"Open borders are a symbol of freedom"

Portugal vs. Spain, adaptation tips and why we all need to give ourselves time
9 min
April 12, 2024

This bookstore and café Livraria Ler Devagar is one of the few places in the LX Factory where there is so much left over from the former printing factory. It looks like a tiny café with a couple of tables as if from a flea market, but once you enter, you find yourself in a giant print shop. Now, of course, they don't print anything here anymore. Just drink coffee and chat, looking for used books and vinyl records. We met Alexander Yeremeev here, who moved to Portugal six months ago (Thanks for trusting your case to MigRun). Amidst a pile of bookshelves, we sat at a table near a row of art books. It turned out to be the right thing - although Alexander now works in IT, he's actually.

I am a theater producer by training. My whole family is theatrical. My mom studied theater at GITIS (Institute of Theater and Art in Moscow), my dad also studied production management at the time, and my grandmother also graduated from theater school... I had no other options. And in general, I was interested in it. I got into "Economics of Budgetary Institutions on the Example of Theater." The synthesis of cultural studies and economics - that's very interesting. I have a lot of good friends from there. Remember the Seventh Studio case? (Note: The Seventh Studio is a theater studio founded by the famous director Kirill Serebernnikov. The prosecutor accused Sereberennikov of not staging the play, which was nevertheless nominated for Russia's leading theater award, the Golden Mask. Then the prosecutor changed the accusation and accused the director and his team of fraud ).


Of course.


Sonya Apfelbaum studied with me. I worked with Alexey Malobrodsky at the Golden Mask, Itin taught me at GITIS, only Kirill Serebrennikov I don't know personally.

And before that, you studied in Italy?


Yes, two years of college in Italy. There's a network called United World Colleges. (Note: International network of schools, 18 colleges on four continents, educating young people from more than 155 countries.) I went to such a college in a little town called Duino, between Trieste and Venice, almost in the middle. There Rilke, a distinguished German poet, wrote his "Duino elegies. Only a few people know about it, just as not many people have heard of the poet Rilke, and there is a path there - the Rillie Path - that they say he walked and wrote these elegies. 

When I went to Portugal by car, I passed through Italy. My best friend lives there, so I decided to visit her. On the way, I stopped just in Duino. Went for a walk to the places of military glory. There is nowhere to walk, three and a half streets, and a small port. But I felt nostalgic.

Why did you decide not to stay in Europe after college?

After college, I could have gone to a European institute. But that was just 1993-1995, the Soviet Union was falling apart in Russia, and I was like, "Oh! I should go back. And now, you see, I went the other way. (Note: from 1991 to 1993, Russia had a putsch and the "Assault on the White House," which ultimately led to the collapse of the USSR). 


Back then, it was not at all clear what was going on. I remember it was '93, the second putsch. We were in Italy, and my parents were there. There was no Internet. We tried to find out what was going on. Someone gave us a small TV set with a tiny screen. It didn't show us shit, and we were running around with it, trying to get a signal to find out at least something. We wondered if we would ever be able to get back.

Everybody was saying that Russia was reborn, that there was an upsurge, a movement, a change. All the time, something was happening - it was not clear, but there was a feeling that such changes were for the better. That's why I decided to go back. I can't say that I regret it; it was very calm and gave me many things.


Did you get to work as a theater producer?

I worked at the Golden Mask for three years as a student. I went there as an intern in my second year. So that you understand, there were 15 of us on the course 15! On the course! Not in the stream, in the system.


That's very small.


We were all from the same hangout. We all knew our parents, who were from what family. My teacher, course director Gennady Dadamyan, taught my dad; we were family friends. If someone was not in the classroom, first of all, it was visible :)


In the third year, they tried to expel me for non-attendance but transferred me to the correspondence department. As a result, instead of one native course, I had two, full-time and part-time. There were many interesting people among the correspondence students, too, with whom I continue to be friends.


You didn't yearn for the stage, for the spotlight? You didn't want to be an actor?


So it caught up with me in some way. I do a lot of master classes and business presentations. After an interview today, I will speak at TransitionConf, organized by the guys from School Stratoplan. I will tell you what to do after you are in a new place, how to plan your year, the following steps, and how to build a product from scratch and run from scratch to the first sales.

How did you decide to go into IT?


