About

I am an American living in the small city of Luga, Russia in the Leningrad Oblast. I am married to Oksana, who was born in Tula, Russia and raised here in Luga. We have three children–Roman  (19), Gabriel (11), and Marina Grace (5). I also have two grown sons by my first marriage, Russell and Joel, who live in America. I lived in St. Petersburg for almost three years (2005-2008), and then Oksana and I moved to America on April 15, 2008. We lived in America until June 2016 when we moved back to Russia. For most of my professional career I taught Koine Greek and New Testament in a university in my home state of South Carolina.  I took early retirement just before we moved back to Russia, but I volunteer as the “English Consultant” at Erudite, a private English school in Luga. Oksana also teaches there.  My e-mail contact is halfrmn@yahoo.com.

35 thoughts on “About

  1. How long have you been in Russia? How long have you had this blog up? I’m in USA. Not sure if I’ll ever be able to make it to Russia to live or just visit, but I’m interested in your experiences. Got your blog off a comment at facebook. I must’ve missed it on your page somewhere, but what is your name and any other background info you don’t mind shareing? You can email me if you don’t want to post it publicly. Thx. J

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  2. Thank you for your interest! I came to Russia for a two week visit in 2002 w/ a group helping orphanages & churches here. Then I returned in 2003 for another visit. I kept up contact, and eventually came to live in St. Petersburg for three years (2005-2008). I married my wife Oksana during that time. We left for America on April 15, 2008 and lived there for 8 years. I am from a small town in South Carolina, and that is where we lived. We moved back here to Russia on June 7 of this year. Friends began asking me to blog what life was like and what the perspectives are like here since Russia/America are in the news so much. So that is how the blog got started. You can find me on FB under Hal Freeman. I’m that one that lives in Luga! Look forward to hearing from you again! I’ve never done a blog before so it is great to hear from you.

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    • Dear Hal, I’m a former expat who has lived in half a dozen European countries on both sides of the Iron CUrtain and is presently a member of the alternative press that has been writing on and off about the Soviet Unnion/Russia since the seventies. In May I visited Russia under less than ideal circumstances to interview Americans living there for a book which I’m currently peddling, and keep thinking about going there to live, as I’m not sure I’m being very effective with my blog at http://www.otherjones.com (the name refers to ‘otherness’ and ‘keeping up with the Joneses). (I also contribute to New Eastern Outlook, published in Moscow.) Although I’m in good health I’m probably too old at soon 84 to make a go of it. I speak French, Italian and Spanish but I realize, as you have found out, that Russian is challenging (mainly because of all those cases!). I fell in love with St Petersburg, but don’t do well in cold weather, thinking about Sochi (it rained when I visited…). I’d love to Skype with you – or simply on the phone.

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  3. I’ve been following your blogs on Russia’s new “anti terrorism/missionary” law with interest. Your views from the perspective of an expat American are particularly valuable as a first hand report from someone with real experience in Russia. Most of the media reports we seem to receive in the west have a profound anti-Russia/Putin slant from reporters with dubious credentials and motives . I’m also an avid reader of Paul Craig Roberts who is rather pro-Russia. My family know that I tend towards a positive view of the new Russian regime, so I am often subject to a deluge of anti-Putin info;-) Today my sister sent me this reference:
    http://www.breakingchristiannews.com/articles/display_art.html?ID=19079
    What are your views on these kinds of reports on the application of this new law? In your view, are these reports accurate? Thanks for sharing your experiences over there in such a frank manner.

