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"Everyone who is sitting around now and can't move is a person without a second language" - how a former hockey player became an expatriate and creator of a new social media network


Dmitry Maidanyuk is the co-founder of ReLife, a social network that unites travellers, expats and emigrants around the world.

In an interview with Media Loft correspondent Katya Kobenok, Dmitry explained how he himself became an emigrant, what difficulties he encountered and the difficulty with which the app team was evacuated from  Russian shelling in Ukraine.

There was no safety cushion

Dmitry, a former professional hockey player from Omsk, says that a few years ago he decided to change his profession and become an IT developer.

"I didn't really like the way the whole  hockey system  was organised in Russia - matchmaking, nepotism, kickbacks, corruption.  I realised that as long as I was 27, I could still switch. I really wanted to do business in IT, so I could live and work in any country," Dmitry explains.

Dmitry says he had several unsuccessful attempts to start a business in Russia after retiring from professional sport.

"There was a difficult period. Trying to build a business, I lost a lot of money, broke up with partners. But I made a conscious decision that I needed to move on, to go somewhere."

Dmitry and his family had thought about emigrating from Russia many times, but had never made up their minds:

"Then, one evening, my wife said to me: "Let's move to Cyprus." Of course, we had thought about Cyprus, but she suggested it so spontaneously and I said: "Come on, let's go." But everything was still unclear - no safety cushion, no savings - nothing. So it was such a leap of faith, but we just felt it had to be done. I guess we had some intuition that it was time to leave."

Cyprus, Limassol

So, that's how Dmitry's emigration story began in October 2021.

"I then got a job at an IT company. We didn't have any money, so being employed helped me get back on my feet a little bit and I started thinking again about my own business," he recalls.

Before moving, Dmitry watched endless videos about Cyprus and wrote to a huge number of people asking them about the country.

"I'm not afraid to ask questions, to write, to enquire, to ask for help. That's a big plus. When you come to another country, it's very important not to be afraid to ask for help. And they helped me and advised me," says Dmitry.

However, he admits that almost  all the information he picked up from the video and interviews was untrue.

"We managed to learn some general things, but basically we started practically from scratch. Documents, payments - on the spot everything turned out to be quite different from what was described. We lost money - about 2,000 euros."

Like all immigrants, Dmitry went through a period of adaptation to the new realities:

"Our first winter was incredibly cold. We were in shock - it was so cold, with a penetrating wind blowing from the sea. Then we were shocked by the utility bills we paid for heating the house. And the house had no heating at all," laughs Dmitry.

Emigration expands your borders

After the tightening of visa laws in Cyprus due to international sanctions against Russia, Dmitry and his family decided to move again. They decided on the Seychelles. Although the new move was easier, the family faced the usual difficulties of relocants.

"You come to a country with a different mentality to yours. The mentality in the Seychelles and in Cyprus, is that nobody is in a hurry to get anywhere. Slow bureaucracy," says Dmitry.

The Seychelles, Victoria

Therefore, when you come to a new country, you need to give yourself time to adapt, he believes.

"These moves take a lot of energy and money. And you have to get used to it - to a new currency, to a new type of life, to new food, to new rates, to new processes. You feel dislocated at first. So you don't realise how much something costs, where to go, where it's cheapest to buy."

All potential relocants have a fear of moving, but statistics from the ReLife website show that most of those who wanted to leave ended up leaving. Dmitry believes that there is no need to be afraid to move forward:

"If you are planning to master something new - don't wait, take action. Now is the moment.  Fear  will always be present, don't be guided by it,  every new step will open up new horizons for you".

The most important thing in moving is language skills:

"If you thought three years ago that you didn't need to learn the language, that was a big mistake. All the people sitting around now who can't move are people without a second language. They're probably thinking, 'Why didn't I learn it before? Basic knowledge of a foreign language is a must. Without a second language, there's almost no chance."

"One of the team members had a bomb go off in his yard"

The idea of creating a social network where travellers, migrants and expats could be brought together came to Dmitry  in pre-war 2021. Active development of the project began in January 2022, and a month later Russia invaded Ukraine. Millions of Ukrainians were forced to flee the country.

Dmitry remembers very well the day before Russia invaded Ukraine. At that time, Vladimir Putin had already announced that Russia would recognise the self-proclaimed DNR and LNR, which had allegedly asked Russia  to "protect" them from Ukraine.

