A Nigerian man named Oladipo Mark Babatunde is the only African man living in Yakutia, a part of Russia, whose capital city has been tagged the coldest place in the world. Mark lives in a rural village called Oy in Khangalassky District. He migrated to this region to be with his wife.
Yakutia is located in Russia’s Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). It is the world’s largest subnational governing body and it is known for its extreme and severe cold climate. Its capital - Yakutsk - is statistically the coldest city in the world.
Furthermore, this Russia district is home to six ethnic groups: Yakuts, Russians, Ukrainians, Evenks, Evens and others. According to Mark Babatunde, his journey to Russia began when he met a Yakutian woman called Natalia many years ago. The duo met while he was learning Chinese language in China.
Following their relationship, he fell in love with her and eventually decided to move to her hometown in 2014. Babatunde affirmed that he was initially worried about the cold weather. He said: “The cold was the worst thing. I wasn’t used to living like the people do here.”
Given the fact that winter in Yakutia is said to last for nine months with the average winter temperatures standing at minus 35 Celsius, his fear was valid. Another factor that made Babatunde worried was that he was going to be the only African in the area. His words were these: “I was curious, nervous and a little afraid; I feared people might not accept me.”
Bracing all odds, Babatunde still went to Yakutia to be with his woman. On getting there, he was surprised to find that he was well received. Not only was he showered with gifts, he was also offered a job at a school.
“It was not what I expected, it was very nice. They invited me to join a seminar because English is an official language in Nigeria. I was at a school in a village and they said: will you be interested in teaching Chinese here? I never expected anybody to hire me to teach Chinese there.”
It has been four years since Babatunde travelled to Yakutia, and needless to say, he has settled in already. He now has three kids with his wife Natalia, two were born in China while the youngest was born in Russia. The two have been together for over 10 years now.
Presently, he teaches Chinese and English at the Oiskaya secondary school where he has a deep connection to his pupils who love and respect him. “Most of my students have not traveled out of their region.
They are very interested in China, Nigeria and about other countries,” he said. “My students are very intelligent, very well cultured, and have good manners. I relate to them as if they were my own children.”