Yuri Vetlugin and Roman Filippov met in a winter camp in Bashkiria about 30 years ago. A sixth-grader from the orphanage and a home boy eight years younger, the son of the head of the children's camp Nina Filippova, quickly found a common language. "I remember how we used to sing pioneer songs," Yuri tells RT. "And one New Year's Eve I gathered the sweets that were given to us in the dining room in a bag and went into their room. We had a teahouse, and that's how we all became friends."

"Yura stood out from other children for his positivity, cleanliness, taste and appearance," recalls Nina's sister Elena, who worked at the camp as the head of a children's art studio. "Blue-eyed, always with very clean skin, with his hair combed and in a neat suit. He showed how he took care of his clothes: he laid them neatly under the mattress so that they could be smoothed out overnight."

  • Yuri Vetlugin in his school years
  • © From the personal archive

They met more than once in holiday camps, but then the boys' paths diverged. Roman graduated from the Art and Industrial Lyceum, several courses of the Faculty of Art and Graphics of the Sholokhov University, and also received a diploma in State Municipal Administration at the Presidential Academy of Bashkiria. He moved from Ufa first to St. Petersburg and then to Moscow, where he became a sought-after advertising photographer.

After boarding school, Yura came to Ufa, where he studied to be a plasterer-painter. As an orphan, Vetlugin did not receive the housing he was entitled to, and it was difficult for him to defend his rights, since he had a disability associated with a mental disorder since childhood.

  • © Roman Filippov

"I was given a residence permit in a builders' dormitory. And I thought about my place all the time, but there was no one to help me. In 1999, my health deteriorated and I was no longer able to work in my profession," he says.

Yuri got a job as a janitor, which made it possible to get official housing. One day he met Nina Filippova, the same teacher from the children's camp.

"I recognized her right away, I have a good memory for faces," says Vetlugin. "He reminded me that I was the same Yura who went to pioneer camps. It turned out that she lived nearby. I went in for tea, we talked, and we never lost sight of each other again."

  • Yuri Vetlugin with Valentina Ivanovna Kozharova (Babanya), Nina Mironovna Shabalina and Elena Mironovna Filippova. Year 2021
  • RT

Nina introduced Yuri to her mother, Valentina Ivanovna, whom everyone affectionately calls Babanya. The woman immediately took him under her wing. She changed her husband's coat for Yura, so that Vetlugin would not freeze, and together with the young man began to collect documents for him to get his own housing.

"She's my godmother," Yuri continues. "She pushed me not to be left without a roof: she wrote letters, went with me to various authorities, helped me collect certificates, knock out the necessary documents." Finally, Vetlugin was put on the waiting list, and a few years later he got a room in a two-bedroom apartment.

Credit slavery

Yuri's life began to improve: "I knew that I had to be independent. I saved my salary and pension, saved it for a savings book."

  • Yuriy Vetlugin
  • © Roman Filippov

But Vetlugin's gullibility and defenselessness were taken advantage of by his former friend from the school. He offered Yuri to look after his children in exchange for housing and food: "I quit my job and started helping him in their country house. I had a pension, but I rented out my room. But my friend was always short of money."

According to Yuri, his friend asked him to help him with the money, saying that he would not be left in debt later. Vetlugin took out a loan, but his new employer was in no hurry to return the money, but only repeated that he needed to add more.

"I applied for credits, loans and microloans in my name. Interest rates were rising, his pension was melting away, and he kept promising to repay the debt. I no longer had a job or savings. A friend began to persuade me to sell my room, and I was close to it," the RT interlocutor recalls. "One day he got very drunk and started swinging an axe at me. I managed to dodge. And after that, he ran away. I came to Ufa on foot without a penny to Babana."

  • Yuriy Vetlugin
  • © Roman Filippov

By that time, Yuri owed about 800 thousand rubles to various organizations. The very next day, he got a job as a janitor again, but all the money was spent on paying off loans.

"I had ten houses on me, I cleaned garbage chutes, I washed porches," he says. "I took any job. Sometimes he earned up to 50 thousand rubles, but they were all written off. In order to have cash and buy at least some food, he collected aluminum cans. People who knew my story helped: they gave away old stoves and refrigerators for scrap. That's what I lived on."

  • Yuriy Vetlugin
  • © Roman Filippov

According to Elena, Yuri is not one of those who would shamelessly use human participation. However, it was impossible to guarantee that others would do the same to the gullible janitor, and this greatly worried the sisters and Babanya. In addition, for several years, Yura changed neighbors three times, relations with whom were not always cloudless.

