"Diversity Was Very New to Me": Why I Came to Toronto from Russia
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“Diversity Was Very New to Me”: Why I Came to Toronto from Russia

Immigrants of Toronto is a new weekly feature spotlighting the stories of immigrants, refugees, and newcomers.


Anya Zaporozhchenko, originally from Russia. Photo courtesy of Sarah Bodri.

I was born in Moscow in 1994 and moved to Canada in 2006. When I was a child, Russia was struggling economically, and my dad, an adventure lover, wanted a change. He left Moscow when I was five, and lived all over the place in Toronto, trying to figure out a decent spot to move us to.

My mom and my sister and I moved here when I was 11. We were living at Parliament and Wellesley, in one of those big, 29-floor high-rises. It was very different. Diversity was very new to me. I feel like I only saw one Black person in my whole life before I moved to Canada. The first few days we just walked up and down Parliament Street, looking at everything. I hadn’t seen my father in so long at that point. I was like, ‘Who is this man! He’s not my dad!’ It had been seven years since I’d last seen him.

I’m about to graduate from the University of Toronto. I’ll have a double major bachelor’s degree in English and Russian literature. Which is kinda funny because my parents would always say, ‘Why are you studying Russian literature in Canada? Why don’t you go home to study it?’ Now, my mom is pushing me to go do a master’s in Russia. But I’m very much in love with Toronto, and I have a partner who I live with and love, and the idea of dropping all that and moving to a place where I don’t know anyone is terrifying. Russia is a super-white country, and they have all these crazy laws, like, there was that incident where people were saying, ‘Oh, it’s now legal to beat your wife in Russia.’ Technically it wasn’t ever illegal. That’s normal there. Alcoholism is also super normal. Poverty.

Growing up in Russia, I had a routine—I would go to school, come home, we would go to church on Sundays. We never really did anything out of the norm, like going out somewhere exotic to eat. So coming to Canada, it was a big storm of trying new foods, hearing new music—experiencing all these things not only from Canada but all over the world. It absolutely changed my life. Now I go out for Korean food late at night whenever I want, you know? And I’m in a punk band—it’s called Prom Night. I can’t imagine going back to living on, like, potatoes, and listening to Russian Top 40 music.

I actually reached out to one of my childhood friends who lived across the street from me when I lived in Moscow. He still lives in that same apartment building. And he sent me a photo of the house where I lived, like the view from his window. And he was like, ‘Everything’s the same!’ But to me, it looks unrecognizable.

As told to Stephen Thomas.