Young family left Russia for Armenia

A little more than a year ago the Skrypkin family moved from Chelyabinsk's Metallurgicheskiy district to Armenia. The move was caused by constant smog in their hometown. Now the family lives and works in Yerevan, does sport and travels. Dmitry told Russian newspaper about pros and cons of life in Armenia.
Семья Скрыпкиных

Armenia met all our criteria
I'm a developer by profession. I spent my whole life in Chelyabinsk. Because of the ecological situation in Chelyabinsk we started thinking about moving. At the time, my wife Oksana and 9-year-old daughter Polina already had some health issues. I can't claim for sure that they were caused by smog but when we were outside of the city they usually felt better.

Considering job offers from abroad we had options from 3 countries Armenia, UAE and Montenegro. While choosing a country we considered such factors as ecology and standard of living. We've never been in Armenia before and it turned out to be the most lucrative option.

The Emirates are very expensive and the compensation I was offered there wouldn't have been sufficient. Montenegro is a relatively cheap European country but it's not that easy to find a job there. My wife works in the event industry and it would have been easier for her to find a job in Armenia than in Montenegro. We also had to consider educational system for our child, and all schools with Russian language in Montenegro and UAE were private.
Standard of living, possibility to find a job and school, Russian-speaking population and clean environment were the criteria that mattered the most to us and in Armenia all of them could be met. Climate is also very comfortable for us, sure it's hot in summer but in winter it's never been colder than -8 °C in all the time we've been living here.
Дмитрий Скрыпкин
Our daughter goes to Armenian school but she is in Russian class. All subjects are taught in Russian except for life science and Armenian language. Our daughter takes private Armenian lessons, while my wife and I learn it on our own. That's why we can already speak it a little.

In Yerevan 90% of people speak Russian because of the Soviet past. Compared to neighboring countries as Georgia and Azerbaijan in Armenia more locals speak Russian.

Our parents stayed in Chelyabinsk. Of course, we can't see each other as often as we'd like to but we agreed that once in 6 months either we will visit them or vice versa. And although I'm a single child and they have only one granddaughter, they supported our idea of moving to another country. However for us it was a much more difficult decision, our parents are rather old and it wasn't easy to leave them.

I can't say for sure that we'll stay in Armenia for the rest of our lives. As long as our daughter is in primary school it's not that important where we live. In the future we may return to Russia. It's hard to predict.
Beginners and graduates of IT courses (from robotics to web development) can expect to earn 60-100k drams, or about 8-13k rubles. If you have even minimal experience then salaries are completely different, that's why I always advise young professionals that have just finished the education in IT sphere to stay at a low-paying job for a year or two to gain experience. After a year or two a young professional can expect a salary of 250-400k drams, that's about 50k rubles. If you become a senior developer then salary ranges from $2k to 6k are rather typical.
According to ITisArmenia's research developers' salaries are:
Junior: 60,000 — 200,000 dram = $123 — 410
Middle: 250,000 — 800,000 dram = $513 — 1,642
Senior: 900,000 — 1,400,000 dram = $1,848 — 2,874
Lead developer/Team lead: 1,500,000 — 2,500,000 dram = $3,080 —5,133
The thing is that in recent years the number of Western IT companies in Armenia has increased. Many large corporations, such as Microsoft, open their regional branches here. And all of them without exception need only professionals. As a result those who work in tech sphere have limitless room for growth, development and impressive prospects. Western specialists call Armenia "Transcaucasian Silicon Valley" for a reason.
In Chelyabinsk my wife had her own small event agency that specialised in planning kids' celebrations. Here we continue to develop the business but in a somewhat different way. In Armenia children's birthdays are celebrated a bit differently. For example, in play cafés several parties can take place simultaneously and the programme is the same for all of them. On the other hand, in Chelyabinsk people often try to book a separate room.

There is a saying that at an Armenian wedding you can celebrate your own and no one will notice. For Armenians this event is the celebration of a lifetime. People take credits and spend a lot of money. There are usually a lot of cars from the groom's side and expensive restaurants are rented. Now my wife is looking for an Armenian partner to co-host events in Yerevan. Wedding business in Armenia can be very profitable.

If a crime is committed the whole city is abuzz
According to the statistics Yerevan is one of the most safe cities in the world. I can attest to that, I can go outside anytime, day or night and I won't see drunk groups of people or aggressive youngsters. In Chelyabinsk it's unsafe to walk the streets after 11 in the evening. Especially in Metallurgicheskiy district where we lived. If a crime is committed in Yerevan, for example robbery or, Heaven forbid, murder the whole city is abuzz.