I've always been interested in it, and at some point, I ended up at Mac Center, which in the nineties and '20s was one of the centers of the industry. There, first of all, they sold Apple products, laptops, and computers. And secondly, everything related to handheld computers and communicators. Of course, there were no iPhones back then. So I became familiar with all of this long before it became mainstream. 

At first, I was in the PR department, and then I went to manage the online store, the Palm Store. And that was it, and then it went that way.


As it turns out, I was a product manager and a salesman, and I don't think anyone taught me that way. So it was exciting, but I did a lot of damage.

I also worked as an IT journalist and cooperated with major IT magazines for fifteen years.


Then let's remember the day when you decided to leave Russia. Of course, the war must have been a trigger, but maybe those thoughts came up before that.


I had before, but all the time, I just didn't feel like it. In 2018, I became co-founded Product Vision, and the business grew steadily. Why leave when everything is growing? 

And then in 2022... I was planning to start a project in Europe first and then leave. But it was still hard to decide because my parents were there, I have friends, and I have a lot of things there. I had several projects of varying degrees of readiness, all mostly in the initial stages. When they announced mobilization when the borders began to close, we packed in two days, loaded my things into the car, and I left. I left on a tourist visa through the Finnish border, which was still open. It closed two days after I left.


Border closures are like a bad dream for those whose parents could hardly leave the USSR.


After all, I must be a man of the world, traveling all the time. Of course, one can survive the restrictions. There are many more countries to go to. But for me, open borders are a symbol of freedom.


Why did you decide to choose Portugal instead of Italy?


There were pragmatic reasons, and I liked Portugal a lot more... Yulia, it's buckwheat. You won't believe it! Where did they get it from?

(We discovered that buckwheat goes excellent with toast and salad; if you find it part of a dish in a specialty coffee shop in Portugal, don't be surprised).

My best friend lives in Italy. I've lived there for a while and realize I don't want to go there. Italy is not about IT. Italy is such a breadwinner in Europe. They generally need to relax and do what they are good at - cheese, pasta, wine! 

Recently I was talking to a local lady about moving to Portugal, and she also asked me why Portugal. The Portuguese are all right with the cuisine, unlike the French or, for example, the Spaniards, who, for lack of anything else, focused on snack tapas. 

Well, Portugal is the ocean, and it beautifies any country. 

Surprisingly, when I came to Portugal, I made some pleasant discoveries. And I don't think you learn that on a trip - you must live for that.


Let's give some examples.


The Portuguese are very open and friendly people. Even we Russians are treated well, even in these difficult times. 

A separate plus is that many people speak English. Portuguese, of course, must be learned. Still, essential communications such as contracts for water or gas to rent an apartment or a conversation with the courier are acceptable - everyone speaks excellent English. And it's unexpected and pleasant.


Recently, our wonderful neighbors helped us get a certificate from the junta - the local housing authority- to confirm the address. They came with us and translated: where to sign with blood, where to take out the eye. Then they came out and said: "This is horror, what a nightmare! This is a strange kind of attitude towards Russians. I'll call. I have friends in the government. I'll call and find out what type of discrimination is going on.


They are very open, friendly, and want to help. From people's point of view, it's just an incredible country.


What else?


They tell me about the bureaucracy, but everyone is exaggerating. Or I've been lucky. But they solved it very quickly. They say that it takes the Portuguese a long time to install the Internet, but I come to Vodafone, and I think you have to be patient:

– Let's come tomorrow.

– What do you mean tomorrow?

– No... Friday!

– What Friday?

– The day after tomorrow.

– Will you come straight here? I can't on Friday. I'm going somewhere.

– Monday, then.


 What else? Many friends and acquaintances are here, a fantastic group of IT people. And every time I meet someone, I say, "My God! And you're here."


Do you get out to the ocean often?


You know, more often than in Moscow :) Although less often than I would like, we just try to go somewhere in the country on weekends. We take a snack, a bottle of wine, go to the beach, and usually meet at sunset. 

Plus, we have a huge terrace of 60 square meters, and we grow our jungle on it - the climate allows it.


Do you grow tomatoes or what?


Strawberries. Oh, that's swell. Just great. 

Honestly, every day on the eve of a vacation. Twenty minutes and you're at the ocean like you're on vacation. You can breathe right out. And the ocean, in that sense, enhances the picture a lot. It's like a new self-awareness - I live by the sea.


