The New Londoners

Mari-Ann Leetmaa with her daughter Laura, her mother Jelena and her sister Anna Korjakin.

“I came to the UK when I was 17 years old and originally went to Chichester to work on a berry picking farm,” says Mari-Ann Leetmaa, from Estonia. “I was trying to learn about hard labour, and the value of money. I had a plan to stay in England forever, but when autumn and winter came and it got cold and dark I changed my mind. I made the decision to pack my bags and go back to Estonia.

“In April 2013 we came back with our daughter Laura and went to Bristol—we had it in our minds that we would stay and see how it went. We had some friends in Bristol and it was a bit of a smaller town. It was a nice place to live; the people there seem to be quite laid back.”

“I came to London to study English after university and ended up staying,” says Mari-Ann’s sister Anna Korjakina. “I thought I would just be here for a few months, but I fell in love with the city.”

Their mother Jelena came to Bristol in October 2014.

“After two more years we all moved to London,” explains Mari-Ann. “Together as a family we started Rutage, a lifestyle magazine for Russians living in London. We’d been separated for a while so it was great to all be in the same city again. Our mother really likes London because she had lived in a small town in Estonia for twenty-five years.”

Jelena was born in Farishte, Russia, though moved to Estonia when she was 25 after marrying an Estonian man. In Estonia she was the editor-in-chief for several magazines. “She says she knows, and writes in Russian very well,” continues Mari-Ann. “She’s trying to learn English.”

“As long as we need her help, our mother will stay here with us. There is a possibility that she may go back to Estonia at some point, but she also says that she may stay here for the rest of her life.”

“I think for now it seems that I’ll stay here too. At the moment I’m the project manager for a charity called the Gracious Heart Charity foundation. We’re trying to help children with cerebral palsy.

“And I have a young lady to take care of now—Laura. It’s very easy when you’re 17 and all you have is one suitcase; you can restart your life every week. For now we’re settled.”


Other families from Russia are the Benchoula Family, the Prokofiev Family, and the Sullivan Family.