Yury in Joensuu, Finland

“The first person I came out to was the director of my dance college in Finland”

Yury, Russia

I began many years ago making videos. Maybe it was in 2012 when I graduated from college and I started working as a teacher. I moved into my own apartment and was not living in a student apartment anymore. It was kind of fancy for me, I had never lived alone. I only had classes in the morning and then nothing to do for the rest of the day, so I got a guitar, did some drawing and some digital drawing. Then I thought, what else can I do? I was thinking of taking photos, I was going to buy a camera but didn’t.

Then I thought of videos, just something I could put my creativity into. The difficult thing was to know what to talk about. I knew that Finnish people were interested in what others had to say about Finns in Finland, but was anyone else interested in videos about Finland? Maybe kinda curious, I thought – and I could always come back after many years to watch them, maybe feel embarrassed. It’s like a time capsule, I do the videos whenever I get an idea. I’m sometimes a bit worried that my students will see them and stop taking me seriously as a teacher. In 2012 [when I started], I was still childish and well, I’m still a bit childish now.

Well-known Finnish YouTuber Eetu from eeddspeaks channel, I guess liked my videos and approached me on Twitter about some collaboration. But he was from Tampere so I said it can’t happen.

I have blocked some of the videos. I have this issue that quite often people don’t take me seriously. In 2009 when I was 21 I was teaching for naisvoimistelijat [women’s gymnastics society] in Outokumpu – classes for adults in the evenings – paritanssi such as: waltz, tango, cha-cha. They wanted to advertise the classes, so they had someone from a local newspaper come to take photos and ask me questions. I was wearing a colorful t-shirt and not looking anything like what I should be. Then this other old lady came, who happened to be a student. There was my boss, the interview lady and this older lady student. The student asked my boss in Finnish if I was the teacher and when she said yes she stood up and left. It was my first class. I ended up working there for four years. I think now that I should have been taking it more seriously; like wearing a normal shirt.

YURY: Well-known Finnish YouTuber Eetu from eeddspeaks channel, I guess liked my videos and approached me on Twitter about some collaboration

I came to Finland when I was 21-22. How I came to Finland was like a happy or magical accident situation. When I was a first year college student of culture in Russia, my future was already planned. I knew where I was going to work, it was already fixed and I was kinda working there. Then this guy came from Finland, the director of the dance school in Outokumpu, Jyrki Haapala, and he told us about the school. At that time I was 18 and didn’t care. I was working in this dance company in Russia, studying at the same time.

In 2005 we went to Savonlinna with the dance company. It was a very good experience, amazing. In my dreams I had always seen Finland, but I realised it when I went to Savonlinna. I was like “Ahh, so that’s where I should be.” So I always knew somehow that I was going to end up in Finland and that’s also when I fell in love with Finland. But I was still working in Russia and not planning to go anywhere.

In Russia at that time, contemporary dance was not happening so much, ballet yes and folk dance definitely and so I realised that maybe I didn’t want to work for this company anymore. I had already worked and seen some dark sides, you travel loads, sleeping in hotels, a lot of stress and a lot of drinking and it’s exhausting. I also didn’t want to work there until the end of time. I was thinking where I could study contemporary dance.

It was all free in Finland and it was amazing. All I needed to do was to apply and get the student visa. I had to have 2000 euros in my bank account and my family is not rich. I thought that I’d just go for it anyway and then figure something out. And my mum had some savings.

A bit different direction now, but if you don’t study in Russia you need to go to army. And I don’t know if you’ve heard anything about it, but it’s not a picnic and you don’t want to go there. When I had the chance to go there it was a lot in humiliation. I felt like I couldn’t do it and I didn’t belong there. The only way to avoid it is to have health issues. In Finland they are very strict; if you have something then you can’t go. But in Russia they say “you’ll be fine” – if you have a limp that may be a reason, if you are blind… then you can still dig and peel potatoes. I’m fortunately healthy so that was not the way for me, but the other reason to get out is if you are planning to study abroad. That means you have to leave Russia for a long time.

