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'Moscow seems
to protect
you and cultivate you'

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My name is Mikhail Kaptyug. I have lived in Moscow for over 16 years

On expectations and reality

I was born and went to school in the town of Pechora, Komi Republic. In the fifth form, I realised that if I wanted a higher education, I would have to leave my hometown.

My favourite subject in school was chemistry. Those were the classes I never wanted to skip. I competed at the school chemistry Olympics, got my A's and B's, and dreamed that one day I would enrol in Moscow State University's School of Chemistry.

But I did not have the guts to apply to MGU directly. First I enrolled in an institution of higher education in Rostov-on-Don. I studied there for a while, then transferred to MGU as I had intended in the first place.

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On the Smart Moscow project

On graduating from MGU, I surprised myself by getting a job as a marketing specialist rather than as a chemist. I stayed in that job for about five years, but my childhood dreams (or grown-up ambitions) continued to haunt me. I formed a partnership with a friend and in 2013 we set the wheels in motion for the Smart Moscow project.

It started as a popular science lecture course for adult learners, covering a broad range of topics, from regional geography to Italian art history. Then we tried a new format—a family chemistry fest. And so, by trial and error, we figured out what our goals and our audience were. We run interactive programmes in the natural sciences for kids aged 7 to 14 and their parents. Each programme is a short course in some field of chemistry, physics, biology, medicine or other subjects: once we are sure that the theoretical knowledge sits well with the audience, we follow up with experiments.

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On work and pleasure

I never distinguish between weekdays and weekends. I like Mondays, I never call Wednesday 'a mini weekend' as I never even look forward to the weekend. I like what I do, and do not need any rest after work (other than getting some sleep occasionally). I am capable of mulling over a new course idea or imagining more interesting ways to demonstrate the chromatography reaction, all this while lying on a beach.

Many people believe the secondary education system assumes that 'the child wants to learn'. But what if the child does not? That is where we come in, to give schoolchildren fresh motivation to learn. In other words, we are committed to showing the kids who hate chemistry, biology and physics that science is fun.

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On MGU and one modestly sized city

For a while after moving to Moscow, I would tell my friends that I 'lived at MGU'. This was essentially true: we lived on campus, which is its own town entirely dedicated to learning. It is a community of people with a certain mindset. We stayed on campus for months without once leaving to explore 'greater Moscow'. I was in my fourth or fifth year when I started to get to know Moscow. I live in Ramenki now, on Michurinsky Avenue, not far from the main building of MGU. I love to take walks around the campus even now. This may be a cliché, but it's my 'seat of power'. The place is never crowded. There are lanes lined with apple trees, as well as the university's own botanic gardens and even a swath of real forest.

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On Meshchersky Park and utopias

A friend and I once went to Meshchersky Park. As I recall it used to be a regular forest. Now it's all landscaped and everything. Remember those romantic films where things are so fine across the board and everyone is really, really happy, sitting on the grass drinking lemonade? I felt like I was in such a film. We walk through the park until we reach the shore. There are some people playing volleyball, others are tanning in their beach chairs, others are still having a picnic, and happy little kids are running around. A little further, two amateur football teams are just finishing their match. I had the feeling I was at a filming location, and all these people were extras, herded there to pose as happy, picture-perfect Muscovites. But I was wrong. What we were witnessing was just a regular Saturday afternoon in Moscow. And I thought to myself: 'This is so cool!'.

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About Bryanskaya Square

There is a lot that binds me to the neighbourhood around Kievsky Station and the nearby embankment. Most of it has to do with my roller-blading youth. My friends and I had this rollerblading routine. We would walk out of the main building of MGU, roll to the observation deck, then roll down Kosygina Street, then roll along the embankment and finally return via Minskaya Street. The whole trip took us about 1 hour 20 minutes.

I also remember that for a while back in the day, I called Kievsky Station Square Bryanskaya Square. There was this legendary woman hawker who would holler 'Buses to Bryansk! Bryansk! Buses!'. I found out later that this square had in fact been named Bryanskaya in the past.

That place has changed beyond recognition over the past seven years. It is no longer chaotic like it used to be. It's all comfortable and modern, well organised. It is clean, plain and nice.

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On how to be a better person

I love the district of Zamoskvorechye, it is literally saturated with history. Sometimes as you turn a corner, you half expect to find some gallant chevaliers in 19th-century outfits with their ladies clad in evening dresses. So if you ever feel a yearning for some romance, take my advice and roam the back streets of Moscow.

I like how Moscow seems to protect you and cultivate you. Yes, you have to take time to take care of your nerves, that's just par for the course. Everything happens at the speed of a click: calling a cab, ordering a food delivery or scheduling a medical appointment.

Muscovites and those who move to Moscow for the long haul undergo a change in mentality: they start feeling personally responsible for the city. When everything is so nice, trim and lovely around you, you will start treasuring the space you live in, and you will start to feel different within that space. That kind of urban spatial awareness appeals to me.

'Moscow seems to protect you and cultivate you'

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The special Muscovites project is dedicated to the heroes of our city: ordinary people with their own views on Moscow. You can meet them in a café, on the street, at the theatre or the supermarket. Perhaps, you sat across from their table, stood in the same queue or were on the same bus late to work just yesterday. Muscovites, let's get acquainted.

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