Sunday, Jun 26 2022
All Cities
Choose Your City
'Irkutsk has the sins, the false hair, and the perfume for which Paris is noted'
Mrs John Clarence Lee, 1914

These days Mikhail blends into the crisp snow like any other Siberian peasant farmer

By Olga Rekhlova
10 December 2012

He ekes out a living in the remote village of Dubinka, population 15, some 50 km down an unmade track that is impassable for much of the year.

'My daily schedule depends on the season and the weather. The main thing is to feed the animals'. Picture: Olga Rekhlova, The SIberian Times

This winter he has 40 sheep, 14 cows, ten hens and chickens, and two pigs, on the modest smallholding he runs with his wife Tatiana (Tanya). 

'You can't tell him from the rest of us anymore', whispered a local granny, hinting all is not quite as it seems. 

Indeed, only very few people know his big secret: Mikhail - his real name is Michael - is British. 

For the last two decades, since soon after the fall of the Soviet Union, this has been Michael Ware's home, an exile who ventured to Siberia of his own free will - and stayed. 

'I certainly have no regrets coming to Siberia, not at all, though I would like to see my friends and family more often', said the 55 year old who lives in a humble village house.

'There have been some hardships, but I'm happy here.

'It's beautiful, a long winter with lots of sunshine and a nice mild summer. Plenty of clean fresh air. Many beautiful places. It's just a pity that I don't have much time to visit all of them.

'I went to the Altai Mountains and like them very much. I still haven't been to Lake Baikal but plan to go there soon'.

Her Majesty's Siberian

Michael Ware, 55: the peasant who came from Somerset to Siberia. Picture: Olga Rekhlova, The SIberian Times

Today his Russian family includes one son conscripted into the Russian army, another who is set to inherit their ten hectare farm, and a daughter who plans to go into the tourism industry. 

After surviving so many Russian winters, when temperatures can plummet to minus 50C,  Michael has almost forgotten what it is to be British.

'It's hard to speak English now, and I know my Russian isn't perfect but I get by. At home we eat only Russian food'.

Her Majesty's Siberian

Her Majesty's Siberian


Ready to serve: Michael's son Nikolai, 19, was keen to join the Russian army - and, below, pictured together with his sister Veronika. Pictures: Olga Rekhlova, The SIberian Times archive 

Michael's remarkable odyssey from the English country of Somerset to Siberia began in inauspicious circumstances after an acrimonious divorce from his British wife. He was so shattered he contemplated suicide. 

Instead, seeking to overcome his misery, in 1992 he joined a party of ten UK farmers on a visit to explore agricultural opportunities in post-Communist Russia.

The rest of the group came, saw Siberia, and swiftly went home again. 'I was the only one who stayed,' he recalled.

'My daily schedule depends on the season and the weather', he said. 'The main thing is to feed the animals.

'In winter our day starts at 8am and ends at 11pm to midnight.  

'Shovelling snow, cutting firewood, looking after the cows and and sheep, it takes all day. The only free days I get are if I'm sick!'

For years he would perform these tasks wearing a Royal Mail woollen hat, as used by postmen in a milder climate back in Britain.  

Formerly a farmer on Exmoor in the west of England, he says he will never return to Britain to live - 'now Siberia is my home' - though he likes occasional trips back to visit his motherland.

Still, it is five years since he went back to the UK.

'I'll never be Russian', he said. 'Nobody can change their own blood. I'll always be an Englishman'. 

Her Majesty's Siberian


Her Majesty's Siberian

Michael's family back in 1999; below he is pictured with Alexander (now 18) and Veronika (16). Pictures: The SIberian Times

'I haven't got a citizenship yet, every five years I extend my residency permit. To get citizenship here I must an pass exam in Russian. Somehow I can't learn the grammar.'

This his biggest headache in Russia: not the cold but mastering the language.

'He's afraid of Russian grammar', said Tanya, 38.

'As well, if I get Russian citizenship I'd have to abandon my British passport.

'Anyway I've been living here long enough and everything is fine. The only things I'm deprived of are voting and land tenure.

'When I miss my sister or friends, I text or call and struggle to switch to English.

'My sister has come out  twice. Both times she was here in autumn, and helped us to dig the potatoes. The weather was great so she liked it very much'.

Her Majesty's Siberian

Michael and Tatyana by their house in Dubinka, Siberia. Picture: Olga Rekhlova, The SIberian Times

Michael envisages another five years in charge of the farm after which he may take a back seat once he becomes a pensioner at 60.

'I have plans to write a book about my experiences when I reach retirement', he said, admitting he has already started writing. 

In his 20 years in Siberia, he has lived through the tough times Russians have faced during the transition from Communism. Early on, he recalls the locals drowning their sorrows. 