"His last flatmate was a compassionate woman of retirement age," says Elena. "She helped Yura, they made repairs together, put in windows, glued wallpaper. When she decided to put her home up for sale, she offered me to buy her room. At first, I was confused: I have no corresponding earnings, no savings. But it became clear that it just had to be done. I took out a mortgage, paid it off, and now Yura has a two-room apartment."

  • Yuri Vetlugin in his apartment. On the fridge photo of Babani
  • © Roman Filippov

A fateful shoot

Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic has begun. All filming, including commercials, was paused, and Nina's son returned to his native Ufa.

"I settled in my aunt's room, and Yura and I became neighbors in this way," Roman told RT. "We lived amicably. We had the same level of sloppiness: not too orderly, not too messy. We survived a strict lockdown, and I was already getting ready to go back to Moscow. But before the flight, I decided to take a picture of Yura. I've been thinking about it for a long time, but I haven't gotten around to it."

  • Yuriy Vetlugin
  • © Roman Filippov

Roman says that he wanted to tell the story of his neighbor: "I have always admired that he does not give up in any situation. Yura owed the bailiffs a fabulous sum, but he calmly said: "Well, it's okay, someday I'll pay it back," and continued to work."

Filippov made two photo shoots with Yuri. In one, Vetlugin is in his ordinary life: at work, at home, and the second was filmed in a professional studio.

  • Yuriy Vetlugin
  • © Roman Filippov

"Roma filmed me in everyday life: how I came home from work tired and fell asleep right in my clothes, how I came out after a shower, how I work on my site, near the containers. There I saw that someone threw out the chair, sat in it, and Roma clicked me like that. I was just living my life," the janitor recalls.

Roman made the second photo shoot with Yuri as an advertising model. According to the photographer, he used the same technique as when shooting Babani.

  • Valentina Ivanovna Kozharova (Babanya). Photoshoot by Roman Filippov
  • RT

"For Babani's 92nd birthday, we dressed her in a fashionable look, a blue fur coat with brooches, a fashionable hat and glasses. It turned out to be in the style of Vogue magazine," Filippov shares with RT. "This photo shoot was a success on social media. With Yura, I wanted to do something similar, contrasting. And on top of the image, I photoshopped the name of another magazine, GQ. This is a montage, although many people write that Yura is a star of the covers of fashion publications, in fact, he did not shoot for any magazines."

In part, the idea to make a photo shoot for Yura was dictated by the attitude towards him, which his neighbor saw all the time.

  • Yuriy Vetlugin
  • © Roman Filipov

"When he and I went to the store, I was outraged that he was treated like some kind of scum of society," says Roman. "Yura may be tired and unshaven, but he's a good man!" I wanted to show that if he hadn't grown up in an orphanage, he could have looked like this. His life might have turned out differently. It's his face, his body, but in a different setting, in different clothes, with a different hairstyle."

После публикации фотографий Юрий Ветлугин из дворника с огромным долгом превратился в звезду. Пользователи соцсетей спрашивали Романа, чем помочь герою фотосессии, и когда узнали, что у Юры не закрыт кредит, то стали присылать деньги. 

"The debt was paid off almost overnight: they threw me about 650 thousand! "Yuri is still moved by this. "I didn't expect it, and people kept offering money. As a result, about 2 million rubles were transferred to me."

As Roman recalls, caring people offered to make repairs to Yura, sent carpets, paintings, TV, and gave clothes.

  • Yuri Vetlugin and Roman Filippov
  • RT

By the way, Yura and Roma still got into GQ. The magazine invited them to the "Man of the Year" award, where Yura was the guest of honor.

A Newfound Family

Filmmakers became interested in Vetlugin's story. In the film Yura the Janitor, the prototypes of the main characters Yuri Vetlugin and Roman Filippov appeared in cameos. A fleeting episode where Yura cleans the yard led to unexpected consequences, even by the standards of fiction.

  • Yuriy Vetlugin. Two photoshoots
  • © Roman Filipov

As it turned out, Yuri Vetlugin, who was brought up in an orphanage from birth, has five siblings. They have different fathers, but the same mother is Lyubov Vetlugina. She had an eldest son, Andrei, from her first marriage, and three children, Lyudmila, Veronica, and Dmitry, from her second. But she and her husband separated. Lyubov Vetlugina had to take her eldest son with her, leaving her second husband, a trucker, with three children.

Yuri, who was born after the breakup, she left her child at home. Relatives say that she hid his birth from everyone. After that, Lyubov went to Tatarstan, remarried and gave birth to two more children, Larisa and Oleg. In 2001, Lyubov Vetlugina died without telling anyone about her son. But her older children remembered how once, when she visited them in Ufa, their grandmother reproached Lyubov for leaving little Hera. However, they could not understand the meaning of these words at the time.

