I didn't like the political situation in Russia – well known and exposed nowadays, but not that obvious for the rest of the world at the time. I was considering various options for emigration, including the UAE, Singapore, Australia, Canada and the UK. The UAE and the UK were the closest ones to the motherland, so I started researching and finally chose the UK to be my new home. The process of emigration wasn't that easy, as many could imagine – Russia is not within the EU, and to cross the border I needed a special permit. Back in those days, there was a program in the UK to attract highly skilled professionals into the country – the so-called points-based system, or Tier 1 immigration. It was quite a challenge to collect all the required papers and pass an English test, but I managed to do so and one day left everything behind and boarded a plane to Heathrow. I was 28 years old and hoping for a better future for me and my family.
Upon arrival, I was fingerprinted and had to register with the police within seven days. However, it was an easy procedure compared to what you have to go through in Russia when you move to a different town. As a fresh Tier 1 immigrant, I was eligible to work in the country. I rented a room in a dingy council flat in Hackney where the landlord (originally Russian, but already a British citizen) lived in the lounge, renting out his two bedrooms to others. He was quite a character – a cannabis user and a benefit claimer who hadn't been working for more than seven years – and very proud about it.
I was lucky enough to find a well-paid job within two weeks of arrival, thanks to all the hard work and studying I did before. I had good experience, a good level of English, a good education and a desire to work hard. Within three months, I was able to bring my wife and daughter to London, and we started from scratch in this new country. Our daughter soon went to preschool, and my wife went to college to convert her Russian economy diploma into something more tangible (an accountancy qualification). We rented a flat in Stratford, made new friends and started living normal lives almost from the very beginning.
It's actually very good. We live and work in a free country, we contribute to the local community and we meet many new interesting people from very different backgrounds – some of them have become our friends. We bought a house in 2013, we had a second child in the same year (this is my daughter in the picture) and now we are looking into having yet another. We can freely practice our religion – we are Muslims – and it is very difficult to do so in Russia. The atmosphere of hatred towards anyone who is not like everyone else is a big problem for that country. Looking at the recent events where Russian leaders seem to be getting out of touch with reality, I never regret the decision I made six years ago to leave that country and come to the UK.