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  4. Thank you for you thoughtful comment. I do understand about that “anti-Putin” deluge from family and friends! 🙂 Did you see my last blog on why Russians like Putin? On the article the opening “line” is simply wrong. The law does not forbid anyone from sharing their faith–either in an apartment or on-line. Articles by Western press continue NOT to read the law carefully or to read it w/o consulting the Russian text. The article in Christianity Today is just flat wrong, but it still continues to be the one on which so many others base their interpretations. The law prevents one from trying to convince someone to join a particular religious group who is not a member if that person claiming to represent the religious group does not have written permission from the group to represent them. “Missionary activity” is not about telling people about sin, salvation, and Jesus Christ crucified according to this law. It is trying to convince someone to join your religious group. That much is clear, but CT and others continue to use the popular Christian understanding of “Missionary Activity.” If you tell someone about Jesus Christ and why they should repent and believe the gospel that is not missionary activity according to the law. The Slavic Center for Law & Justice, as I say in my blog, is made up of Protestant (mostly Pentecostal) church leaders and lawyers. All would be considered Evangelical. They are all Russians who have studied this law intently. And they are so frustrated with believers both w/in but mostly from outside Russia keep misrepresenting the law. They are keeping intense watch over implementation of the law, and I have not seen any reports of the violators of the law being punished. But I do know from personal experience some who are not licensed and are anti-government are “itching for a fight.” Then they intend to cry religious persecution. The law allows even those in non-licensed churches to “share their faith. Now, as I say in my blog, it clearly is possible that local authorities will use the law as an opportunity to strike out unfairly against believers. If the believers are acting in an antagonistic manner then the chances are even greater. My suspicions are aroused by this article b/c the punishments it actually points to (not the generic “could fine” or such language) do not match the fines in the law. One is 5,000 rubles. That is about $82.00. That hardly reaches anywhere close to the level the law calls for. It says foreign citizens were fined heavily but not deported. The law for non-citizens breaking the law is deportation, not fines. Now, it could be the decided to fine them for some reason having to do w/ the law, but to come here and not understand the law leaves one open to that kind of thing. Why were they not deported? The article does not give details other than “they broker the law and were heavily fined” kind of summary. Since the article does not accurately or fairly represent what the law says, I’m unconvinced without more information. That is why the SCLJ published those 70 page documents. Believers will have to understand the law, but misrepresenting Christianity Today did is harmful,not helpful. As I said, my suspicions are based on the kind of thing I have heard from a Russian friend who consistently distorts the law.
    In summary, I cannot say for sure that these individuals were not treated unfairly. All of us here know local authorities do exceed their authority if you do not know the specifics of any law. That possibility, however, is not limited to Russia. But given the very few numbers in this huge country, I think this report falls far short of proving the government of Russia is on some “witch-hunt” for Christians believers sharing faith in the marketplace, and this is the front wave of more such oppression. I see no evidence of that. I had Protestant friends here from America in this city who preached, sang, witnessed from door to door this summer and will be returning to do it again. I work with a good friend of my wife who is a Baptist pastor’s wife and I have heard nothing about this kind of “oppression” having occurred. People are nervous about it sure, I fear the greatest danger is the twisting of the law in publications like CT so that people do not really know what the law itself says and in the ignorance violations on both sides happen. Please remind others that the law itself is about terrorism. The amendment we are talking about was added because terrorists are using religion as a means of spreading their terrorism. Twisting it to make it appear as a law that allows Putin to extend his supposed & hypothetical abusive authority against non-Orthodox Christians may fulfill an American need to find a corrupt leader in Russia, but it does not help the cause of the gospel. I’ve lived in America, and I live in Russia. My take on where the real government corruption is remains quite different from the masses writing and believing this stuff.

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  5. Hal the article in Russia Feed was not signed, so I went around it and found your name, blog etc.
    It’s quite interesting and it is information that should somehow be made more available to the general public. I think there is a general feeling in the west that we are not told the whole story and at the same time there is quite a hesitation to trust whatever comes from the Kremlin. We’re still not too sure who is really controlling who and to what extent the big oil boss really calls the chips. I am a Canadian immigrant from the Netherlands (since ’82) after retiring early from my academic job.
    We cannot rely on the Canadian media to provide us with unbiased news, so we have had to get that in general from the alternative media. Furthermore the Canadian government still thinks it is too dependent on the US to comment on anything that might rock the boat and there is a fairly active Zionist lobby group to keep them in line.