'In the beginning I was shocked by the drinking. In the 1990s locals drowned their sorrows all the time, whether they were working or not.  

'It was a hard time for all the country. Nowadays this problem has slightly faded away.'

He credits his happiness in Siberia to Tanya.

'We are  always together and we understand each other in a split second. Tanya knows my vocabulary and she uses this to talk to me. If I flounder she knows what's wrong. If we talk to someone else, she is my translator, making sure I'm understood'.

Her Majesty's Siberian

Her Majesty's Siberian


Her Majesty's Siberian

Michael and Tatyana Ware, soon after their wedding and now. Dubinka village, Western Siberia. Pictures: Olga Rekhlova, The SIberian Times archive 

Originally, Michael was invited to Dubinka to offer his expertise to locals as the Soviet-era collective farm system stared to collapse.

'After my divorce, I wanted to do something to help people', he said. 'I felt I could be useful here.'

'It was strange for us to see this foreigner,' said a local farmer.

'He could not speak Russian and we had never seen anyone from abroad before.'

In Dubinka, 110km south of Novosibirsk, they seldom saw anyone from the nearest city, let alone Britain. 

Once the mountain of snow cleared, he realised how the soil was rich.

He also became friendly with Tanya, then 18 and a single mum with a three month old son, Kolya, who he has since adopted. 

'She was living very badly. She was on her own with the child and the family was one of the poorest in the village', he said. 

They had a 17 year old gap in ages, and could barely communicate, but they became close.

'We drew pictures to describe what we meant. Somehow we managed'.

Her Majesty's Siberian

Her Majesty's Siberian

Mother Russia: Michael Ware pictured several years after his arrival to Siberia. Picture: The SIberian Times

She recalled: 'He was a fire in the night arriving in the village. I had no idea he would propose, but he did. I felt so lucky because he was so different.

'He likes to cook, which is rare for men here - and doesn't drink as much.'

Michael's papers were still back in the UK, so they couldn't have an official wedding. Instead, they underwent a village ceremony about which he has only hazy memories. 

'I'm not sure when the party ended. Tanya's parents had no money but, being Russia, there were 20 bottles of vodka on the table'.

Later, he went back to the UK, collected his papers, sold his old farm machinery on Exmoor and with this money - around $1000 - bought his first Siberian tractor (though sometimes he has found himself relying on a plough horse), and a village house, now being renovated but earlier comprising a kitchen with a wood-fired range, and a single bedroom where the whole family slept. 

Michael has three Russian children, Nikolai, 19, Alexander (Sasha), 18, and Veronika, 16. 

'Nikolai was keen to go into the army himself,' he said.

'He'd rather be a motor mechanic than a farmer and he could learn this in the army. He calls very often and I hear in his voice that he's enjoying his time there. He plans to live separately from us with his girlfriend after the army.

'Sasha finished school and helps us here at home, and Veronika is studying in a nearby town'. 

Her Majesty's Siberian

Siberian Brits... or British Siberians? Michael and Tatyana with children Alexander and Veronika.  Picture: Olga Rekhlova, The SIberian Times

Michael's links to Britain proved a lifesaver when Sasha was younger.

He was diagnosed as a three year old with Fallot's Tetralogy - a hole between the chambers of the heart and a narrowing of the artery and the area below it.

'Doctors said he would have much more hope in Britain, but I couldn't afford the fees - he didn't qualify for free health care under the National Health Service.'

His relatives raised tens of thousands of dollars to meet the costs and Sasha was flown to the UK. A decade later he went back for checks and was given a clean bill of health. 

'He was so weak before, but now he's fine,' says Michael. 'We're so grateful.' 

He wonders about his two daughters - now aged 27 and 23, and son 25, from his first marriage in the UK. 

Asked about them a decade ago, he said: 'I tried to stay in touch. I wrote often, but nothing came back. Now I don't know where they are'.

Overcome by emotion, he added: 'I want them to know that if they want to get in touch, they can. I may be far away but I love them very much.'

Her Majesty's Siberian

'I may be far away, but I love them very much' -  Michael Ware, speaking about the older children he left in Britain. Picture: The SIberian Times

When the internet arrived in Dubinka, he tried to search for them on the web, but still to no avail. 

'I have no information at all about my family I left in England', he says now, sadly. 

'I tried to find something out about them in the Internet but failed. I don't even know what they look like now'.

