siberia, having moved to the United States with her husband Anatolyi. They have two children of their own, and Alexey has visited his 'American' grandchildren twice.

With so many names to remember, Alexey has a system. Although he has a great memory and knows everything about all of his extended family, he writes down the details of every person, and when they were born, in a special notebook.

Richest man in Siberia


Richest man in Siberia


Richest man in Siberia

Now 79 years old, Alexey is quite a character and despite times having often been tough, he maintains a good sense of humour and positive outlook on life. Pictures: Vera Salnitskaya, Maks Shipenkov

Alexey married for a second time after Claudia died. He met Valentina Yefimovna at a local market 12 years ago - he was selling cabbage, and she was selling tomatoes. 

He recalled: 'She looked exhausted, so I offered her my chair. Little by little, we discovered that we were both widowers. 

'At the beginning I didn't tell her about my 'inheritance', meaning my children and grandkids. Valentina had only one son, but by then I already had 99 grandkids. My 100th, Valentinka, was born after I got married the second time.'

And, there may be even more children on the way, with Anna and Matvey hoping to add another to their group of eight.

'With God's help,' said Anna.

With a laugh, Alexey confessed: 'It's a true kolkhoz [collective farm] and I'm the head of it.'

Comments (2)

Family is like a unit of Army.
Sandeep, India
13/01/2015 19:27
2
2
The world is just a reflection of yourself, we know this becouse we experience this all the time. You can have the best laugh and experinces on dire of moments and worst time on best day. YOU CREATE YOUR OWN REALITY, and by extension your perception shapes who you become and what you do with your short time on earth.
Lazar, Moscow
13/01/2015 08:52
5
0
1

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