The Solovyov family — Oleg, Varvara, and 10-year-old Igor – moved from Yakutsk to Tit-Ary village in Khangalassky ulus almost two years ago. They make traditional souvenirs and accessories, including snow goggles “charapchi”, and then sell them all over Russia, to America, Canada, Europe, Japan, and other countries. Read further to learn who buys them and why, and about the pros and cons of life in the village.

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Varvara Solovyova: We moved from Yakutsk to Tit-Ary in October 2018. I had just graduated from the Arctic Institute and was looking for a job. Actually, there were enough vacancies in Yakutsk. My husband had been a lecturer for more than 10 years. The only thing was that our son kept asking to move to the village, and he started talking about it since kindergarten. He went to kindergarten there for a couple of years, that’s probably why he wanted to go back. We thought that he would adapt to the kindergarten in Yakutsk and everything would be fine, but he still asked to move to the village. He even tried to convince us that he’d live there just with his grandparents. Then we thought, “Maybe when he goes to school, he’ll change his mind: he’ll find friends and interests.” He went to a very good school — Aiyy Kyhata. Had a great homeroom teacher. The school was just across the road, and there was the Palace of Childhood next to it where he attended clubs. Everything was perfect. Igor liked everything, but he still continued persuading us to move. He kept asking: when, when?

When I graduated, my son addressed me: "So, you graduated from the university. There's nothing keeping us here. Dad and I are ready to move, but you don't want to. You make us breathe dirty air, and I always get sick. I can't go out with my friends freely. Playgrounds and the park are not enough for me." His words made me think: why not, if my son wants it so much? Especially since he really did get sick often. At the same time, he is a very active boy, he wanted to move more, jump, and run. In addition, the grandfather passed away at that time. The grandmother moved to Pokrovsk, and their house was ownerless. There is a popular belief that when the owner dies, the house should not be empty for one year. So, this situation also factored. Everything worked out, and we moved.

Usually there are not many vacancies in villages, especially in creative field. But it turned out that I went to work the next day after moving. I got a job as the leader of clubs in Erkeyi Cultural Centre. I like my job very much. At first, of course, I was worried that I wasn’t from the right field: I don’t sing, I don’t dance. Then I realized that the job was perfect for me. And it turned out I liked communicating with people. I have a job almost in my field. I’m actually a jeweler, and I also have a degree in applied arts. Here I’m the leader of various clubs and I give master classes for children and adults.

My husband works at home. In our spare time, we engage in creative activities, mainly making snow goggles “charapchi.” Our son Igor has been interested in our business since he was 4 years old, but we started involving him only now, because the tools we use are dangerous for children. Now he has grown up and is starting to help us bit by bit. Soon he’ll participate in a research-to-practice conference to tell about snow goggles.

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Igor Solovyov, the son: Our ancestors, hunters and herders, wore “charapchi.” They protect eyes from the sun, strong wind, and cold. You can also use them to train your vision. I am very interested in helping my parents. Usually my father carves plates made of brass, copper, and melchior. And I give these plates a convex shape with a special wooden flask. At that time, mom is sewing a leather frame. Then we sell them on the Internet. We also have our own clothing collection with these goggles. My classmates and I participate in fashion shows, contests, and other events.

Oleg Solovyov, the father: Snow goggles are a side effect of the creative process. I spent 16 years teaching at the College of Design and Technology, the College of Culture, and the Arctic Institute. I taught, worked, and was engaged in creative work with students. They are my teachers. In the first years, students usually make key rings and similar small items, then the compositions are on certain topics. For example, we study the folklore of the peoples of the North-East of Russia. In other words, we do more versatile work and use composite materials. During the training, we have repeatedly studied and made snow goggles. I have a degree in applied arts. I work as a bone cutter, a jeweler, and a woodworker. Also, as a culture and local history expert, I’m interested in many things, including the history of snow goggles. These traditional goggles first appeared among the Northern peoples: Yakuts, Nganasans, Eskimos, Inuit from North America, and others. Such goggles are made from different materials, and the shapes are also different. It all depends on the region. For example, in Yakutia, the Northern type has a single horizontal cutout and a leather frame, and eyepieces are made of metal or horns. In central districts, they have two cutouts and are fullmetal, mostly silver. We make those, too. Of course, if there’s only one cutout, the view is limited. For example, you won’t be able to just go up the stairs. America also has its own type of snow goggles: they are entirely made of wood and horns. There are also full-fledged masks with a cutout for eyes, with fur inside. Last year, the Evenki singer Sinilga ordered such mask from us.

