Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Modern Vikings Lead Double Life

MTHundreds of Muscovites enjoy their own form of time travel in regular recreations of another era.
In medieval-style leg wraps and tunics, Gunn twirls before a bemused crowd. He shakes his steel sword. He dreams himself far from Moscow.

  "I'm Russian, but I live the life of a Viking," said Gunn, real name Viktor Yudin, 29.

Yudin is a member of Silver Wolf, a group that re-enacts the lives of Scandinavians who settled in western Russia in the eighth, ninth and 10th centuries.

Its 200 members are mostly men, aged from 17 to 48. Some are students, one works at DHL, and six or seven are full-time reenactors. They say, "Go to the ravens!" or "You're a womanlike man!" rather than modern Russian insults. They adopt old Scandinavian names: Agnur, Byork, Gerd, Grid, Velga, Byarny.

Gays and lesbians aren't welcome at the club, as members claim there weren't any in Viking-era Russia. Chinese, Afghans, other non-Russians and people in wheelchairs are lucky: The group permits them to join, though they also aren't authentic.

Silver Wolf is one of at least 200 groups doing historical reconstructions in Russia, according to Rus, a state-funded organization that helps them find premises and funding. Others recreate the lives of medieval Slavs and Mongols or devote themselves to studying Napoleon's invasion of Russia.

There are 850 reenactors of the Viking period in Russia, a senior member of Silver Wolf estimated.

Tatyana Drusinova, a Moscow therapist, said people joined such groups to escape.

"There's a desire not to feel like just anyone from the street, but a hero," she said. She added that this was a normal impulse, but reenactors "can start to neglect their real life. It's a way to avoid problems."

Vikings -- or Scandinavians of the Viking period -- had reached Lake Ladoga, in what is now the Russian republic of Karelia and the Leningrad region, by the 750s.

Contrary to their image as pillaging warriors, the Scandinavians settled down and did business. There may have been as many as 200,000 of them. There were large concentrations at Lake Ladoga and in Novgorod, and they reached Vladimir in the east and Kiev in the south. After Christianity became the state religion in 988, the Scandinavians were assimilated into the Slavic populations.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
Members of Silver Wolf imitate medieval Scandinavians and practice fighting with blunted swords at weekly training sessions.
Next year, Silver Wolf plans to build a Viking village.

"We have people who are ready to live in this place permanently," said Yekaterina Sergeyeva, Silver Wolf's director. Sergeyeva said the location in the Moscow region and the cost were still being worked out. Judging by Viking archaeological finds across Europe, there might be timber houses and a Scandinavian sauna.

"It will be the home of Silver Wolf," said Yudin, who also wants to build a ship. "We can invite our friends from abroad and from Russia." He didn't say whether gays would be allowed.

The club has a few strict rules: Cigarettes, plastic, synthetic fabrics, potatoes, forks, rubber and anything else Vikings didn't have aren't permitted at reenactments, though at a recent performance, some inexplicably wore modern winter boots.

On expeditions to Moscow region forests, they sleep around fires and make meals of meat, apple, onion and cabbage. The only contemporary items they have are mobile phones and a change of clothes for their return to civilization.

Members sing old Russian songs as Viking songs haven't survived. There's no rule that Vikings can only date each other.

Viking-era Scandinavians "loved girls, they loved the way they decorated themselves," said Alexei Fedosov, or Grid, 39. "Look at ours -- they're like queens or tsarinas."

Vladimir Filonov / MT
Silver Wolf women dancing at a recent Viking gathering in northern Moscow.
"The men are very careful, they do all that men should do," said Natalya Taraskina, 30, also known as Sigrid. "They put up the tents, chop up the wood, defend us."

At weekly training sessions, the men practice formation fighting, copying depictions in Albrecht Durer paintings and Roman techniques. The swords are blunted, but sometimes participants suffer broken toes or gashes on their arms. They say it's fine to visit a doctor -- they live in the 21st century, after all.

"I have a modern life," said Taraskina, who as well as being a Viking runs an Irish dance school. "I use modern transport, not horses; I eat modern food."

She added: "And as soon as I come to our reconstructions, it's also my life, a genuine life."