Mikhail Petrov, Nizhny Uymon village, Republic of Altay: We were born to help each other


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Mikhail started his interview with this phrase and then went on to explain, “I’m actually a romantic, and I’m not going to change and become callous at 58. My soul is young, and my body, well, it’s aged of course. But that’s no cause for concern. I think the most important thing for every person is willpower: if a person has it, anything is possible!”
Mikhail, a former teacher, is now a farmer who lives in a quiet, picturesque area on the bank of the Katun River and the edge of the Nizhny Uymon village.
“My brother is a famous teacher, and he lives and works in Moscow, but I can’t live in a city. I’m a country man: I need to be around nature. I take care of our mother, who’s a labor veteran and a widow of a war veteran. My brother visits us in the summer. He has his own family. As for me, I never got married; it just never happened. But I’m a very social person, and I have a lot of friends and acquaintances. In the summer, the house is always full of guests. I have a tractor and a car. I also have my own bees, goats, and a garden too.
I like to help people. Without people, just like without nature, I won’t survive. So, when I know that someone needs me, that I can help someone, it makes me feel good.
 I like milk and honey. What can be better than that? In the morning, I milk the goat, and I sometimes bake bread. I have honey from my bees, and sometimes I even find myself thinking that life is a fairytale.
To be honest, the increase in prices barely affected how I live. I used to drink goat milk and eat honey, and I’m still doing that. But for many people in the village, things that were already expensive became completely unaffordable. Things like going to the city, buying fashionable clothes, going to a movie or eating at a café. Few people can afford such luxuries. People can’t afford to entertain themselves when they have to survive and raise their children.
So, I always try to help people. We don’t have a rich life, to be honest. Sometimes, people need my help with the tractor, or they need to borrow money. I sometimes just give money to people. I used to sell honey, but now I just give it away, give it to my guests, to my brother, people I know. And there’s still some left for my mother and me.
Really, how can you just sit back and watch what’s happening in the world today? The power and production plants have been seized, and who’s responsible for this? People have no money and can barely make ends meet. What’s the logic behind bringing apples from Argentina to our village? Domestic producers are suffocating from loans. And why do farmers have to pay such high taxes? You know what happens with loans here – you get one, and then you’re ‘suffocated’ by it. If people were given the chance to make a profit from selling what they grow themselves, instead of ‘suffocating’ from taxes, the world would be a different place.
Look at what’s being sold in the grocery store in our village: ketchup made from artificially colored starch, sweet rolls that don’t expire for years, and a whole bunch of other inedible stuff. And on top of that, cheap tobacco and alcohol. How can we expect people to be healthy? People are only able to survive because they have gardens and livestock: horses, cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, and bees. They sell meat to the local meat plant, and spend the money on their children’s education in the cities. And if they manage to save some, they buy home appliances.”
Misha (short for Mikhail) finished his tea and said, “Follow me, I’ll show you my goats.” We walked out of the old, cute wooden house where we had tea. The view was incredible: the Katun River that bypassed Misha’s house took a graceful turn, and a spicy aroma drifted to us from somewhere in the distance.
“Very soon, thyme will blossom. Can you smell it?” he asked me and started walking towards the river. The surface of Katun was covered with every imaginable shape of waves, and smooth colorful pebbles formed fantastic patterns along the riverbank. Misha, it seemed, completely forgot that he wanted to show me his garden and the meadow, beehives and tractor. He was walking along the river without looking back, and it seemed as if he continued to tell a story, but not to me, to the river and the mountains. “He’s a true romantic,” I thought to myself. A person like Misha can’t live without nature, just like a flower can’t live without water.
Goats appeared next to Misha’s house and started calling their owner for their evening milking. A newlywed couple – Misha’s acquaintances – came over to visit, and his mother came out of the house. But Misha was still walking down the Katun riverbank thinking about something. Then he turned around and walked energetically towards the house. When he saw me there, he said, “Nowadays, people who work live better than they used to in the Soviet Union. Even in our village, many people have cars, and some have tractors, sawmills, etc. So, in many aspects, life’s become much freer, and people can really express themselves.” Perhaps, this is what he was thinking about at the river side.

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