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I also gave fullmetal goggles to the son of Turkish President Bilal Erdoğan. We met in Yakutsk by accident. I came there for a day to take my items to a gift shop. In the morning, Varya's brother said the news reported that Erdoğan’s son had arrived. I didn’t pay attention to it and went about my business. I was walking down the street when I saw a black jeep with a Turkish flag stop and a young man come out. It was Bilal Erdoğan. I approached him and gave him a pair of goggles as a souvenir. He was glad and surprised, and turned out to be a simple and friendly man.

As for the working process, I spend a lot of time trying to come up with a drawing, engraving. We don't repeat them. Even if the goggles are similar, the leather, for example, may be different. Turns out you get tired of doing the same thing. So, I try to make goggles unique and look different every time. Sometimes you sit and think, and nothing comes into your mind, then you go out for a walk, come back and start again. Sometimes I ask Varya to stitch out something interesting. Although I can’t help thinking: “What difference does it make? People will still buy them.” But I still need to add something, make them better. Of course, our goggles are decorative. People buy them as a souvenir or a gift, artists – as a stage accessory, scientists – as a museum exhibit. Different people order them, but mostly creative workers and local history experts. Even though the world is large, interests still overlap. It’s interesting that here in Yakutia, only women buy snow goggles, while in other cities and countries, on the contrary, men do. While we were waiting for you, I got a message from Vancouver, and we're about to ship four masks to California. We sell on Instagram and Facebook. We have followers from all over the world. Information is distributed through reposts. People order not only goggles, but also other souvenirs. Europe, Turkey, Ukraine, Finland, America, Canada, Japan, China, Kazakhstan, Altai, Tyva... I think there is only Africa missing. We even got a letter from the Republic of Belarus. They wrote eight pages. I haven't read it yet, but I think they’re some kind of sectarians.

The only problem in our business is shipping. Here in Tit-Ary, post office workers don't know how to ship abroad. One time, I wanted to send the goggles to Ohio, but their boss quit, and the new employee didn’t know anything. Shipping from Pokrovsk is too expensive. They said: 2000 rubles! That’s more expensive than the goggles themselves. So, we send them from Yakutsk as regular letters. We used to have difficulties with payments, too, but now we have everything set up. The snow goggles price depends on the material and complexity of the product. There are many exhibitions, and we are often invited there. For example, if you sell 10 pieces there, you earn 20-25 thousand rubles.

It's nice here: you take your ease, plus you do only your own business, without being distracted by documentation, reports, and so on. The system still oppresses you. Actually, at my previous job, employees are given a sabbatical for 5 years, if they’ve worked for 10 years, with retention of position, but without a salary. I didn't get that far, but I don't regret it. I'm glad my son is happy here. He did get sick a lot. He just gets better, and then he’s sick again.  He can be free while he’s small. He had 35 classmates there, and 5 here. In fact, he only saw his classmates at school there, but here he is close friends with all of them. He does his homework and immediately runs to his friends’, comes home only to eat. On the other hand, when you're on your own, it slows you down. There is no incentive: no one stands over you demanding a result. In that situation, you still have to do your job, whether you want to or not, but it’s not like that here.

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In general, you can provide for your family this way, but you need to work hard. And if you want to get rich, you need to hire employees. We don’t have such plans. This is a labor of love for us. If you go into production, you won't create. You’ll have to monitor everything, control everything, run through documents. Especially if outsiders don't take it the way you do. You should also be able to do the full cycle of work. For example, my son wasn’t that good at first, then over time he learned and began to work better and faster. Once we were invited to television, so we left Igor in Pokrovsk. Then he took offense at us and said: "Why didn't you take me with you? I work with you, too." Indeed, this business unites us.