  • Yuri Vetlugin's family
  • © From the personal archive

The Ufa and Kazan parts of the family learned about each other's existence from letters left by their mothers. They found each other over the internet ten years ago and have been very friendly ever since.

The children of Veronika and Lyudmila paid attention to Yura in Roman's photographs when he arranged an exhibition in one of the centers of Ufa. Then the future nieces noted the striking external resemblance of their uncle Dima and the model in the photos: "Dress our Dima like this and there will be a copy." Then they saw Yuri in a movie. "They saw my name in the credits," Yury said. "That's where the puzzle came together."

Yuri's siblings contacted Elena and told her the incredible news. It took her a long time to gather the courage to tell Yura that he had found a big family in an instant.

  • Yuri Vetlugin with his brother Dmitry
  • © From the personal archive

"There was a party to celebrate Roma's meeting," she recalls that evening. "Yura has fried potatoes, pancakes are his specialties, he cooks them perfectly. I began to show him childhood photos, and among them I put a photo of Dima as a child. I asked, "What's that picture?" and Yura said he didn't have one. Then I showed him a photo of his sister and said that on that card is the woman's brother, her name is Lyudmila, and she says that you are their brother."

Yuri's reaction surprised Elena, she continues: "At first he froze, and then he calmly said: 'Okay, we'll find out.' He took three days off from work, sorted through documents, and on the fourth day he seemed to thaw out and began to bombard me with questions about new relatives."

  • Yuri Vetlugin at a meeting with his family
  • © From the personal archive

It turned out that this is not the only incredible coincidence in Yura's life. "Lyubov's second husband raised three children alone," says Elena. "Two of them periodically studied in boarding schools, and Dmitry was in the same boarding school and at the same time as Yuri! But Dima was four years older, so communication was not frequent and not close. Although for some time he patronized his, as it turned out, younger brother. It is a pity that the teachers did not compare the documents of the pupils at that time. Can you imagine, the sisters and dad visited Dima and did not even suspect that another of their relatives lived there."

Finally, in 2023, the relatives converged and were able to see each other. According to Elena, Yura's first meeting with his family was held with tears and hugs.

  • Yuri Vetlugin with his brother and sisters
  • © From the personal archive

"We couldn't talk enough, we kept holding hands, looking at each other and comparing: but our noses are so similar, both hands and fingers! It was very touching," the RT interlocutor recalls.

According to Elena, Yura's relatives also remembered their elder brother Andrei, who is no longer alive: "They said that they felt guilty when they came to his grave for not giving him love. At the time, it was said that if they could start again, they would give him a true sisterly love. And now they have a brother!"

The sisters and brothers treated Yura as a wonderful gift of fate, Elena continues, and this is mutual: "They are all amazing people. There, everyone is a treasure. They always support each other, they are always on the same wavelength."

"Giving Hope to Children"

Throughout 2021, from the fateful photo shoot to the filming, Roman Filippov practically did not part with Yura. But after the start of the special operation, Roman left for Donbass. Now he is a photographer at the Donetsk reconstruction center. Roman himself says: "I'm recording history."

  • Roman Filippov
  • RT

"Bashkiria is engaged in the restoration of part of the territory of the LPR, these are Krasnyi Luch and Petrovskoye," Filippov explains. "During the Great Patriotic War, General Minigali Shaimuratov, a hero of Bashkiria, died in these places. Back in 2005, a memorial plaque of the 112th Guards Division was erected there, a memorial to Shaimuratov was opened, and a school in the city of Petrovskoye was named after him. I went there last year with a humanitarian convoy, filmed how this school is being repaired, and made a photo story for my subscribers. And just two weeks later, in August, Yuri came to work on the restoration of the same school."

  • Humanitarian convoy from Bashkiria to Donbass
  • © Roman Filippov

"I was told that there is a need for workers in Donbass – we need to restore the school by September 1," Vetlugin said. "I packed my things in one night and the next day I was on my way. I was at auxiliary jobs: I carried drywall, washed floors, put on marafet for the beginning of the school year.

We worked day and night. The conditions were difficult. A lot of people got sick. I earned less than I bargained for, but I didn't think about it. I wanted the children to be able to study, to give them hope that they would go to a normal, prosperous school."

  • Restoration of the school named after General Shaimuratov. Petrovskoye, LPR
  • © Roman Filippov

Now Yuri is planning a trip to Kazan to visit his younger sister. But not before spring – in winter in Ufa you can't do without a janitor: "You have to swing a shovel. We will survive the winter, and in the summer we can go on vacation. Not all my relatives have seen me yet. There are a lot of relatives, both on my father's side and on my mother's side. There are also grandmothers and grandfathers. I have already become an uncle and grandfather – I have three nephews and seven nieces! We have a very large and close-knit family."