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People on the Peninsula: The Old Believer tour guide

July 28, 2018
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ADVANCE FOR USE SATURDAY, JULY 28 - In this June 20, 2018 photo, Nina Fefelov, who operates Samovar Cafe in the Russian Old Believer village of Nikolaevsk, Alaska, Poses for a photo outside her cafe. Fefelov enjoys sharing Russian culture and customs with visitors. (Marc Lester/Anchorage Daily News via AP)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Nina Fefelov knelt in the dandelion-dotted grass behind her cafe in a long, red satin dress, holding an ornate teapot. Take a tight shot, she instructed. Don’t show the buildings in the background. “One-two-three,” she counted. On the next beat, she wanted the photograph snapped.

Then she stood up, leaning onto the teapot for leverage. Time to move on.

Fefelov, an energetic, no-nonsense 66-year-old, runs one of the only businesses in the tiny Russian Old Believer village of Nikolaevsk. Her restaurant, Samovar Cafe, doubles as a gift shop. Fefelov doubles as the village’s unofficial tour guide, providing a rare window into an enigmatic world. Old Believers have historically separated themselves, but Fefelov welcomes outsiders in.

“I really want people to know about Old Believers,” she said.

The Old Believers split from mainline Russian Orthodoxy in the 1650s and a centuries-long journey brought them from Russia to Alaska via China, South America and Oregon as they looked for the right place to protect their traditions. The quiet community now occupies four villages across the Kenai Peninsula. Nikolaevsk, tucked about 10 miles inland from Anchor Point, is the original settlement. One of its founders was Fefelov’s father-in-law.

Fefelov has lived in the Alaska village since the early 1990s.

She moved here from Russia, where she worked as an electrical engineer and travel guide. She opened her cafe in 2001, a year after the paved roads reached town. Her cafe’s guest book is filled with visitors from all over the country and the world — Oklahoma, Arizona, Kansas, Hungary, Switzerland, Australia, France, Lithuania. Most come through in the summer.

Some learn about her cafe from the internet, she said. Her grandson helped her set up a website. Others, she said, tell her they heard about it from friends.

At her cafe, Fefelov serves her visitors traditional Russian foods and poses them in Russian clothes.

On a recent afternoon, she suggested a driving tour of Nikolaevsk, a community of about 350. She pointed out who lived in each house: “American. American. Russian. American. American. Russian over there.”

She also strongly recommended where to take the best photographs and of whom. One of those spots was in the corner of a graveyard. Another, next to a flowering tree. Outside one of the village’s two churches, she instructed the two boys mowing the lawn to pose.

Eventually, after nearly two hours, the driving tour wound back to Fefelov’s shop. She had a French television crew visiting in a few hours. She still had a lot to do.

“I’m a busy woman,” she said.

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Information from: Anchorage Daily News, http://www.adn.com

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