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    • James, thanks for looking me up! I fully agree with your analysis on the situation in the West of trying to get accurate information. I’m afraid that I’ve concluded a fair analysis in the main stream media in America of Russia is just not going to happen. Their minds are made up and don’t confuse them with the facts. Further, the politicians then have to play off what the media reports as well as whatever Israel says. One big eye opener for me, as I mentioned in one blog some time ago, was finding things out about the Syrian “situation” I never had heard of. I am able to get more info here I think from reporters actually on the ground who do not have a political agenda. But I also am not naive enough to believe everything I hear from the Kremlin. I do try to get the different perspectives and watch for how things actually “play out.” My desire is to let people know how things are here from someone like me who doesn’t have any political or media ambitions. Right now, I trust the news here more than I did what came out of America, but I still try to be discerning. Thanks again for taking the time to read and interact! Hal

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  6. Hi Hal,
    My family always reads your posts with great interest, and we are considering moving to Russia as well. I can understand that dealing with bureaucracy can be frustrating (everywhere), and it’s to be expected. But you mentioned some other things that presented some difficulties for you, for example, you said that some things that you needed for your new apartment were not easy to find. Can you elaborate on this subject? Also, you said that you had problems with shipping your belongings to Russia. Could you please share with us this side of the move: how you shipped your stuff; does Russia have a system of storage units that one can rent long term? does it make sense to ship furniture, for example? We’ve heard that you can ship a car for just $500 but you, apparently, chose not to do that. Was there a reason why? And finally, what about healthcare?! How hard was it for you to get a medical insurance and how expensive it is? Many thanks for your comments in advance! Brett, Natasha

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  7. Hello Brett and Natasha, Thank you for reading the blog! We are in St. Petersburg right now working on getting my Temporary Residence (more bureaucracy! :)) Could you send me and e-mail to halfrmn@yahoo.com, and when we get back to our apartment I can try and answer your questions more fully. Actually I’ll need Oksana to help with some specifics. Thanks again, Hal

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    • I have not thought about that! My usual response when people say, “Oh your wife looks much younger than you,” is “What? You think I wish she looked older?” They don’t usually know how to respond! It is interesting to watch the reactions of Russians. They are way to polite to say anything to me. But they’ll catch Oksana without me and cautiously ask about it. But I’ve never thought about a blog entry on it.

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  8. Hello Hal,
    I’ve been living in Stockholm with my Swedish wife of 17 years and have become a citizen, although I haven’t any language except English (born in San Francisco, 1937, and still a USA citizen as well). St. Petersburg is not far away from Stockholm–a 1.5-day ferry trip could get me there, or a relatively short flight. I will probably visit someday if only to drink in the history this city represents, and its art. I wrote about the WWII siege it went through as Leningrad (https://wp.me/prazu-1v). I am not sure why I am moved to respond to your “about” page, but it certainly includes the feeling of being ever more alienated from my birth-land. I am not a professed Christian, although I perceive myself as having been raised with Christian values. My antecedents were mostly Greek Orthodox; my paternal great-grandfather was a priest in the Church, in Nafplion. I don’t recognize San Francisco anymore and will not visit again, although my family has deep roots there. California, in general, has become alien to me–except for her hills and mountains which I am now too old to traverse as I used to. It is saddening to see the decline of the family and of public values. I am not intrigued by Russia, per se, but I have a strong feeling for its pre-Soviet history, represented primarily by its classical music and ballet. I have read some of the literature, translated of course, and although I am sympathetic to the Russian soul as I perceive it, it is too gloomy for me. Rachmaninoff remains a favorite composer, “…six feet two inches of Russian gloom.” (https://wp.me/prazu-1Bh). One of the wonderful things about Stockholm is its love for classical music, and all other music; we get Russian conductors and music, along with those of many other countries. In contrast, one can hardly find a classical music radio station the USA anymore. To end this ramble, I will say the decline of the USA’s appreciation for classical music in a marker for the general decline. Thanks for listening, and best wishes…

