RUSSIA Christmas: snow postcards from Siberia

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Locals remember “Uncle Valerius”, the artist who drew pictures and greetings on ice and snow-covered expanses. He died last year from Covid. Beloved throughout Russia, his works are also photographed by the International Space Station.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – Russians in Siberia, but also in other regions, have organized a special “flashmob” to honor the memory of Valerij Melnikov. Known as “Uncle Valerius” from the village of Markovo, in the Priamurje region (East Manchuria) on the Russian side of the Amur River, he drew pictures and wrote greetings on the ice and snow-capped expanses. Using spades, pickaxes and other tools, many people of different ages and backgrounds travel to the snowy landscapes to imitate the art of ice cream at New Years Eve and holidays. Christmas (Christmas in Russia is celebrated after New Year’s Day, in January Sept).

For more than 10 years after his retirement, Uncle Valerius devoted himself in solitude to composing wishes for his fellow citizens of Priamurje, drawing festive writings and images on the frozen surface of the great river that separates Russia from China and Mongolia, and many other snow-covered areas. The International Space Station photographed its own New Year’s card drawn on the Khomutin River in 2017.

Then the media began to write about the exploits of Uncle Valerius, who quickly became a celebrity across the country for this unique art form capable of making even the most hostile landscape of winter frosts lovable and welcoming. Groups of tourists from different cities began to visit Markovo, and on New Year’s Eve greeting cards from all over Russia arrived for Uncle Valerius.

Uncle Valerius died in 2020, killed by the coronavirus at the age of 73, after working as a technician in a factory and as a trader. Over 20 years ago, due to meningitis followed by a heart attack, he lost his hearing. As he himself said in interviews, he was in a coma for 10 days: as soon as he woke up, he asked to turn on the radio, but without hearing any sound. In the solitude of silence, he began to compose drawings on snow and ice – different each year – to feel alive and “not to bore people”.

In interviews, Valerius explained that he didn’t like loneliness: “It’s like the howl of the Siberian wolf … they say men don’t cry, but that’s not true. I am. a companion, in the collective I have always been a leader, but the circumstances made me live this experience; I do not want to think that I am worth nothing, I want to be necessary, otherwise why live? “.

The idea for New Year’s cards, Melnikov said, came to him out of the blue: he wanted to give people a reason to approach the New Year with optimism. Uncle Valerius had his own method of drawing, so the figures that were sketched had to first freeze, then come to life with at least a month’s work, cleaning them daily from the snow that settled on them; a sort of “snow icon”, to be reconciled with religious dedication.

In his memory, the people of the Amur region joined together to carry on the tradition of snow greetings, and they were joined by people from many cities in Siberia: Novosibirsk, Orenburg, Ekaterinburg, Omsk and Jakutsk. The event had its center precisely in Markovo, his native village.

Frozen postcards will be engraved on the right bank of the Ob River, at the Europe-Asia Bridge of the Urals, and on the banks of the Om and Iseti rivers. In Jakutsk, salvation will be painted on Lake Talom. The first postcard in memory of Uncle Valerius is already ready in Blagoveščensk, where the collaborators of the city’s social and cultural center, Vitalij Guz and Stanislav Gavrik, prepared greetings in the pond of the Friendship Park .


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