"On 24 February, I realised that life was about to change dramatically. I myself am of Ukrainian origin. Everything was very painful for me," says Dmitry, who has family from Mariupol.

Most of the project developers were in Ukraine, people lived under constant bombardment by Russian troops.

"It wasn't just that there was no internet, it was not safe to be there. There were cases when we held meetings online and a bomb exploded in someone's yard at that moment. And we experienced it all," says Dmitry.

The first six months were a real nightmare for the guys from Ukraine, he recalls.

"They were there in basements, sometimes sleeping outside, because there was a risk that the house would be hit by bombs. There was no internet, there was no light, the guys bought generators. We realised that they were not in a safe zone. But they had to keep working, at least to feed their families.

The front was already approaching the town where members of Dmitry's team lived. They said that artillery fire was not as scary as Iskander or S-300 missiles. At least you can see the artillery and know where to run to get away from it. But you only notice the missiles when it is too late. The guys told me that at one point several residential buildings in the city collapsed at the same time overnight because of the incoming missiles.

According to one of the developers:

"The experience of other affected people suggested that the safest way to stay in their homes was to use the two-wall rule: 'You should have at least two walls separating you from the danger, because one will probably collapse from the impact, and the second l will take the debris of the first wall.’

So you sit with your wife and child on the floor in the corridor at 3am, mattresses on all sides, and calculate your chances of surviving a direct hit on your house. Everyone's nerves are frayed to the extreme. It's Russian roulette on a large scale."

There were a few nights when it became incredibly noisy: the house would shake, plaster would fall off under the wallpaper and sofas and wardrobes would move across the floor. Then people would run outside with an emergency suitcase. It was not safe, but "it was unbearable to be in the houses at such times".

Mariupol after an airstrike on 23 March 2022
Photo: Maximilian Clarke / SOPA Images via ZUMA Press / picture alliance

"On one such night - we learnt about it the next  morning - two nine-storey houses and one industrial enterprise very close to us were destroyed. I personally knew many of the victims, my son often walked in the playgrounds with other children, many of whom were orphaned that night, several children of the same age as my son were killed," says another developer.

Getting out of the city was almost impossible in the early days - the roads were congested and it was hectic. A journey that normally took 18 hours now took a week.

"There were two attempts to leave. The first one ended before it had begun: we were already standing at the traffic lights at the exit from the city when there were two earth-shaking explosions (I realised from the sound and the shockwave that it was literally around the corner from us), there was a convoy of cars queuing at the checkpoint, and 2 Iskander-type missiles flew in. They were aiming at a critical infrastructure facility nearby, but they missed it."

As a result, the project team was able to help the guys move to western Ukraine, where there was less shelling. Now all the developers are in relative safety, says Dmitry, and jointly solving difficulties and rejecting the war has only united the Russian-Ukrainian team.

What is your karma?

The ReLife team consists of 7 developers and 5 people who deal with content  and the app itself already has almost 13,000 users from 72 countries. All of them can create their own content and post it. Moderation is done directly by the team and the users themselves.

Initially, the app had two main functions - information about different countries and the ability to find people who can help you or offer help.

"If a user who, for example, lives in Portugal, sees that we have incorrect information in the knowledge base on Portugal, he can edit it," Dmitry explains.

But not all users can edit. In the app, users earn the trust of their subscribers with verified information and cultural behaviour, thereby increasing their rating and earning "karma" points.

"When you go through a full registration, you are given five 'karma' points. You can then earn that karma by creating content (a useful post or comment). The more karma, the higher the level," says Dmitry.

The user can also tell others what they can help with or, on the contrary, what they need themselves. Most often people on the site ask for help in sorting out documents for relocation, finding a job and understanding how much money is needed for moving.

New features have recently been added to the app - a cost of living calculator, cost of living comparisons in cities and countries around the world, price views by country, and a Q&A section.

The team has big plans for the app - to add a P2P exchanger, neural networks, as well as to introduce language learning services, job search, an aggregator of events and the possibility of monetisation for authors. Dmitry himself hopes that ReLife will become a platform for communication not only for emigrants, but also for ordinary tourists who can buy a tour, find a place to stay, or simply make friends around the world.

By: Katya Kobenok

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