While still living in Chelyabinsk in 2014 I started running. First I participated in Chelyabinsk half marathon, then in the Rome one. Yerevan is a good place to run. One can run in Hrazdan Gorge as well as in multiple parks and alleys. Unlike in Chelyabinsk I can go for a run anytime without worrying whether the sky is clean today, or if there were any emissions.
Sevage of Sevan
While living in Yerevan we met guys from the triathlon club Tri Club Yerevan. We joined the community with its amazing team that is almost like a family. We train together, organize events. One of the latest competitions we held was winter triathlon. My wife also got into running and last autumn took part in Yerevan marathon.

There are a lot of sport clubs of different levels in Yerevan. I wouldn't say that Armenians are very sporty but a healthy lifestyle trend catches on.

Clean environment, stable currency and cheap vitamins

For us as Chelyabinsk natives the key factor in the move was environment that is amazing in Yerevan if compared to Chelyabinsk. Our ailments disappeared, my daughter stopped coughing, my wife stopped suffering from allergies. We live on the 14th floor and can see clear sky and hear birds singing when we wake up.

Such clean environment is a result of all cars here running on natural gas and almost complete lack of industry. There is a nuclear power plant not far from Yerevan but if the atom is peaceful it doesn't harm anyone.
Семья Скрыпкиных
Because of country's isolation, electronic devices are more expensive than in Russia. Everything that's imported is expensive. However local goods and food are cheap. When apricots are in season I can buy 20-liter bucket with local apricots for 120 rubles. Fruit and vegetables are in abundance, they contain a lot of vitamins and they are cheap, it's also an advantage of the country.

There is no centralised heating in Armenia, apartments are heated with gas boilers, and gas is expensive here. Gas bills in Yerevan are higher than in Chelyabinsk. For example, we pay around 8000 rubles for gas only, also there are electricity and water bills. By the way Armenian dram is one of the most stable currencies. In the year we've been living here its rate to dollar has barely changed.

Besides advantages each country has its drawbacks
For me Armenia's disadvantage is a large number of smokers. Everyone smokes everywhere, namely in malls, play cafés, in stairwells, in apartments, in the streets and in cafés. For me it's a huge problem. I heard that the Parliament is now drafting a law that will implement restrictions on smoking in public places. Hopefully it'll help.

One more drawback is horrible traffic, there are constant jams. It's one of the reasons why we don't want to buy a car in Yerevan, there are no parking spaces, and traffic congestion is awful.

Plus, I can't speak for the whole country but in some places the level of service is rather low. For example, an acquaintance of mine had his car repaired in one of the best auto service centers in Yerevan. But after the repairs he drove for only a couple of meters when his car started smoking and burnt completely. And you can come across such irresponsibility in a lot of spheres from food delivery to a large business. In this respect Armenians remind me of Spaniards with their constant siesta, cheerful but unreliable people.

"How do you do" - four times a day

In communication of Armenians I noticed such a peculiarity - you can see a person several times a day and every time you should ask him how he's doing, if everything is ok. Only after that you start your conversation. Sometimes it's getting to be ridiculous, for example, I see my colleague four times a day and the same dialogue takes place every single time.

Here one can hear people address each other "akhper jan", I can't translate it literally but it means "good person", "friend". And this phrase is used to address not only close people but also strangers, it's a show of respect.

Armenians have a good opinion of Russians. At least I feel that locals get excited when they learn that I'm from Russia. Russia and Armenia have indeed a close relationship.

You'll face certain geopolitical issues while living here. The country has borders with Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey. There is a simmering conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Due to historical reasons the relations with Turkey are also strained. These borders are closed. In fact we can cross borders only with Georgia and Iran. We've already travelled around Georgia and now we plan to visit Iran. We'd also like to see Baku but we can get there only through Georgia.

Armenia is in the Eurasian Economic Union. It means that Russian citizens can stay in the country for 180 days with the Russian pass. After that one can either leave the country and enter it again or get a residence permit. As in the time we've been living in Yerevan we left to visit Georgia and other neighbouring countries we don't have any visa issues.
 An Armenian village
People smile at you in the street and it is a part of local mentality
After having spent about six months in Yerevan I started to understand local life and Armenian mentality. After Chelyabinsk it was strange to me when people in the street just smiled at you. If you see such a thing in Russia, you'd think that a person is either crazy or just wants something from you. In Armenia it is completely normal.

Responsiveness of Armenians is impressive. A couple of times I almost got lost here and asked locals for help. They were ready to practically walk me home, get me a taxi and pay for it or take me home and feed me. If I'm honest, it wins you over.

