The self-identified homeless blogger who goes by the moniker Zhenya Yakut started the YouTube channel in May, pledging to “show you the Moscow you have not yet seen”. The channel has more than 23,000 subscribers, four weeks after Yakut, named after the Yakutia region in Russia’s far east, posted his first video.
“I will tell you about my homeless life in Moscow … where to eat for free, to sleep, to wash up, where to go, what to see,” Yakut says in his first post.
Yakut, who says he is 43 and has been homeless for five years, delivers on the promise in subsequent videos, starting with a tour of his sleeping quarters – down through a manhole into the underground passage of a heat pipeline, into a chamber which he shares with an unidentified buddy – because “it would be boring alone”.
“As you can see, I’ve got everything here: here’s a first aid kit, here’s a needle and thread, and a radio,” he says. When the radio fails to work, he adds: “The battery’s dead. Well, no big deal.”
He hopes the videos will make money through online advertising, Yakut said. His most viewed dispatch currently tops 240,000 views.
He also takes viewers on tours of homeless Moscow – with a few gimmicks thrown in. At the end of his first video, Yakut said he would demonstrate his seriousness about the project by letting viewers find a $10 bill he has saved, which he put into a plastic bottle and stuffed inside a drainpipe in a courtyard in the centre of the city, and then announced the address.
Some commenters have expressed doubt that Yakut is homeless, but he insists his story is true. If people think he looks too neat, it is because he has a dress code to follow to ensure unhindered access to public bathrooms at places like McDonald’s, he says.
The filming of the videos is credited to another man, identified as Andrei Voodoo, but little information if offered as to where the pair gained the technical knowledge or the equipment to create the videos and post them online. The idea of making money through online videos and advertising came when Yakut walked into a train station to warm up and saw a television programme about bloggers in the waiting lounge.
“They said it was possible to make a lot of money through a blog,” Yakut says.
So far that wisdom is proving correct, although he remains hopeful and is managing well on what he has. A major source of income comes from books thrown in the rubbish, which Yakut takes to a used bookstore that pays “at least 10 roubles” (equivalent to 11 pence) each.
In his videos, Yakut also showed his shaving and hair-washing routine – in a public bathroom stall equipped with its own sink, inside Moscow’s giant Avia Park mall – and his scavenging of the city’s garbage bins for things to eat or sell.
“Mushrooms,” he says, opening and sniffing a jar of marinated fungi. “Not good.”
“Cheese,” he says, scrutinising a shrivelled chunk. “Not good. An umbrella. Working. Cheap, but working.”
Yakut also runs pages on Russia’s main social network, VKontakte, and Instagram.
According to global advocacy group Homeless World Cup, 5 million Russians sleep rough – 50,000 in Moscow alone. While this number is down from its peak at the end of the 1990s, the homeless are hit especially hard in winter – in St Petersburg alone, more than 1,000 died in the 2013-14 freeze, according to official statistics.
Yakut’s posts show the “seamy side of a bright metropolis”, as he writes on his VKontakte page. “There are thousands of people living and surviving here, and you can even come across such unique individuals as a bum blogger.”
“Every subscriber and every click on an ad help me get closer to a normal life,” he added.