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Every return is a celebration

MURMANSK: Working weeks or even months far away from home is common in northern regions. BarentsObserver was there when Marina welcomed back her husband Jevgeni after three and a half months at sea.

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Marina Patrunina is a small, but strong woman from Murmansk. She is wife of a sailor-fisherman. Her husband Jevgeni Patrunin just came back from his 3,5 months journey in the Barents Sea in a fishing vessel.

Usually trip lasts from two to three months. You never know the exact day of arrival. This time he should have come back home in the beginning of November. Finally he arrived in December. The ship was late, because they needed to fish more to fulfil the quota. The company needs to achieve a certain quota. Otherwise the trip is not profitable. Sometimes arrivals are delayed, because the ship needs to be repaired at the sea.

“The last month of this trip we ate only fish in the ship. I love fish, but now I want some meat,” Jevgeni says to Marina and laughs.

“Every return is a celebration,” Marina says and prepares an arrival party for friends and relatives.

Table is full of Russian delicacies with fish - and meat.

A new statue called “Waiting” was opened in Murmansk in November. It is a bronze woman waving her hand, looking towards the Barents Sea and waiting her beloved sailor.

“Straight spoken, every wife doesn´t wait. So it is important, that waiting wives got their own statue in Murmansk. They have earned it. Such statue should have been made long ago. Women play a big role in family, and that role is not easy,” Jevgeni thinks.

Not meeting for many weeks. The concern of a dangerous job at freezing Arctic sea. Waiting. It is hard for a relationship.

“I always live in a wait state or in a suspension period. But in time, I got used to it,” Marina says.

Sailors´ wives need to wait, manage with children, do all housework and of course have a work of their own.

“When our son Anton was little, he was asking me all the time: “When father comes? I want him to be here! When father comes?”

“Three other women are also seaman’s wives in our neighbourhood. We have created a system, that helps us. Some husband is always home, so he can do “the men´s jobs” in every home. Repairing apartment or carrying heavy things, for example.”

How does a sailor keep his marriage happy? This is Jevgeni’s advice:

“Well, just call your wife before, and inform her about the date when you came back. So she has time to kick the lover out from the house,” Jevgeni laughs.

“Come on, he is joking,” Marina laughs and continues:

“I think it needs mutual understanding and patience,” she tells.

Also good sense of humour and mutual trust are important. And contact.

“Earlier it was very difficult to call home from the ship. She needed to be home, when I had ordered the call. What a pity, if she was late. She needed to hurry home from work, because it was an important moment: sex on the phone,” Jevgeni jokes.

“And it was expensive to call. Many dollars for a minute. But we always paid and called every time it was possible. Money can´t replace a good conversation and contact,” Marina says.

Now there are mobile phones and internet. Jevgeni has a Norwegian sim-card in his mobile phone, because it costs less than calling by Russian sim-card.

“Still there are many places at the sea, where the mobile phone does not work. But when the ship sails in an area with range, the captain stops the vessel and lets us call home,” Jevgeni says.

Jevgeni works as a boatswain. Sailor is one of the most usual professions for men in Murmansk. Statistics shows, that every fifth or sixth fish in whole Russia comes trough Murmansk port. There are hundreds of vessels and thousands of seamen on the Kola Peninsula. In Jevgenis shift on one voyage work 34 colleagues.

It is quite common in whole Barents region to have this kind of profession. One needs to work many days, weeks or even months far away from home. Finnish men drive hundreds of kilometres from Finnish Lapland to Oulu or Kemi paper factories for a shift. Or to Swedish Kiruna or Norwegian Kirkenes mines. Some live for example in Oulu, but commute 200 kilometres to Rovaniemi by car or train every Monday and travel back on Friday.

Murmansk and Barents people have lived of fishing for centuries. Jevgeni for decades. He had worked a long time as a sailor already in 1989, when he met Marina. Seaman’s girlfriend got interesting souvenirs from abroad: French perfumes, bubble gum and fashionable western clothes. In that way even closed Murmansk area was quite international in Soviet time.

Nowadays you find everything in shops and you can´t amaze anybody with bubble gum.

“My work was different before. The travels were for even six months. After it we had six months holiday. Then I sailed all around the world: Africa, Asia, Southern America, Australia. It is easier to say, where I have not been. Not in Japan,” Jevgeni remembers.

Now he sails mostly in Barents Sea. This last trip he spent in area of Spitsbergen and nearby.

Earlier the product they carried was mostly coal. Now it is fish. Usually fishing ships catch halibut, haddock and cod. Some fish is sold to Norway, because the company gets better price there than in Russia.

Sailor’s salary is better than normal salary in Murmansk. But it depends on your assignment, your company and also how the ship manages to catch fish. If they catch expensive fish, they get more salary. 

Seaman’s job is physically hard. They work 6 hours. Then they have 6 hours of rest. Then again 6 hours of work. If the sea gets rough and stormy, fishing stops. But handling the fish continues even during the storm. They cut the fish, and make it a ready product in cans or in frozen packets. The ship is actually a real fish factory.

“When Jevgeni comes back home, he sleeps for two days. After rest he starts to do things: repairing things in apartment, checks the mail and everything,” Marina says.

Sailor usually gets a two months holiday after the 2-3 months journey.

“This year I have been at the sea total of 8 months, and 4 months at home. But next year will be easier,” Jevgeni counts.

“But you know, at home you don´t earn anything. Some seamen work as a taxi driver or something during the holidays,” he tells.

Life of the family divides in to two pieces. Two months when the husband sails, and then the two months he stays at home. It makes life more difficult, and it can also influence the relationship. Some wives prefer men to be at the sea all the time… Because at home they may just lie around, drink beer on the sofa and do nothing. But Jevgeni is active and helps Marina. She is natural born optimist and takes the circumstances as a positive thing.

“Our life is partly together, partly separated. In many marriages the couple lose the heat of the feelings. But for us everything is like in the beginning.”

Romantic ears hear this as sweet honey. Marina and Jevgeni have been together for 23 years. And still they feel that the relationship is fresh and alive.

“Normal family would party only once a year, in the New Years Eve. But as a sailor, I enjoy this kind of delicacies every time I arrive home,” Jevgeni says and pours some French wine for guests.

“I have a privileged profession. I have seen polar bears, ice bergs and the North Pole. Tourists pay tens of thousands of dollars to see those things. I have seen them many times. And they are beautiful.”