Photographer and Nikon Ambassador Kirill Umrihin on his experience of immigration

More than 70,000 subscribers follow Kirill's activities; he has toured half the world and worked with Apple, Adidas, Nike, and other brands.
9 min
October 25, 2023

Kirill Umrihin is a photographer and Nikon Ambassador with over 70,000 followers on his Instagram and Facebook. Kirill shoots extreme sports like snowboarding, windsurfing, etc., and also takes fantastic pictures of nature. He has already traveled half the globe, been a team manager at Boardriders, and worked with Apple, Adidas, Nike, Chanel, Nissan, RedBull, and other brands you are familiar with. Kirill moved to Portugal with his wife and two sons a year ago. We met with Kirill to discuss his immigration experience and what to consider when moving to another country.

What inspired or encouraged you to move to another country?

The war. It was the final point. It was clear that I had decided very quickly. I had a ticket for February 25, 2022. I canceled one shoot and decided to surprise my family, who were in Egypt, and bought a ticket to visit them for three days. I remember calling my wife the morning of February 24, shocked by the news, and of course, she told me to fly out to them immediately. Fortunately, I already had a ticket. There was no surprise... Of course, I might not be back anytime soon.

We spent six months in Egypt during the pandemic. It was a wonderful experience, without irony. We lived in an Egyptian village. But this time, the situation was fundamentally different - it was unclear when and how everything would end. Аnd the children had to go to school soon, my eldest son was seven.

As a professional photographer, who had worked with major brands and won several awards for photography projects, I applied for the U.S. "talent visa" before February, and my green card was approved. But the process was long, and I needed a visa at the time of the decision. So moving to the U.S. was not an option.

I had a Schengen visa for Europe that was expiring in the summer. We decided to fly to Portugal and get a residence permit there. We had already been to Portugal several times. Moreover, even before the pandemic, we tried to apply for a D7 visa but failed. We collected documents ourselves and did not use anyone's services, but the problem was opening an account at a local bank.

Why choose Portugal as a second home: name three points.

People. For centuries, this country has been a land of travelers. In the 16th and 17th centuries, it was the number one country in the world, and one of the essential empires, thanks mainly to trade routes with India. And the 20th century also added immigrants: many fled through Portugal from Nazi Germany to the New World to America. Remarque's "A Night in Lisbon" is about that. So - the people come first. They're open, they're not harmful, and they're somewhat helpful.

The second thing is simplicity. There aren't many places in the world where people act not because it's written in the rules but because of how they feel.

And the third is the ocean. For those who love surfing or yachting, the sea allows them to do what they love every day, all year round. And that's a definite plus.

And to whom, in your opinion, would Portugal not suit?

Very punctual people. Portugal is an entirely different flow of time. But I've discovered a secret! People here do things slowly, not because they are "slow," but because they prefer to enjoy every moment. If you want to make an appointment with someone, chances are they can't find a date for you right away. Not because he or she is so busy but because he wants to get through the next week or month without changing anything.

What was difficult for you in moving, legalizing, and adapting to your new life?

Circumstances. There's the feeling that you can't afford to go home. That's probably the most challenging part. It's one thing to have voluntary migration, what we prepared for the last ten years. It's another when you have no way back.

I had plans for a year: trips, expeditions, shoots, and projects. And then it just disappears and collapses in the millstones. That added to the difficulty, too.

And then, there was the difficulty of getting a residency. Of our family, I am the only one who waited eight months for a residence. My wife got one month. Caught "Portuguese random" - there is such an expression, when somehow randomly your case "hangs" and you can not do anything. Moreover, if you try to do something, it's to hurt your process. We spent a lot of time in Egypt, where there is a concept of "inshallah," which is "Allah's will for everything." You can treat it that way philosophically. It may helps. 

What advice would you give to people who are thinking of immigrating?

First, you should understand that moving is not a trip. If you've dreamed of living in a house overlooking the ocean, you'll probably curse that ocean-view house when you move. Because the windows will rattle in the wind, there will be humidity and cold. You need to focus on other criteria when you choose a house, not for a week, but for a year.

You need to organize life anew, in a different way. There may not be the usual things, or the level of service will be much lower than what you are used to. Do not be sad that something is missing in your new country - do not let negative emotions take over.

One more thing. Lewis Carroll wrote in Alice in Wonderland: "To stand still, you must run, but to move forward, you must run twice as fast." Immigration is about "running twice as fast." You have to put in a lot of effort to make something happen. You have to not be afraid or ashamed. You have to accept that now you are an immigrant and must rebuild your life. It is an exciting experience. Some people find it easier - those who have traveled and know how to organize their life in new places. Some will find it more difficult - those not used to changes in the world around them. But here you must understand: if you jumped into this river, you must paddle.

