Just a few hundred meters away from Murmansk’s largest monument ( the Defenders of the Soviet Arctic during the Great Patriotic War) sits what is probably the city’s smallest and undoubtedly the cutest.
In 2013 the inhabitants of Murmansk were called to cast their preference for a new monument to be put on the shores of Lake Semyonovskoye. One of the possibilities was that of a monument to cod liver oil, a dietary supplement definitely important at such estreme latitudes, but definitely not a happy memory for the citizens because of its unpleasant taste.
The winner of the consultation was, hands down, Semyon the Cat (Kot Semion – Кот семён in Russian). The story, for those who choose to believe in it, or the legend, for those who don’t, says that in the late 1980s a Soviet family was moving to Murmansk from the South of Russia. They had to switch train in Moscow and board the Artika train when their cat, Semyon, got lost in the station of the Russian capital.
The two cities are just shy of 2.000 Km (1,243 Miles) apart, but this did not deter the cat from his will to reunite with his family. So Semyon reportedly spent the next six years traveling Northward on his own and finally managed to reach his owners’ apartment in Murmansk.
The unveiling of the monument, on October the 2nd was one of the first events dedicated to the 97th anniversary of the city (see also Murmansk turns 101 years (and one day) old to know more about the city history).
A new tradition began the very same day of the unveiling: if you sit on the bench and whisper into Semyon’s ear one of your wishes, it is sure to come true!
Some people laughed at the “round appearance” of the cat carrying all his belongings in a small bundle on a stick, but given Russia’s love for cats it is not entirely unlikely that Semyon was always well fed by the people he met during his peregrination.
According to a 2017 survey conducted by Dalia Research, a whopping 59% of Russians own one or more cast. This is more than 10 percentage points higher than any of the other 51 countries in the survey. The second country with the most love for cats is Ukraine and if we move outside the former Soviet Union we find the USA in third place with 43% of people owning a feline pet.
With the economic growth of the last 10-15 years, more and more people can afford to own a cat, a desire many had during Soviet times when not only money was often scarce, but living in communal apartment meant that pets were not easy to keep.
According to a 2017 study by Statista, around 22.5 Million cats live (as pets) in Russia, a steady growth from the 18 million of 2010.
The love for cats is nothing new in Russia and it actually dates back to the time of the Tsars. In the 1740s Empress Elizabeth (daughter of Saint Petersburg’s founder Peter the Great) had issued a decree, ordering: «to find in Kazan…the best and biggest cats capable of catching mice, and send them to… the Court of her Imperial Majesty, along with someone to look after and feed them, and send them by cart and with sufficient food immediately».
Right now the “cat brigate” of the Hermitage is 60 to 75 and more units strong, according to different sources and they are undoubtedly effective in keeping rodents away from all the masterpieces housed in the various museum building.
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