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    • Hello Ron, thank you for your thoughtful response. Good to hear from someone who understands that feeling of alienation from our home culture! I was in California for a few weeks many years ago when I was a young man in the Marine Corps. I was on TAD at 29 Palms. I never made it up to the northern part of the state. I have heard from others how very different California is today. I love St. Petersburg. Of course I love the old Russian history, and Peter is a wonderful place to visit. I will make sure and check out the links you included in your message. I wish you well! Hal

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      • Thanks for your response, Hal. I did my Navy training at San Diego, 1954. I’ve lived in many places in California: LA, County, Ventura County, all over the SF Bay Area, several places in the Great Central Valley, I’ve hiked to Half Dome in Yosemite, twice, in my early 60s. I’ve written poems from the High Sierra. So you can get a glimpse of the import of this alienation. I am not pining away, however. I live a wonderful life in Sweden. I have visited many countries in Europe and elsewhere I would not otherwise have visited had I not moved here. There is a large English-speaking contingent of expatriates to be social and friendly with and to do stuff with, along with many Swedes who feel Ok about consoritng with this American. I have a feeling I’ll visit St. Petersburg one of these times. Best wishes,…

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  9. Thank you for helping me better understand Russia. If I was younger (I’m 81) I’d considering moving to Russia. There is much about my home country, the USA, that I now find sickening, especially the hate directed toward Russia. Please pray for the USA. God bless Russia for standing up for Christian values.

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    • Bob, comments like your remind me of why I write this blog. People of love and concern who really want to know what other lands and people are like–and open enough to the truth to seek it out. I sincerely thank you for the encouragement you gave me! May the blessings of God fill you richly.

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  10. Zdravstvuyte, Gospodin Freeman. I have just discovered this blog. I enjoy reading it immensely, and when I say that both in style and in content it is a masterpiece, you must trust that I do not in any way overstate my opinion. I can only hope that it becomes better known so that more men of good will may have access to the truth about a nation and culture maligned as “our” enemy by those who fear her greatness, but which in fact constitutes a potential great ally in our seemingly hopeless war against the pestilence which before our eyes is corrupting our own once great Western society. Aside from serious (comparatively speaking) matters such as these, however, I wished to ask if you have discovered Daria Molchanova’s slow Russian videos and podcast available on her website and YouTube channel (search for “Real Russian Club”), and also if you have seen the newly released restored Russian adaption of War and Peace, originally filmed in the 60s and directed by Sergei Bondarchuk.

    Love from the USA

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    • Thank you for the kind and encouraging comments. It is always nice to hear good things, but more importantly to hear from those who feel deeply about the national and cultural trends we are seeing and what (or who) the real enemies are. I am familiar with Daria Molchanova and am on her e-mail list to get all her updates. I have not heard of the restored adaptation of War and Peace. I will need to look that up. Again, thank you for responding.

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      • It is available from Mosfilm and might even be on their YouTube channel, though I don’t know whether it would have subtitles. In the United States it is available on Amazon from the criterion collection, with English subtitles, but I don’t know whether American disc format would work in Russia.

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  11. I sincerely wish you and your family all the best! I read with interest your article and the article you are referring to, Ukraine for dummies. It is written interestingly, but my main remark – Ukraine is the Russian land for us, and it always will be. It is hard to understand over the pond, but it is. Once again, best wishes! Happy holidays!

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  12. Hey there Hal. Did you change your email address? Been a while since we corresponded. I sent you an email couple weeks ago. Send me an email with your new address if you changed it. Otherwise I guess you have been busy and unable to respond. Hope to hear from you soon. Thx.