In the future, we want to have a nice exhibition, as well as a collection of casual clothing for young people, perhaps for the national teams of Tit-Ary. We already have a small collection: t-shirts, caps, hoodies with rock paintings of local places. Our children performed in a lot of places. The parents are sometimes unable to ensure that their children participate in events. They're basically all cleaners here. Of course, if their salary is 15,000 rubles, they won’t spend 5,000 on travel. So sometimes parents refuse and we have to pay for everything ourselves. People are interested in our collection. It would be good to improve it. Then we’d be able to perform anywhere.

Varvara Solovyova: I don't regret moving. At first, of course, I didn't want to, and tried to stay in Yakutsk. Then, when we arrived here, everything fell into place. I even thought I should’ve moved earlier. It turns out that in the city you don’t have time to enjoy ordinary things. You are in a hurry all the time, spinning and spinning, to earn a living, to pay the rent. We rented a room in Yakutsk. We didn’t have enough time for our child, either. We usually left him at his grandmother's and went to the workshop at night. We feel better here. We became closer with our son. And nature is a separate topic. There’s only beauty around. We have Lena pillars nearby. Sour cream, cottage cheese, milk, vegetables, meat, and fish are all fresh. We always have everything we need. The disadvantage is probably the stove. There must always be someone in the house to heat it. Therefore, in winter, we don’t go anywhere all together. For example, during the winter holidays, my son and I went to the city, and my husband stayed home. He’s going on spring break.

I'm not afraid of losing my job right now. If I have my eyes and hands, then I will earn a crust. We don’t plan to move to the city yet. Time will tell. I’d like to build a house here, but there are no parcels at all. All the nearby ones were distributed through the program "Far Eastern Hectare." There are some further away, near "Zaimka." Maybe we'll buy one there. Of course, we need to develop tourism here. A lot of tourists come here. But we found out we don't have a business acumen at all.

Oleg Solovyov: We don't have the audacity! [Laughs.] We recently had journalists from the Current Time network, which is an opposition platform. Their content is showing problems. If they had come to me first and told me who they were, I wouldn't have let them in the house. They first had an arrangement to shoot at a cadet school in Yakutsk, but they were refused, so they came here. They went to the local government, where they were given Varya, and she agreed. I asked her what kind of people they were. All she remembered was that their headquarters and management were in Prague. I immediately realized that this is Voice of America and Radio Liberty. Since we already agreed, we had to meet them.

Varvara Solovyova: I met with journalists at the Cultural Centre, then I was asked to go outside and tell them about the village on the way home. I tried to find out what questions they’d ask, the subject of the program, but they were hiding it. We were afraid that our interview would be turned upside down and they’d distort our words. However, the result was very good. I enjoyed it. In fact, they asked a lot of provocative questions. It seemed that they wanted us to complain about life: there is no money, no heating, it’s cold, the village is dying out, the toilet is outside. In general, they only asked about disadvantages.

Oleg Solovyov: But we are very positive! They messed with the wrong people. We have nothing to complain about. Everyone lives like this. In comments to this material, people asked: "Why live in the middle of nowhere?" People find whole mammoths and rhinos behind our fence! You go to the island, and there's a crowd of tourists. You don’t sit still anyway: trips, exhibitions, various competitions, conferences. Life is in full swing. Of course, if there was heating, we’d be more productive. Chores take a lot of time. For example, in the city, if we don’t have time, we could go to a cafe, but here we must cook. Everything’s on schedule.

Actually, if you have the Internet, you can live, communicate with the world, and work from any hut. And the city is only three hours away.

Igor Solovyov: I like it here. The air in the city is very bad, it smells like gasoline or diesel fuel. No freedom. Here I heat the stove every morning, have tea, and go to school. Then, having done my homework, I run to play. In the city, I always looked at my phone. Here you can ride on slides, skates, skis, and swim in the summer. I don't want to move to the city. If this happens, I will stay with friends or my grandmother.

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Varvara showing the local club where she works

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By Marianna Toytonova

Photos by Vadim Skryabin

https://news.ykt.ru/article/96423

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