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I tutored the children of Russia's elite amid the backdrop of war. One teenager said he had his own massage therapist.

Cameron Manley   

I tutored the children of Russia's elite amid the backdrop of war. One teenager said he had his own massage therapist.
  • I used to teach the children of Russian oligarchs and politicians.
  • Our classrooms were penthouse apartments, yachts, and mansions in exclusive Moscow suburbs.

This essay is based on the recollections of Cameron Manley, 24, a news fellow at Business Insider who previously worked as a private tutor in Moscow and, following Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Monaco. The names of students have been changed to protect their identity.

In late 2021, I started working for an international tutoring agency in Moscow.

The agency counted some of Russia's elite among its clientele — so I was quickly thrust into a world of private jets, guarded estates, and personal chauffeurs.

I worked in Moscow until Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, when I was relocated to Monaco.

We charged $150 per hour minimum for classes, but more experienced tutors and specific packages for private-school assessments or English-language testing would cost more.

Tutoring does not require any kind of formal qualification, but parents were still often happy to part with their cash as long as the tutors had a native-English accent and some connection to either the British private school system or some of the UK's top universities.

$150 was also small change for many of these families, which was reflected in the various classroom settings — Monaco penthouses, Moscow mansions, and yachts.

The money the Russian elite were willing to throw at young, inexperienced tutors was unbelievable — and frankly quite frightening.

I had acquaintances who worked as governors or nannies who were earning well into six figures.

Others were offered similarly extortionate salaries to spend their summers teaching on yachts in places like St. Barts in the Caribbean or sailing around the world.

I taught in luxurious villas and penthouse apartments

Often the children we taught, who were from four to around 18 years old, had private drivers who hurried them about in tinted Range Rovers or Mercedes-Benz cars.

In Moscow, many of our classes took place in Rublevka, an elite guarded estate in the west of the capital, where Russian President Vladimir Putin owns a home.

Many of the kids we taught lived in a world entirely different from any we had known.

A colleague of mine did after-school classes there with an eight-year-old boy called Ivan.

One week his family had been planning a weekend trip to get away from the capital: "I hope the weather isn't too bad so we can take the helicopter and don't have to drive," he said.

We also homeschooled two pupils: Alexei, 13, and his younger sister, Elena, 11.

The first time I met Alexei, he walked into our office sporting $1,000 Balenciaga trainers and a watch worth at least five times as much.

He was nevertheless a pleasant child but, like Ivan, appeared somewhat disconnected from reality.

In one class, he was shocked to hear that we didn't receive regular pampering from staff at home: "It's been seven months since you had a massage? I have a massage every day, I have my own massage therapist," he told us.

Elena was less communicative and didn't seem to enjoy the lavish lifestyle she had.

"What have I done to deserve this? I hate my life," she would often say.

My colleagues and I became increasingly concerned about her well-being as time went on.

She didn't enjoy classes alone and wanted to be with friends in a normal school.

But her parents insisted.

She seem tied to the life into which she had been born.

The job constantly surprised me

I met two types of parents in the job: Those who spent thousands of dollars on their children because they cared about them, and those who spent the money so that they didn't have to think about them.

I felt that many of the parents fell into the latter category.

Frequently, we had little, if any, contact with the parents, and we would usually deal with nannies or drivers instead.

It felt like many of the parents found you to be an eye-sore in their luxurious lives.

Once, I had to teach a lesson at a seaside villa in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, an exclusive area between Nice in the south of France and Monaco.

The home was on a private road, and I entered through a large automatic gate that was littered with security cameras.

The house was spread out over two floors, with a swimming pool, a fully-equipped gym, a sauna, and a steam room.

When I arrived, they told me that the kids, aged four and six, had not finished their personal training session and that I would have to wait outside in the street.

Eventually the nanny said she would find me somewhere to sit "out of sight," so I was hurried into a large store cupboard in the furthest corner of the house. The kids strolled in about an hour later.

Some tried to get their children out of Russia after the invasion began

When the war in Ukraine broke out, a number of families came to us looking to find school placements for their children either in the West or in the United Arab Emirates, where many wealthy Russians fled at the outbreak of the war.

There was one family with three young children who were looking to find schools in Dubai.

Speaking to us in perfect English on Zoom with a background that boasted enormous paintings and palatial pillars, they seemed polite, well-mannered, and bright.

We later discovered that the kids were the grandchildren of a senior Russian politician who had played a major role in starting the war in Ukraine.

The irony was not lost on us that some of those who had played a key part in helping Putin initiate his brutal, unprovoked invasion were now trying to help their children escape Russia.

The children often brought up politics and the war

The company we worked for had explicitly told us to avoid discussing politics with the pupils, as the government was cracking down on protestors, and it could have put us and our pupils in danger.

But the children often brought the topic up themselves, their comments ringing with the ideology they had likely absorbed at home.

"Ukraine is ours, after all," Alexei told me in one class just after the invasion began in February.

Ivan, referring to a picture of Putin, once said, "Oh, he's amazing! Don't you think he's amazing?"

"You should open an office in Kyiv. It's beautiful there," one parent also wryly said to me.

There were occasional breakthroughs

We taught many different pupils but only one really seemed to appreciate just how lucky they were.

Elizaveta, 15, frequently expressed her discontent with Putin's Russia.

"We're killing thousands of innocent Ukrainians. It's awful," she once said.

That week, she had been kicked out of school for dyeing her hair and had asked her parents to book some additional classes so that she didn't fall behind.

Her parents were looking to send her to an English private school that September.

"The best thing I can do now is leave Russia," she told me. "That's the last option I have. Perhaps from abroad, I might be able to do some good."

Elizaveta was an anomaly, and most of the time, you had to settle for smaller victories.

I distinctly remember telling our homeschooled pupils that my colleagues and I had decided to leave Russia.

Elena seemed like she could not have cared less.

But Alexei looked genuinely upset.

It was as though the prism through which he saw the world had been, if not broken, then at the very least a little scratched.

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