Yekaterina Sofronova was born in China, had lived in Australia and the USA for many years, and ten years ago decided to settle down in Russia, in her ancestors’ motherland. The pensioner lives in her own cottage in one of the suburban villages not far from Voronezh. To learn how and why did a USA citizen end up in the Russian country, read the RIA “Voronezh” article.

A woman of the world

Yekaterina Ivanovna was born in Western China in a Russian orthodox family.

Yekaterina in China
Photo – from Yekaterina Sofronova’s archive

Her remote ancestors came from Siberia and Ukraine. Her parents, fleeing from the manhunt of Bolsheviks, settled in the city of Yining – not far from the border between China and today’s Kazakhstan.

A threshing floor. China
Photo – from Yekaterina Sofronova’s archive
 

Up until 19, Yekaterina had lived in China, then she moved to Australia with her family.

In China. Yekaterina Sofronova is on the left
Photo – from Yekaterina Sofronova’s archive

According to Yekaterina Sofronova, Russian people who came to Australia “had a hard time learning to speak the local language, especially the elderly ones”. There were no supermarkets, so in every store you had to explain what exactly you wanted to buy.

– One old Russian man could not explain to the salesman he needed beef, so he put his fingers on his head as if they were horns and mooed. Then the salesmen understood him immediately and weighed the meat, - the woman recalls.

A picnic in Australia
Photo – from Yekaterina Sofronova’s archive

– In Australia, everyone had kitchens and bathrooms with hot water in the house, but toilets were often outside in the yard with a canister under the seat that was replaced by the city’s public utility company with a clean once a week, - Yekaterina Sofronova added. – Milk was delivered every morning by a milkman in a small bogie harnessed with a horse. The bottles were put near each house of the clients. In Melbourne, the air is humid, and the groundwater is very close to the surface. The houses there weren’t protected from the cold at all, so we were freezing every night. Only the houses of very rich people had central heating. We had to put bottles with hot water in beds. The weather in Australia changes several times a day, so when we left the house, we always brought both an umbrella and a kerchief with us.

A Russian school in Australia
Photo – from Yekaterina Sofronova’s archive

In 1973, Yekaterina Ivanovna supervised an Australian group of Russian orthodox pilgrims on their around-the-world journey. In 1977, she and her family moved to the USA where she lived until 2003.

– What immediately struck my eye in America was the city’s overall untidiness: the unmanaged streets with tall weed, dirt in the buses. On buses, I often heard Russian language, this one time one lady told another: “I bought myself a sewing machine, but it doesn’t make me feel happy. If I had bought it the USSR, I would be joyous as a child. But here I feel sort of indifferent.” Another former Soviet citizen who had moved to the West wrote his parents in the USSR: “Here I have a car and I am a boss”, to which the old people replied: “Our poor son! Had you lived in the USSR, you wouldn’t have any punishment and you wouldn’t be walking around barefoot!” (he transliterated the words “car” and “boss” into Russian, and his parent confused them with Russian words “kara” (punishment) and “bosoy” (barefoot) – RIA “Voronezh”). Although his letter actually said that he was a superior officer and had a personal car, - Yekaterina Sofronova told.

A house in the USA
Photo – from Yekaterina Sofronova’s archive

She herself worked in the USA as a draftswoman-designer and, according to her, these skills helped design her Voronezh house. The cottage in a suburban village was built in accordance with Yekaterina Sofronova design project when she was preparing to move to Russia. The woman settled in with her daughter who is temporarily working in St. Petersburg.

Yekaterina Sofronova with her daughter
Photo – from Yekaterina Sofronova’s archive/span>

Russian spirit

In the US, Sofronova “lacked the Russian spirit.” When asked how she could have known what it was if she had not ever been to Russia before, Ekaterina replied: “This is something dissolved in the aura, in the atmosphere around me.”

– The dream to visit Russia, the homeland of my ancestors, has always lived in me,” Ekaterina admitted, – although it turns out that I am a globally minded person. The native graves are scattered on three continents – in Eurasia, Australia, and North America. For example, my husband Alexander, with whom we lived for 34 years, was buried in the USA.

The wedding
Photo – from Yekaterina Sofronova’s archive

When she arrived in Russia for the first time, the woman was surprised that at the exit from the airport building people spit right on the sidewalk. One of the first impressions of Russia was a gangster warfare – “someone was shooting at someone and chasing someone”.

– In the United States, and in all the Western countries where I lived, people were smiling on the streets, and in Russia, I saw serious, unsmiling, gloomy and cold faces. I would have never arrived in the USSR, but after the perestroika and the word “democracy” pronounced referring Russia, I decided – come what may! I have lived all my life in Western democracy, now I want to look at Russian democracy.


Photo – Andrei Arkhipov

To return to my youth

Before arriving in Russia, Ekaterina Sofronova stayed in Kazakhstan with her relatives, then moved closer to the homeland of her distant ancestors who lived in the Black Soil Region. That is why she lives in the Voronezh Region now.

Sofronova’s relatives
Photo – from Yekaterina Sofronova’s archive

– Now I still have American citizenship, I get an American pension, but I am already preparing documents to become a Russian. In the US, I retired at 60, a little earlier than I could. Then I did not have a job, while the retirement age for women was 65 years old. I do not see anything terrible in raising the retirement age in Russia: if there is an opportunity to work, why not? If after retirement in the States I didn’t find a part-time job, I would turn to bag and wallet. The real estate taxes there are huge! For example, I would have to pay about $ 800 a month for a house twice smaller than the one where I live today. Therefore some people live in trailers, others buy very small houses, the woman said.


Photo – Andrei Arkhipov

According to Ekaterina Sofronova, at the end of the 90s, Russian television showed almost a paradise in the United States, but “it was half-truth — there were many problems there, but now the federal channels are criticizing life in the States, which is largely true. And Russia has a strong leader, therefore, despite the country’s problems, it definitely has a future.”


Photo – Andrei Arkhipov

Back in Australia, Ekaterina took painting lessons – she wanted to learn to draw all her life. In the Russian outback, the pensioner has a lot of time for this. One of the rooms of her house is decorated with the Central Russian landscapes painted by her and copies of famous paintings, including Shishkin’s “The Morning in a Pine Forest”.


Photo – Andrei Arkhipov

– Painting for me is not only a way of escaping but also an opportunity to return to my youth, Ekaterina admits. – I remember once in the USA I brought some of my dribbles to my office, and my colleagues surrounded me, thanked me for a long time, and then collected a small amount of money and bought me a big album, paints and brushes. I paint all my paintings in oil. I have a view of the surrounding distances from the window of my house, so I don’t even have to go anywhere. All the views of my new homeland are always at hand.

In 1999, Ekaterina Sofronova published one thousand copies of her autobiographical memoir “Where are You, My Homeland?” at her own expense.


Photo – Andrei Arkhipov