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Kulichkinskaya Encyklopedia



Russian Immigrants Stay Close to Home on Net


New York Times
May 5, 1998

    MOSCOW - While it is no secret that the Internet is booming in Russia -- with a user growth of about 100 percent each year -- what many don't know is that some of the Russian Web's most popular sites are created thousands of miles from the borders of the Russian Federation. Many of the sites originate from the United States, where large numbers of Russians have been migrating for decades. And those immigrants are using the Internet to help people remain close to the homeland.

    A quick glance at the Rambler 100, a daily counter of the most visited Russian sites, may lead a surfer who is looking to check out the Russian Web to Anecdotes from Russia, which receives an average of 19,000 to 20,000 hits a day and has consistently held the No. 1 slot on the counter since it was launched in March 1997

    Anecdotes from Russia became the first Russian Internet daily when it was launched in November 1995. The site, which features new jokes every day and allows surfers to vote for their favorite jokes as well as join discussions and share their own jokes, is the brainchild of Dima Verner, an assistant professor of astrophysics at the University of Kentucky. Verner began the site as a hobby, since he, like most Russians, loves humor. In Soviet times, jokes about the Communist party were the most popular. In the post-Soviet era they have been replaced by jokes about wealthy New Russians. Verner's site is a mix of the old and the new, with jokes that poke fun at the former Soviet Union's ethnic minorities, its turbulent politics and, of course, New Russians

    For Verner life outside of Russia was simply predicated by his work in astrophysics. He first left the country in 1990, spent two years in Germany, followed by two years in Holland and now four years in the United States. Next he is headed for Canada, but his Web site helps him to remain close to home all the time.

    "Although I never tried to hide the fact that I currently live outside of Russia, most of my readers do not know about that," said Verner, whose parents and most friends live in Russia. "For me, the Internet not only helps me to keep in touch with Russia but allows me to be an active part of Russian life."

    When people in Russia were just beginning to get used to the concept of the Internet and its terminology, "the Web" was already a household term in the United States and an essential part of life in academia. Already comfortable with its applications, Russians in the United States began utilizing their collective knowledge to spur the growth of the still infantile Internet in Russia.

    Chertovy Kulichki, the first Russian entertainment server, was created in 1996 by Valera Kolpakov and Leo Umantsev to provide Web space and technical support for Russian Internet projects in order to develop and promote Russian Internet culture. Kolapakov, who is now 32, left Russia six years ago and is presently completing a DDS program at the University of Michigan Medical Center. Umatsev, 23, is a doctoral candidate at Stanford University.

    Despite the name -- a Russian idiom for a place so remote it is said to be at the world's end -- surfers quickly found their way to Chertovy Kulichki and it is currently the biggest entertainment center of the Russian Web and is regularly among Rambler's top five most popular sites.

    The server provides information in the fields of Russian art, literature, music, photography, movies, humor and games and includes online magazines and libraries. Like Anecdotes from Russia, which was part of Kulichki from November 1996 to May 1997, the site offers interaction through online press conferences with Russian political party leaders, online law services, virtual postcards, virtual newspapers, lotteries, auctions, literature and beauty contests and interactive games.

    "I am very optimistic about the future of the project," Kolpakov said. "One of our missions is to inform thousands of Kulichki's visitors about ongoing events on the Russian Internet and develop the server as a window to Russian Internet resources."

    While Anecdotes from Russia and Chertovy Kulichki are all-Russian sites whose audience is primarily in Russia, several immigrants who once called Russia home have created Web sites and e-mail lists as a way of keeping the immigrant community in touch with each other and life in Russia.

    Vadim Maslov, who left Russia in 1992 and got a job thanks to his e-mail exchanges with members of the American academic community while completing his Ph.D. in computer science in Moscow, created SovInform Bureau in 1992 to repay the debt.

    Created for an English-speaking audience, primarily because when it was created Russification on the Web was still unknown, SovInform Bureau offers humor; travel, visa and immigration information; Soviet and Russian culture, and politics and serves as a gateway for anyone who wants to know where to go on the Russian Web.

    While some Russian immigrants were motivated by the desire to help the Russian Web get off the ground, Alexander Kaplan, saw the growth of Internet technologies as a means for helping connect Russian immigrants all over the world.

    Now a professor at Johns Hopkins University's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in Baltimore, whose life as a dissident in the Soviet Union led him to emigrate in 1979, the 59-year-old Kaplan created the Info-Russ e-mail list in 1991 with 40 e-mail addresses. Today the network is made up of about 1,200 addresses and aims to link Russian-speaking people all over the world to each other.

    Info-Russ has also gotten involved in human rights abuses in the former Soviet Union, particularly the Russian war in Chechnya. Info-Russ sent a letter of concern, signed by 240 subscribers, over the war in Chechnya to President Clinton and other government representatives in January of 1995.

    For Kaplan, the major objective of the project was help, which is evident from the postings. In a recent posting, a laser physicist, Yelena Isyanova, was seeking advice on how to help a former colleague in Siberia get medical help for her son who has been diagnosed with a possibly fatal condition.

    "Info-Russ was organized by me mostly for my fellow migrs, who went through the same predicaments when emigrating as I did," said Kaplan, who sees the e-mail list as a way of paying back everyone who helped him along the way.

    Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company


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