Yevgeny Roizman is a classic Russian (or even Uralian-Siberian, which is even more powerful) fearless trail-blazer – prospector – scout – pioneer. He’s an adventurer and a romantic, a merchant and a philanthropist, a robber and a poet, a collector of icons and the leader of a gang. People like this make Russian history,” (Vladimir Ryzhkov, politician)
Worker, prisoner, poet, businessman, art historian, a vigilante in the war on drugs – these are just a few stages in the biography of the 50-year-old mayor of Yekaterinburg Yevgeny Roizman.
Yekaterinburg, the capital of the Urals, the fourth largest city in Russia, is situated on the border between Europe and Asia. Perhaps this fact predetermined its special destiny. Once the Voguls lived here, a mysterious race of magicians, and the Por and the Mos – the brown-eyed descendents of bears and the grey-eyed descendents of butterflies. Then the Russians came here, and their iron weapons proved more powerful than the Voguls’ bows and arrows. From the time of Peter the Great, Old Believers who did not accept Peter’s church reforms began to flee here. Thanks to the abundance of iron and gold deposits, these teetotalers swiftly transformed the Urals into a flourishing land, and built many churches, and when the government troops came here, entire villages locked themselves in the churches and burnt to death. The metallurgical plants drew people here in the time of Catherine the Great, and in the time of Stalin. Hunters and peasants evacuated here during the war and prisoners (in these great swamps there were more camps than towns) formed a special people with their own national character. It is not done here to ask about the past. The way of life here, full of audacity and treasure-hunting, was not even undermined by the revolution and the Soviet regime.
A person like Yevgeny Roizman could only have been born in this free land, which has no fondness from Moscow, which is far away and of little benefit. But his name is well-known in the capital and other Russian cities. The “City without narcotics” foundation and Yevgeny Roizman have been spoken and written about with enviable regularity for 15 years now. Some consider him a bandit, some a hero.
At the age of 16, Roizman left home and wandered around the entire country, then served a prison sentence out of stupidity, worked at a factory, graduated from university, and in the 1990s opened a jewelry firm. At that time, all business was semi-criminal, and the police were also gangsters, only in uniform and without a conscience. Because Russian thieves live “by the codes of the underworld”, according to their own rules of honor. Roizman was not a gangster himself, but he had dealings with them, it was impossible not to at that time. This is how he met Dyusha – a gangster and former drug addict who wanted to save all the other addicts. In Yekaterinburg, like every Russian city, drug addiction was a terrible problem for almost every family. And Roizman, who never tires of repeating “This is my city”, understood where to direct his energy.
A great war on drugs began: against Gypsy drug dealers and the police who gave them protection and made a good profit from doing so. In this war, Roizman was helped by gangsters. In this war, at rehab centers suffering drug addicts were sometimes tied to heaters to stop them from running away. In this war, Roizman and his colleagues could have been killed. But they saved people’s lives, including children whose parents had given them up for a lost cause. One may argue about Roizman’s methods, but people continue to thank him for saving their family members. And he fights corruption in government almost on his own, and the long-standing myth that it is impossible to reform Russia.
“Roizman would have the energy to become an oligarch. But somehow he managed to live not for himself, but for others. He is a person of high quality, he is genuine, these are the people that Russia depends on. Some people have decided: “It’s time to get out of here”. Others stay here and help people out, and save the lives of strangers.” (Igor Svinarenko “SLON”)
If you are looking for the mysterious Russian soul, you may find it in this 50-year-old, well-built man who is two meters tall and weighs 100 kilograms, who embodies both the recklessness and the expanse of the Russian character. He did not become an oligarch, but he did become a Duma deputy, and people came to him from all over the region. If no one else could help them, then Roizman would, they believed. He collected and restored unique specimens of the gilded Nevyansk icon and opened a free museum, restored a unique church in Byngy and a merchant’s decorated hut. He has enough energy for everything. Even for love for two women.
“Roizman has already enough for his native city for several lifetimes, but the most difficult work for him still lies ahead. He will have to prove by his own example that in Russia an honest and effective politician is not a myth, but a reality, which will one day become the norm.” (Stanislav Kucher)
Valery Panyuhskin’s book about Roizman reads like an adventure novel: prison and underground exhibitions, love and off-road racing, fighting the war on drugs and opposing the authorities. And indirectly it answers the question: is there an alternative to Putin, are the people in Russia who can back away from the corrupt system of running the country, simply because they have a conscience?