Can I say that immigration was easy for you? Psychologically. 


It hasn't been that long yet. There's still a lot of work, plenty of things to do, and no time to think about life. And everything went smoothly in terms of direct adaptation. And we also know foreign languages quite well, making the move much more accessible. I speak English, and my wife speaks Spanish. It was easy for us to send our child to the municipal school - and he likes it there, so everything is quite positive.

What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about whether or not to immigrate? What should he or she look out for?  

First, you have to figure out if you're cosmopolitan enough if you're not going to swear that you're in a different country and need help accepting or understanding something. 

It seems that when you live in one country, your latitude is limited by your society. But when you get to other countries, and not just come as a tourist, but live and absorb a new culture, the horizons of your consciousness expand. If you go somewhere, you must let this culture into yourself, become aware of it, start learning the language, and take an interest in the country's history. You don't have to read textbooks but understand what's happening and why people are like that. 

Portugal was a great country that had everything, so many colonies. "Make Portugal great again." And it's the same story in Russia. Just use idiotic tools to get things done. What's happening now is lawlessness. 

Don't you think Portugal has turned the other way after all?


It wants to avoid becoming a super empire. If we take the European countries, they want to avoid becoming super empires. Here people have calmed down. There is no race. Everyone wants to live a quiet life. Nevertheless, Portugal is actively changing, moving forward, and looking for ways to develop and develop its IT community, making it easier to move and integrate various professionals. Nevertheless, everyone here has a different attitude to it than in Moscow. Moscow is an office city, you're running there all the time, and life is slowly being squeezed out. For example, the same Nikolskaya Street, which I loved very much - and the light bulbs hang up, and there are no cozy cafes on the street. Why? That's not what it's all about. And here - take your time, everything will be, live for yourself, walk on the beach, watch the sunsets, drink delicious wine... 


I generally live this way in three or four countries. I lived in Italy, I lived in Russia, now I'll live in Portugal, and I'd also see some Asia, though I wonder if I have much in common with them. I could look at some of the States. I am curious to know if I have enough life. 

And if we're talking about moving advice, the main thing is to understand yourself and how ready you are for this, not in terms of some domestic stuff, but in terms of cosmopolitanism. Are you prepared to let this culture in? Are you ready to go beyond the limits of the Russian community, beyond your established views? Are you prepared to come with an open mind and try to integrate?


Do you think that when you've taken an essential step like immigration, it's important to give yourself time to look around, to take your time?


If you change jobs, you must take a vacation in the middle. You can't. It's the same story. 

In Moscow, we are all used to rushing somewhere with crazy eyes. Here, and at some point, you sit down and think, "What for?" And when my partner and I were talking about business, we agreed that at least once every two months, or better yet, once a month, we would go on a trip somewhere, at least on an exciting business trip. And for several years, we did all well in time. Now it's fun for me to ride a motorcycle, but in 10 years, it may be challenging. Or I want to snowboard now, and then I won't want to, I don't know, I'll be old.


Let's imagine a person who just a week ago put a suitcase in his new apartment is unpacking in his new place. What would you advise him?


Take your time. Go somewhere on Bairro Alto on a nice weather day, sit with a cup of coffee, look at the people, and finally exhale. That's it. Sit down and exhale. 

Before you make a revolution, you should go somewhere to live in a shack like Vladimir Ilyich and somehow understand what you want next, whether you want it. 

That's how the human psyche works. Sometimes you envy people who come to a new place, and they have some kind of business here, and then you realize: I'm a different person. And I need to walk by the ocean, talk to friendly people, drink delicious coffee, and take a break between jobs, "now I'm on vacation. 

Then we all have a heavy mission now. By our example, we all have to prove that the Russians are generally not bad dudes because their attitude towards us is so selfish.


A global mission.


It's not global. It's very local. You, me, and us will have to prove to the Portuguese in concrete ways, not globally - we will not prove anything globally, to concrete people, that we are not evil comrades. We are ordinary, average, just like you. Not the bloodthirsty ones who make wars. And so, this is the most critical mission.


In Moscow, I felt like shit from all this background information. I'm sure all those who left are good people, but once again: we will need strength to show it to everyone else.


Good luck to us.


That's for sure.

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Yulia Bykova
Immigrant and writer
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