Armenian taxi drivers are something else. Taxi is very cheap here and there is no need to buy your own car. One can learn all important news of the city from taxi drivers.

Many Armenians associate Russia with Moscow only. If I tell locals that I'm from Chelyabinsk they at first get surprised, then start telling you that either they themselves lived there or visited it or that their relatives are still in Chelyabinsk. A couple of times I conducted an experiment and said that I was from Novosibirsk, Omsk or Krasnodar. And every self-respecting taxi driver told me that he had stayed there before or that his relatives still live there. It could be partially true. The population of Armenia is about three million people, while worldwide Armenian diaspora consists of 15 million people. About 2,5 million of them live in Russia.

While talking to Armenians I heard them call Russians honest. If you don't like anyone you can openly tell about it to that person. It's not the same with Armenians, they are friendly to everyone even if they don't really care about you. It's more of a European behaviour. What really surprised me was that Armenian men greet each other with a kiss on the cheek and walk hand in hand. But it's not a sign of homosexuality, it's just a common behaviour.

What I also noticed was that some locals like to show off. For example, someone can live in a modest shack on the outskirts of the city but drive Mercedes-Benz Gelandewagen. Everything is for show. I've never seen so many Gelandewagens in any country in the world though I've travelled rather extensively. It's the most popular car make here and Mercedes in general from old to new model is extremely widespread. Here I saw Bentley, Bugatti. Despite the poverty of the country cars in Yerevan are rather impressive.
Armenian Revolution
Armenian revolution
In spring 2018 the revolution started in Armenia. It all happened right in front of my eyes. Local opposition walked from Gyumri to Yerevan. People treated it all with a touch of humor. One day while on the city tour we were told that there was a rally in the main square in Yerevan. A couple of days later I was getting ready for the job when I saw on Yandex.Maps that half of the city was blocked because the revolution had started.

Remembering the revolution in Ukraine I panicked a little, even thought that we would have to leave Armenia. For a week the city was paralyzed, people could only walk. Every day 100,000 crowd gathered in the Republic Square and we live nearby. I truly panicked when the road to the airport was blocked. But it was explained to me that Armenia is a monoethnic country and the police and the army would never attack people.
And in a couple of days I attended the final rally in the Square it was a People were barbecuing, dancing, singing it was a nationwide celebration. I witnessed that historical moment. When new leader came to power changes occurred. At least in word corruption is eradicated. And no matter whom I talk to about these events 95% of people say that they believe in the new leader. And even now you can already see changes to the better.
I plan to climb Ararat
Armenia is 3 times smaller than Chelyabinsk Region in size and is about the same in terms of population. This country is a wonderful place to travel. In the suburbs of Yerevan there is Tsaghkadzor ski resort. It's a terrific place with all the necessary infrastructure that includes chairlifts and hotels. In summer everybody goes to the lake Sevan even though it's too cold. There is also Jermuk gorge where mineral water is obtained. Dilijan is cold small Switzerland.
Mountain Road
Back in the day I was interested in mountain tourism, I was on Mount Elbrus. This year we plan to climb Aragats, Ararat or Georgian Mount Kazbek. Ararat is a symbol of Armenia even though it's located in Turkey. When the sky is clear you can enjoy a magnificent view of the mountain.

Armenian cuisine is a lot of bread, greens and meat
Armenian cuisine is symbiosis of national Iranian, Georgian, Azerbaijani and Turkish dishes, basically of all the neighbouring regions. If you've watched film "Mimino" you must remember one of the characters saying "Valik jan, come visit us, mom will cook dolma." Dolma is a traditional dish, minced meat wrapped into grape leaves, it's really tasty.

Another national Armenian dish is khash. It is cow's trotters boiled all day long. As a result you get an extremely greasy broth with meat to which you add lavash. It is usually consumed with vodka in the morning. I didn't like this dish, it's too greasy for me.
Ghapama is rice with raisins baked in a pumpkin, we really like it. As for desserts it's worth trying gata. I'm not a particular gourmet, there are still a lot of Armenian dishes left for me to try but I've got a general idea.

Armenian cuisine is a lot of bread, greens and different types of meat dishes, for example barbecue, kebab. Armenians truly love bread, both flatbread and lavash. Everybody knows Armenian brandy "Ararat", "Noy" and others. By the way, we live near one of the factories. But we were surprised when we saw here Armenian wine. Of course, it's different from Georgian one, it's sweeter. But there are different wine varieties and according to locals it's tastier than Georgian wine. As for me, I think that the Georgian one is more expressive. Armenian mineral water "Jermuk", just like Georgian "Borjomi", is also known around the world.

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