So I ended up applying to Finland. It was all in English and back then I thought I knew enough. But then for one year I struggled. I understood some words here and there. Like in Finland in the dance school you always sit in a circle and talk… but I was always too embarrassed to say anything.

When I lived in Russia, I was trying to be like everyone else. Guys get girlfriends and they date. But I was never interested in dating in general… it felt kind of okay. I never thought about my sexuality or anything. I was always fine, never had depressing moments. Towards the end of my studies in the Russian college I thought maybe something was wrong. You can’t fight it really. In school we have these subjects where they teach you what to do in case of fire, injuries or something and then these classes for sex talk, like girls and boys separately. Then there was a conversation about gays and how you can become one. And we have this gay icon in Russia, a singer. He was raped when he was younger, which is why he is gay now – that’s how our teacher explained that to us. Very stereotypical. And so for many years I had this stereotypical idea that they are just like that. Over the top, only interested in sex, no one told us that sexuality is a spectrum and it can vary.

YURY: The first person I came out to was the director of my dance college in Finland. I felt like he would understand. 

And so with this image I was growing up. I felt girls were pretty and at the time I liked some guys. In college, my friends were dating and they said they wanted to find a girlfriend for me. And then I met this girl and we were dating, because everyone did. But I didn’t know what to do with her. I had some doubts, but then I thought I can’t be gay, I don’t wear makeup and I don’t behave as one, I look nothing like that stereotype I had in my head. That’s when I started to be curious about LGBT and wanted to meet someone from that circle to see if I could relate to it. But in Russia it’s very hard. I have a friend in Russia who is married and kind of bisexual. We meet sometimes and talk and he is always sad when I ask how he can live like that. I think it’s very hard to suppress your feelings for years. He could lose his job and his family is old-fashioned – it would be a disaster for him to come out.

There is this law in Russia, that everybody is trashing Putin for… but then I was thinking about it. If I was president it would be very hard to legalise gay relationships in Russia. People like me would be in danger. You can’t change mentality with a law. I get it. I don’t know if you can make it okay in Russia. So if you make it legal people like me are going to be more out in the open and easier to target and what can you do with that?

I knew in Finland people were accepting it more and I was hoping that I would meet someone and it would be okay to talk about it and I would see people on the street and just be like “ah, ok”. I have been in London and seen just guys and girls holding hands and walking together. I’ve also seen that in Finland. That’s how it should be. I mean, it’s normal and not really anyone else’s business. I think in Russia gay men often get into acting or dancing so that they can hide themselves.

The first person I came out to was the director of my dance colleague in Finland. I felt like he would understand. We are now best friends, he lives in Helsinki. It was very easy to talk to him. The biggest problem for me to be open is my mum. I have no other siblings, just me and her. I think I’ll never tell her. It’s not like she’s dying to get grandchildren and see me married. I mean, I’m a busy man and I don’t have time. I just tell her I’m dating.

I lived in Outokumpu many years after graduation and then I moved to Joensuu. In Outokumpu, when all my classmates left, there were no people to hang out with. I was often by myself. So it was difficult at times. Outokumpu is a bit like a student city, like Jyväskylä, but much smaller. Every year you get to meet new people, because of new students who are coming to study and I did meet some people, but it can be hard to build strong connections with someone new.

For many years I feel like my life has been the same, just alone, alone, alone. Traveling is my favourite thing to do so I try to travel as much as I can. But I always travel alone too. Sometimes I feel there’s this loneliness in Finland. I think partly because your family and friends are in different places. I feel the society is very sweet, but at the same time very closed. Sometimes it’s hard to get to know a Finn. You need to work your way to get there and then there’s this distance in Finland. A lot of friends live in other cities, which is why we don’t see each other that often.

Other eye-opening stories: 

Andruta: “Seeing other women were so comfortable with nudity in the sauna made me more willing to embrace my own body”

Amjad: “At the reception center, we had an invitation from the sauna society and nobody wanted to go, except me”

Greg: “I feel alive, instead of being stuck in some really monotonous routine”

Interview by Peter Seenan recorded in Joensuu, Finland in 2017. If you wish to support our work in projecting the voices and achievements of immigrants in Finland please like our Facebook page and share Yury’s story. 

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