NY TImes - "Russian Immigrants Stay Close to Home on Net"

From: Anthony Townsend ([email protected])
Date: Tue May 05 1998 - 12:27:18

May 5, 1998


Russian Immigrants Stay Close to Home on Net

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post-Soviet era they have been replaced by jokes about wealthy New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 émigrés, 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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