Nastya Subbotina, a 24-year-old woman from Moscow, spent a year teaching in Siberia, where she photographed her students and the austere landscapes of Yevsino. In her own words, Subbotina explains how the place and the people resonated deeply with her. You can read the original report in Russian here.
YEVSINO, Russia -- They say that Moscow is not Russia. When my friends began departing from the city of my birth, a year and a half ago, I faced a choice: move deeper into the heart of Russia or abroad.
I made the choice to stay in Russia.
In September 2022, I embarked on a journey to a school in Yevsino, situated in the Novosibirsk region of southwestern Siberia. My appointment came through the New Teacher Charitable Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting and advancing regional education by recruiting, training, and guiding new teachers for remote schools.
I took my camera along, capturing my affection for the people and the locales I encountered.
New Beginnings: Pipes Everywhere
As you approach Yevsino -- a small town with a population of roughly 6,000 -- the prominent feature that greets you is the network of heating pipes encircling the settlement's perimeter. Everywhere you turn, the rhythmic pattern of this metallic conduit is evident.
The pipes here are part of the habitat. They are widely used by the local residents who sit on the pipes, chatting, playing, drinking beer, kissing, having parties, and celebrating birthdays.
The pipes run along the houses and out farther into the fields, at the end of which lies a long road connecting Novosibirsk with the border of Mongolia.
A field, sandwiched between cars and the ubiquitous pipes, is one of the few places in Yevsino where you can immerse yourself in nature.
The Coal Mines
Yevsino is located on an extensive coal seam, and the coal that is mined here is anthracite, which is the finest and oldest grade of coal on the planet.
EL 6 is the name of the local plant. It was built in 1974, and, like the turntables at the entrance, little has changed since then. Emissions at the plant are not just dangerous but especially hazardous to one's health.
Thick, black, viscous smoke (remnants of coal distillation) rises into the sky from the highest central stack and gives this region the distinction of having the highest percentage of lung diseases in the country.
Local doctors recommend leaving. However, people from other cities and villages come to live in Yevsino because at the plant, like the coal mine, there is work to be done and money to be made.
My School And My Kids
There are over 700 children in our school, where the huge building offers bright, spacious rooms filled with sunlight. In Siberia, the sun shines every day.
The smoke from the factory chimneys comes and goes; it seemingly does not matter, as it is everywhere.
In Yevsino, life repeats itself: People fall in love, get married, give birth to children who grow up and come to the school where, perhaps, their parents once met.
One of the appeals of the New Teacher Charitable Foundation (and a reason why I ended up here) is to bring knowledge to where it is needed.
When I found out that I would teach music and that I would have to work mainly in an elementary school, I was very upset. I imagined myself more as a college or university teacher than as a teacher in a kindergarten. But over time, the little ones won my heart.
There is something quite special about my school. After the regular classes, its rooms, including my office, are filled with music, where the sounds of endless repetitions of the same melody are heard randomly. The sounds do not allow me to forget where I am.
In my class, there is an old balalaika with one string. It stands on a high shelf and is inaccessible, which is why it is attractive. A reason to remove it from the shelf was finally found: a discussion on Russian folk instruments.
The balalaika went from one set of little hands to the next, and the children treated it so tenderly that my heart fluttered. Sometimes children play pranks and engage in destructive "artistic carving" on the desks, but here there was only respect.
The work of a teacher is demanding. Some days seem to last a lifetime, and there are many unexpected situations, meetings, and partings.
I often take pictures of the children in class and during recess. I especially like to take their portraits when the sun falls on their faces. They always come running to view the new pictures that I print and hang in the office.
Wednesdays On The Bus
Our school has a yellow bus that picks up the children in the morning and takes them home after school. As many live outside the settlement -- and with the brutal winter temperatures in Siberia -- the bus is the only way for them to get to school.
I always look forward to Wednesdays, when I join the students on the bus. Where I can chat with first-grader Vika, who introduces me to her world of toys and the complexity of a first-grader's life. There is also fourth-grader Timofei, who sews amazing bags for himself and wants to become a hairdresser.
When the children get off at their stop, I always wish them a delicious lunch and remind them not to forget to do their homework.
On the way back, I sit with the driver, who keeps a farm in a neighboring village and loves bees. The bus driver is a wonderful companion and confidant.
The bus ride is an amazing time when children open up in a completely different way. They are happy to talk about their lives and their problems. At school, they often have neither the strength nor the time for this, so the bus is a mobile, secret room of revelations.
I decorated my office with glittery streamers, and it made a splash: The children hid in them, counted the strips, stuck their fingers in to feel the static electricity.
Many of the children's parents work at the Novosibirsk poultry farm. On New Year's Eve, they presented the employees' children with winter hats, and at least half of the students wore them around the school. The popularity of the hat was in its ability to light up, which the children truly enjoyed.
What To Do In Yevsino?
Of course, besides the metal pipes, there are other places where you can spend time outside the home. There is a newly built park with a fountain in its center and gazebos that stand along the paths. It is a favorite place for high school students, who hang out there in the evenings.
Near the park is a post office that has a wheelchair ramp, which, like the pipes, is also actively used by the children.
Tuesday and Thursday's: Soccer
Our school offers a soccer class. I don’t really enjoy soccer myself, but at least once a week I try to go and see how the guys are chasing the ball. There are also two girls there: Maya and Angelina. They are great! They study the plays perfectly, are responsible, and are completely fearless in their plays.
Recently, Maya proudly stated, "I have seven training sessions a week." Angelina, who is the master of tackles, always has bloody abrasions on her legs from participating.
The class is led by Tolya Peremitin, who grew up in Yevsino. He played so well that he was noticed and taken into the world of big-time sports. Tolya became not only an honored master of beach soccer but also a world champion.
This year, Tolya returned home and went to work at the school. Now he is the undisputed authority for those who previously lacked respect for authority.
Spring Finally Arrives
Despite the long, snowy winter, spring finally returns when it seems that there is no strength left at all and the educational process will never end. It is closely followed by the spring holidays, where the snow melts, the days become longer, and one endless puddle of water spills over all the streets of Yevsino.
End Of The Year
I taught the children music and, in return, they taught me about life.
Despite the black smoke from the chimneys, the coal dust, and the smell from the poultry farm, my year at the Siberian school was bathed in the warmth of sunshine and filled with love and happiness from the very beginning.