German Sterligov enjoyed an impressive fortune, lived among sumptuous villas, yachts and private jets, but gave up this lifestyle four years ago and chose to move with his family to a rural area of Russia, where he chose to live in the middle of the wild. “Most of my friends thought I had lost my mind, but after four years it turns out that I made the right choice. The economic crisis that has affected most oligarchs is far from me. Unlike them, I’m free here. I’m not addicted to anyone and I have enough resources to survive”, said German Sterligov, 42.At just 24 years old, German Sterligov founded his own company and in a short time, taking advantage of the legal vacuum of that time, he managed to build a financial empire, with offices in London and New York, and became the first Russian legal millionaire after the Revolution of 1917.After a lifetime of living in the most luxurious neighborhood in Moscow, Sterligov and his wife changed their perspectives on life and decided to sell their property in the Rublyovka neighborhood, the apartment overlooking the Statue of Liberty in New York, the offices on Wall Street and in London, the house in Switzerland, the castle in France and the apartment in The Red Square in Moscow to move to the countryside
.To adapt to the new life, his wife, Alyona, exchanged expensive jewelry and branded clothes for long skirts and a fairy tale, like the peasants in Tolstoy’s novels. The Sterligov spouses and their four children chose as their residence a humble house, without electricity, located 15 kilometers away from any other house. Alyona gave birth to the family’s fifth child in the new home, being assisted at birth by her husband. “Even in a million years I would not want to become a businessman again and be surrounded by those things that define a successful businessman: houses in Rublyovka, yachts and Bentley cars. I am happy with the peace I found in the countryside, with my wife, children and sheep”, he continued his confession. As Sterligov made a name for himself in business, the threats began to intensify, and he and his wife lived permanently in fear of being kidnapped, brutalized or even killed. “In the first two years of the relationship we moved 23 times. He called me and said: . In the circles where my husband was active, there were many murders taking place,” Alyona recalls.“I always had at least two bodyguards with me, but once the number reached 60 to supervise both me and my children,” she continued, as her husband nodded in the affirmative. “I was like birds in a golden cage. Being very rich, we lived in a slavery, from which, fortunately, we escaped,” German added.
At the moment, the Sterligov family owns only two houses, one for winter and another for summer, located at a distance of about 20 kilometers from each other. After they moved, the family threw away all the pictures representing the old lifestyle and refused to watch TV or use the Internet. “There is no point in wasting our children’s time using these brainwashing mechanisms. We’d better sit down at the table and talk about books than watch the messes on TV,” Sterligov said. The parents did not want to give their children to school, they were trained by an instituter, while the biggest girl was studying at Moscow University.
The family is very faithful, respecting the customs of the Orthodox religion. Although he completely withdrew from the business world, Sterligov also received threats, and their first cottage was set on fire, while the dog was poisoned. The winter house has only two bedrooms and was equipped with an electrical system to allow the operation of a washing machine and for lighting. Sterligov and his family do not want to go back to the life before. “What are they now? Just some peasant. A livestock breeder. I don’t think Putin is afraid of me anymore.”, concluded the former oligarch.
The man who became Russia’s second official millionaire after the fall of communism abandoned his fortune to live as a peasant in a remote part of the country.
“My life has never been better – I still can’t believe I have such a fulfilling and exciting life,” he told BBC World Service’s Outlook. “Turkey poults have just come out from under the henhouse – this is interesting news for us at the moment. We managed to find happiness as a family – and I still can’t believe that we managed to leave Moscow, with all its atmosphere of mercenary, ivy and hostility. I can hardly describe the state of mind we are in, just as you can not describe the taste of an ice cream. You have to taste it to know that.”
Sterligov now lives in a small house, which he describes as “a Russian stove, a few windows, walls and a ceiling”. It has two tractors, a boldozer and an old Toyota, although in winter the farm can only be reached with a crawling horse cart. The nearest house is 11 km away. He has no electricity and now he’s trying to get rid of his cell phone.
In his journey of prosperity, German Sterligov provided jobs for 2,500 people. Currently, there are only two of them, both workers, who teach Sterligov how to do things such as building walls or repairing fences.
Sterligov sold his fortune at auction after dusting himself from his political ambitions. They had begun with a campaign for the position of governor of Siberia and were followed by candidacies for the Moscow city hall and finally for the presidency of Russia. “I wanted to change the lives of people in Russia for the better,” he says. “I wanted to bring a new vision to this country, in order to create a better life. But I didn’t make it, and I came to realize that even though I couldn’t be with my country that way, my family still needs me – and I was able to make changes at that level.”
He ended up accumulating huge debts because of the costs of his election campaigns. As a result, he sold his House in Moscow, all his properties and shares, and paid off his debts. Then, after a trip to the forest, he built a house with the money he had left after everything had been sold.
“In such urgent situations, there is no time for discussion – then the head of the family, the man, must make all the decisions,” he says. “It was hard for my wife, who was not used to country life, but rather to life as a millionaire. Now she is grateful, because our children lead a normal life, a real life. My family is undoubtedly happier.”
He is a staunch nationalist and became deeply religious 10 years ago – although he does not want to talk about it, describing him as “too personal”.
“I have no money left – all I have is the money in my pocket. And I also have some geese, cattle, a ram and more recently, some turkeys. We have almost everything we need. All I have to do is buy sugar, salt, tea and occasionally bread, when we are lazy enough not to grind our own flour.