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    • Yes, I did get your e-mail. I apologize for not getting back. My two kids and I have had pneumonia. I am better now, and will respond to your e-mail tomorrow. I was sick and the kids missed over a month of school. Not pleasant! Sorry for not responding.

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  13. Although I was raised Christian in the south & southwest, I wandered off into agnosticism and it wasn’t til I was 37 that I ‘came back around.’ I’m going to have to do more reading on Orthodoxy and its doctrinal distinctions. However your blog makes a good start.
    While I’m most comfortable in a ‘protestant’ evangelical milieu, I think many of our sectarian preoccupations will melt away in the final blaze of glory. In some cases, we’ll wonder, then, why we even thought they mattered.
    Orthodox belief in the former USSR has an unusual distinction. It survived 70 years of official suppression, yet its adherents are stronger, more united and more certain of purpose than ever. Contract this with America, where faith still nurses the wounds dealt not so much by the State, as by mere ‘pop culture’ in the aftermath of the 1960s.
    Thanks Hal for all you’ve written. And Semper Fi. I look forward to working my way all the way back to the beginning of your blog.

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    • Interesting. As I think I said in my blog about becoming Orthodox, it was not based on being negative about my Evangelical background. It was surprisingly non-sectarian, at least the ones I read. I could never have imagined myself becoming Eastern Orthodox. Now, I can imagine being anything else.

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  14. Hello, Hal!

    Did your other two sons or parents ever visit you in Russia? If no – why?

    I read in one of your articles here that you got permanent residence, but don’t have plans to ever become Russian citizen. Why is that? (I know permanent residency is essentially equal to citizenship except for voting, but still: why not?)

    You mentioned in one of your articles that you miss Fathers day. But what stops you from visiting your family in US during specifically that day(s)? My understanding that tickets are not that expensive so you wouldn’t be able to travel to US couple of times a year?

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    • First, On my parents. My father is deceased and my mother will be 90 years old in September. She has profound hearing and vision loss. I do not want her to risk traveling halfway round the world. My other two sons have jobs and families. They do well, but they are not wealthy. In addition to the cost of tickets, they would have to get passports and visas. You say it is not expensive. That is relative to one’s income and size of family. Father’s Day. I have no desire to fly back and forth to and from America a couple of times of year. I have a family of 5 here. I either taken them or spend holidays apart from them. Travel with a big family is complicated and it is expensive. The other thing is that during COVID it is a mute point anyway. No one can travel to or from Russia and America. The Russian embassy is not granting visas for those who don’t already have one. So it is pointless to think about for now. There are other factors that I am not going to discuss in a public forum. Finally on citizenship. Now that Russia has dropped the requirement you disavow your native citizenship I may give it some more thought. But it is not a big deal to me. Usually anything that involves the bureaucracy in Russia is very complicated. Trips to St. Petersburg, changing rules, etc. I have an aversion to the whole process.

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      • Thank you for your detailed response. I understand now, everything you said makes perfect sense. It is indeed a lot of hassle and it is relatively not cheap if you pay for 5 people tickets to both sides. Also such a long trip for 90 y.o. mother with health issues indeed does not worth it. And bureaucracy is something everyone complains about in Russia. (On the other hand, when I think about bureaucracy in this context – maybe it is for the better! As it will stop those who are not resolute enough to overcome all the hurdles and downsides of living in Russia or moving to another country :))

        I enjoyed reading articles in your blog. I wish you and your big family both in Russia and in US long, happy life and everything best.

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        • Yes, there is that “upside” to the bureaucratic puzzle. Someone wrote me last week asking questions about how to handle it. He was in Moscow and is thinking of staying in Russia. I told him it is getting simpler, but we have to remember Russia had to protect itself from people with bad motives wanting to enter the country.

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  15. Really interested in getting your take on the latest events. Picking up any anti-American vibes personally now that we nearly got into war with Russia?

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