Comments (28)

We need more inspiring stories like this one about Michael & Tanya. Good Luck Michael finding your Brit kids... it will happen just don't give up searching.
Chrissy, Edmonton, Canada
13/12/2012 04:03
14
0
This needs more reporting. Is he living with the Old Believers? This is fascinating. Can we have a blog from Michael with pictures of his life out there? Very uplifting.
Gregg, Bristol
13/12/2012 03:37
13
0
Michael, what a fantastic move you made!! I too, live in Somerset, and would love to make a new start in another country. Britain is not the place it was when you left. Good Luck to you, Tatiana and the children. Hope you make contact with your kids in England. Hope the book gets published soon in Kindle format too - I definitely want to read it! Best Wishes.
Chris, Cossington, Somerset, UK
13/12/2012 02:58
20
0
Congratulations Siberian Times on your exclusive story. As I see, it has been followed from Australia to America including Mail Online in the UK and many other countries too.
Online News Monitor, US
12/12/2012 20:11
34
0
Michael, your story is amazing and I will be looking out for your book when it gets published. I always dreamt of going to Russia when I was younger. I was hooked on the beautiful russian litterature and music. I am married to a british man and we live in France. He also has a real aversion to the french grammar! Well done to you for rebuilding your life in an environment you knew nothing about to start with. Your family is beautiful.
Lydie, France
12/12/2012 19:55
24
0
Mikhail - good luck to you mate and your family in Siberia. I don't know, but I find this story extremely uplifting. Who knows the reasons for the chaps' divorce from his original wife, and to be honest, it's none of my business. He's made a new start & changed his life immeasurably for the better and for that I salute you, sir.
Paul, Glasgow, Scotland
12/12/2012 19:23
22
0
Crazy as it might sound, I have often dreamed of moving somewhere remote like Siberia and living a simpler life despite knowing there would be difficulties and challenges along the way. This lifestyle is a magnet that pulls at me constantly but I am not currently in a position to pursue it. I am happy for Michael that he found a new life and that he is happy, and I hope his children will get in touch.
Sayward, Birmingham, UK
12/12/2012 18:43
22
0
I will be looking forward to reading your book (when you find the time to finish it lols). I wish you and your family good fortune for the future.
Brian Priest, Stevenage, England.
12/12/2012 14:51
30
0
Voting is a farce in Britain! Blair ruined our country and there are almost no jobs for British people, we're now officially a minority in London. I'm sure Michael misses Countryfile on telly, farming's impossible for the little farms now. I email some Russians including a Caxo agent in Krasnoyarsk. She went to Oz Baikal recently and it's amazing, especially if you like fish. I also don't trust British women any more after my ex, I remember the TV series Marion and Geoff. We still have a free NHS but immigration means it'll be increasingly rationed and old people's homes are something the elderly fear now, staffed by Jeremy Kyle and Eastenders addicts with no discernible compassion. He deserves dual citizenship after 20 years, ignore the keyboard tappers of Sibirskoye Krai and keep asking.
Cam Johnson, Sheffield
12/12/2012 12:04
26
0
Dear Michael and Tatyana: Здравствуйте. Congratulations to both of you on your good life, and on your successful family. Special congratulations to Nikolai for his success, and best wishes in his future. My wife is Russian too, so I know you have a good woman with you, and I know how lucky you are in your personal and family life. Remember to never give up the search for your eldest children. I'll be buying your book when it's published. Good luck! До свидания.
Kenneth, Canada
12/12/2012 03:59
33
0
I married a Siberian lady from Omsk in January 2001, we live in Liverpool. I was married to an English woman for 17 years we had two young boys, she met another man and literally blew the family apart, the youngest boy stuck with me while the eldest stuck to his mother. I got writing to the Siberian lady and a whole new 'logic' emerged which I couldn't find in any English 'Western' woman which I deeply distrusted so soon after my family debacle.
Gordon, Liverpool / United Kingdom
12/12/2012 03:27
24
0
Michael, I hope you read this because The Salvation Army and The Red Cross both run excellent family relative tracing services. Yours are probably still in the UK and so relatively easily located again, Best wishes.
les, uk
12/12/2012 01:54
42
0
What a heart breaking story !! If you read this Michael - I wouldn't give up hope with your English children just yet, people are found when they want to be. My oldest sister didn't speak to my father until she was about 34. These things take time. A really fantastic story. I really can't wait to read your book !! You're going to have no problem selling it. Make sure you get a good agent. Best of luck.
Mao Oliver-Semenov, Krasnoyarsk
11/12/2012 13:10
67
0
12

Add your comment

We welcome a healthy debate, but do not accept offensive or abusive comments. Please also read 'Siberian Times' Privacy Policy

Name

Town/Country

Add your comments

The views expressed in the comments above are those of our readers. 'Siberian Times' reserves the right to pre-moderate some comments.

Control code*

Type the code

* obligatory


Features

Business

The Bank of Russia official exchange rates of foreign currencies
EUR55.96USD53.32GBP65.28Other...