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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Return to the Land of Opportunity

After 14 years in Canada, Boris Khavkin returned to Russia because it is not part of "the real world," even though he often feels he is sitting on a volcano.


"I believe in Canada all the opportunities are taken," said Khavkin, 32, who moved to Vancouver with his family in 1980 and returned two years ago. "But Russia is a developing world. I have friends who have made fortunes out of nothing. That never happens in the real world."


Khavkin works as a problem solver and assistant project manager for Global Resource Group, a British architectural and building firm. Shuttling around Moscow in the blue 1975 Ford LTD he brought back with him when he returned, Khavkin has become that fixture often found in Western companies: He is the person who gets things done.


He locates workers and building materials, handles cultural and linguistic communication on building sites and gathers information for his employer. "When it's difficult here I miss Canada," Khavkin said. "In Russia, no matter who you are or where you are, you're always on the volcano. But there's great opportunity -- we are all here for that."


Stories abound about Russians longing for the West, who leave friends and family behind to forge new lives on an unknown frontier. One rarely hears about the people, like Khavkin, who go to the West and, for various reasons, come back to greater opportunities and happiness in their native Russia.


In the West, they have honed skills and increasingly are returning with expanded business knowledge, to make their fortunes, or at least a living, in their native land.


Khavkin considers himself a Canadian but has no plans to go back to Canada anytime soon. Although he finds it frustrating at times, he likes the excitement of Moscow.


"The prices are high, the labor is cheap and there are no rules," he said. "Sometimes I get fed up and I go back to Canada. I get good fresh air. But it's the same routine. Here, you can never plan anything -- well, you can make plans but they don't work out."


For Peter Vins, a U.S. citizen born in Kiev, the decision to return to Russia was a difficult one. His father, George Vins, was a Soviet dissident who emigrated to the United States with his family in 1979 as part of a swap between former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and former U.S. president Jimmy Carter.


"When I left Russia, I swore I would never come back," Vins, 39, said. "I will never be completely happy and relaxed here. Our childhood was very bad." Vins said his grandfather, who had come to Russia from the United States as a Baptist missionary, was shot. His father, a dissident, was arrested twice, his grandmother was put in jail when she was 64, and Vins spent a year in a Ukrainian labor camp for dissident activities.


But after a bout of unemployment in the United States, he returned to Moscow in 1992 because he got a job with a freight company. He soon started his own, Vinlund, with his wife and brother-in-law. It was a small operation with one phone line. Today, it has grown to three companies with 45 people.


"My employees say to me, 'You came here to make big bucks. You're on our soil, using our resources,'" Vins said. "Yes, I came and I employ 40 people. You're making six times what you were making, I pay your salary on time -- look what's happening in the rest of the country. Yes, I'm a businessman -- what do you think? I came to promote communism?"


The opportunities in Moscow have made it difficult for Vins and his wife to leave. But as Vins gets older, he said, he thinks more about having children. And raising a family might be what it takes to get him out of Russia for good.


"I'm going to be 40. I wouldn't want to raise kids here," Vins said. "Health care is bad, crime is bad -- you want to live in a place where your children can grow free."


But for Katya and Vladimir Mirzoyev, their children were part of the reason they returned to Russia after emigrating to Toronto and becoming Canadian citizens six years ago.


The couple was dismayed with the public education system. The fact that their children were being raised as Canadians rather than Russians affected them more than they thought it would. The school taught mainly Canadian history, which Katya said rankled her.


"We spoke Russian at home and tried to keep Russian culture as much as we could," she said. "But my daughter began to see the difference between our style of life and what she saw at school.


"I understand this idea that a child has to be free -- but too much freedom is bad. There were no museums -- just malls, restaurants and this bloody television always brainwashing."


Four months ago, the family returned to Moscow. And the Mirzoyevs said it was the best decision they ever made.


Here, the opportunities have been better for both. Katya works as a desk coordinator for WTN, a television news agency. Vladimir is directing several plays at the Stanislavsky Theater including Gogol's "Inspector General" and Harold Pinter's "The Homecoming."


The couple said what really prompted them to return to Russia, however, was the 1991 hardline coup attempt in which Russian civilians thwarted the military. "Finally the Russians said no," Katya said. "We couldn't sleep for three nights. It was really painful to watch and not participate in it. I felt that I was a betrayer -- sitting in my comfortable apartment while they were risking their lives."