You have two sons. Some would like to move but are worried about the children - how they will adapt, go to school, etc.

Children are precisely the incentive to immigrate. Sit down and answer a few questions: what will you be doing in a year, in five years, and what do you want to do in ten years? And then what will happen if you move, and what won't happen if you move? Take a piece of paper, write the pros, and write the cons. We're all going to die one way or another, and the children should stay and carry on in their children.

Learning and socializing among children are important reasons to move. My grandmother and father were teachers, and I know the Russian education system well. I went through it myself, and I guess I like it, but when I observe what's happening now. I wouldn't want to see my children in military uniform.

You and I are now at the International School in Lisbon; you teach photography here. What surprised you about the local school?

Freedom. Freedom among the teachers, freedom among the children, respect for the children, for the staff. The possibility of choice - when children decide how to do something, they look for their solutions; it's very interesting.

I would like to learn myself at this school! There's a skate park; there are a lot of extra activities - you want to swim and ride a horse. There are classes in different languages - Portuguese, English, Ukrainian, and Russian. It's amazing. Languages allow us to communicate, learn the world, and get to know each other. 

Do children adapt faster than adults?

It would be easier for us to think that way. Oh, they'll learn the language in two months! Yes, they will because they have to. I saw a joke yesterday: the best way to learn Portuguese is not in a language course but in a construction job. 

Have you already got the feeling that Portugal is a new home?

Our situation is probably not quite typical. I did not feel my home was an attachment to Moscow or a specific place. There are countries and cities where I like to be. But home is, above all, where my family and friends are. We have already created a comfortable social circle here.

Do you still take pictures of extreme sports, or has that receded into the background?

I keep doing public activities, educational and professional. Most of my projects were canceled, and I had to rebuild my work in another country and re-establish my position in international projects. I am pleased when I can shoot sports- the local Red Bull office or athletes. That said, I get a thrill out of photographing the kids at school every day. At one point, I even thought: I should have become a Nikon Ambassador, worked with many global brands, won some international competitions, and then photographed children in front of a Christmas tree! But I do it with enthusiasm. Plus, I opened a photography club here. I've always wanted to join a photo club but only had a chess and sculpting club at school. We meet once a week, and I teach kids and teenagers how to take pictures. It's also awesome to watch the kids develop.

One of your most famous projects is your pictures of the Commander Islands. Have you found your "unexplored territory" in Portugal that we can see through your camera?

Of course, Portugal itself is still a territory that is little explored. It's insanely textured and colorful, and it's the edge of Europe with a great history, which we also began to study; we noticed many parallels with what's happening in our country. Previously, there were commercial projects that allowed me to earn money and support my family, and some projects are close to patronage because they're mostly about something other than money. I am still looking for a way to do the same here. Give it another six months to a year :)

During this year, a series of pictures came out that you're willing to say: yeah, that turned out fantastic?

I didn't want to take pictures for the first six months after the war started because I was very close to and experiencing what was happening. I had a new camera, the best one on the market, which I got to Egypt by hook or crook. But I could only take pictures for a maximum of three or four months.

My last project was shooting camel races in Egypt. It's insanely beautiful and impressive. And now I'm catching all the forecasts in Nazareth - to hit big waves. Hopefully, I'll put together a pretty good collection of photos from there.

I just recently returned from an expedition to Kilimanjaro. I've always been a little bit shy of high mountains. When I was 14 years old, I caught a mountain bug on Cheget, climbing to the top in time for the start of the competition. And I never dared to repeat that experience. I have always watched with fear and curiosity the mountain photographers, who, it must be said, are more mountaineers than photographers. But at the end of last year, I was invited to join an expedition to Kilimanjaro. To be blunt, it was scary, but how could I refuse? Africa has the highest peak on the continent and the highest volcano on Earth.

5,895 meters. Difficult? Unreal. Sometimes I thought I wouldn't budge again, but I immediately pictured myself as a snail crawling for a lettuce leaf to the top and forced myself to take a step. I had never been this high and never climbed a mountain like this on foot. They say the feeling of climbing comes with time, the hill growing inside. For now, there is only the happiness of being back on the land.

My approach to life is I don't see endpoints in my career; I keep learning. If you love what you do, it doesn't matter where you are; the main thing is not to stop. You have to keep moving somewhere and growing.

Let's imagine someone who moved to another country just a month ago. What advice would you give?

I would advise him to break into everything he can! To try to do everything offered, to take on any project, any job. To be completely open to the world. Get to know people. And move fast. Know that energy doesn't disappear, it transforms from one kind to another, and the energy spent now will somehow be embodied into something else. I am a positive person; I believe that everything will work out.

You can subscribe to Kirill on Instagram and Facebook, and Kirill also has a website.

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Yulia Bykova
Immigrant and writer
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