Nikolai Sokolov, a former cop (SOBR (Special Fast-Response Unit)) from the village of Nepotyagovo in Vologda Oblast built a 100-metre-long bridge with his own hands to connect two parts of the village, improved a natural spring, and built a chapel. He told us:
I’m a former cop; I served in law enforcement for more than 20 years. First, I was in the OMON (Mobile Special Purpose Unit), then, in the SOBR. I had to move about, but I didn’t care much for that. I was even in Chechnya a few times. It’s been nine years since my retirement. As soon as I had the time, I began to spiff up my hometown. My fellow villagers helped me to build a sauna and we put up a fence.
We have a dam in our village. In the 70’s, they began to build up our town. In one part, they built two-story brick houses with comfy flats. In another part, they set aside land for dachas. In order to solve the problem of watering the dacha garden plots, we built a dam on the Shogrash River. Now, the reservoir divides Nepotyagovo into two parts… the residential district and the dacha area. To go from one to the other, we needed to make a detour of about three kilometres. The bridge broke down years ago, so, people had to make a big fuss to get to the other part of the village.
Before she died, my Mum asked me to build a good bridge over the obstacle. She told me, “You can do it, my son; do a good deed for the people. Indeed, no one but you can really do it”. I decided to go out and deal with the problem. I went to the Spasskoe Rural Settlement to ask for funds for building materials. They gave me 50,000 Roubles (5,115 Renminbi. 51,260 INR. 765 USD. 1,000 CAD. 1,015 AUD. 685 Euros. 580 UK Pounds), the rest I kicked in from my pension. The distance from one end of the bridge to the other was about a hundred metres. I bought metal sheeting, from which I constructed piling. During the winter, when the reservoir froze over, I walked the length of my proposed bridge, playing out rope, tagging it every six metres. Then, using my tags in the designated areas as guides, I installed the piles, driving them securely several metres into the bottom.
To keep the work going in the spring, I made a raft. I put bracing between the pilings and installed a wooden floor and railings. None of the villagers offered to help me; I only got help from my son Zhenya. Nevertheless, we made a good solid bridge, 1.5-metres wide. It took me six months to complete the project. Everybody thanked me; the babas were especially happy that they didn’t have to make such a long detour anymore. For a long time, I hoped that somebody else would get on out and help me. Well, my example inspired the whole village. They started to clean up the streets, to mow the weeds, and to build a playground.
Out in the woods, there’s an awesome natural spring. My Dad used to take me out to this place. I decided to make it even better. To remove the excess sludge, we had to take 800 loads out in a KAMAZ truck. That took two winters of work, but we got all the rubbish removed. We expanded the size of the springs; now, we have two of them. Then, we built a chapel in honour of St Nicholas the Wonderworker, put a fence around the spring, and planted an avenue of oak trees, cedars, and pines. In the clearing, we set up a table with benches under a pavilion. We ran electrical cable and installed toilets.
Now, pilgrims from all over the world come to our spring. I put out a guestbook for feedback and suggestions; there are not only entries from people from all over our country, but also from other countries in Europe, Australia, and all other parts. We had a few thousand people come here for Epiphany. People come here every weekend. I rent the woods around the chapel and spring under a 49-year lease… that costs me 7,000 Roubles (715 Renminbi. 7,175 INR. 105 USD. 140 CAD. 145 AUD. 95 Euros. 80 UK Pounds) a year. However, I don’t charge anybody anything. I just want people to visit here; to feel the grace of this extraordinary place. We had some problems with vandalism; unknown parties broke the icons and threw them in the spring. I put everything right… the “monkey shines” are over. I don’t know why people do that. I believe that anyone can change the situation in their homeland for the better. You just need to do something and not be lazy.
Recently, at the “Springs of Vologda” competition, our spring came out on top… there were 32 springs from 18 raions of the oblast. Since the legislative assembly announced the results of the competition, more people came in to visit us. This contest was part of the Year for the Conservation of Nature. We had to improve the spring, submit our application, and attach photos to our description of the spring.
I have a big family. I met my wife when we were working on a volunteer construction crew. We have four adult children, and we’re expecting our fifth grandchild. The other day, my daughter got married. My wife helps me with my projects; she just doesn’t sit around doing nothing. She teaches at the Oblast paediatric hospital. In her spare time, she actively helps with my community activities. I have a dream… I want to build a stone church dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ in Nepotyagovo. This would be a blessing for our parish… it looks like I have to get down to work again.
29 August 2016