Joensuu native Yrjö Repo began his career at Imatran Voima in 1976. The first unit of the Loviisa nuclear power plant had just been completed and electricity production was launched in cooperation with a Soviet supplier. The contribution made by interpreters was absolutely essential. The partners shared no language, no one spoke English, and all of the worksite meetings and planning were conducted in Finnish and Russian. It took several years to commission the units, and Loviisa 2 began operating in 1980.

President Urho Kekkonen and Prime Minister Alexey Kosygin of the Soviet Union inaugurated the new nuclear power plant. Repo did not meet the two men personally, because some of his group had to work despite the VIP visit.

“Planning of the third unit at Loviisa went on for several years with the Soviets. However, the unit was never actually built. The accident at Chernobyl and increased opposition to nuclear power probably had an impact on political decision-making,” comments Repo.

Working in the Soviet Union

After completion of the Loviisa plant, the Imatran Voima headquarters in Helsinki became Repo’s workplace.

“Back in the 1980s and 1990s, I spent a lot of days working in the Soviet Union – in Moscow and the former Leningrad,” says Repo.

“My wife and I liked to joke that seeing each other only on weekends for the first three years of our marriage kept our relationship healthy.”

Although Repo’s main duties involved serving as a translator, he also led trips and helped people understand Russian customs and social rules.

“I took care of the group. My travel companions asked for advice on how to greet their hosts or suitable ways to open a conversation.”

“We worked long days, and discussions often continued at the dinner table after working hours. I ate whenever I could while simultaneously interpreting conversations that became increasingly lively as the hour grew later.”

Solid cooperation between two countries

Although the Soviet Union became Russia and the name of Repo’s employer became Fortum, cooperation with the Russians and business trips to Russia continued. Yrjö Repo was there when the Russians participated in delivering the Joensuu power plant in 1986. Later assignments included working with a power plant that the Finns delivered to the St Petersburg region in the late 1990s.

Yrjö Repo began working for Fingrid as a business assistant in 2003.

“It feels like my work has become more stable in recent years, perhaps because the electricity business has found its own way of functioning. The market operators have also remained the same in Finland and in Russia, we have valid agreements and the systems work. Earlier on, we never knew where our job might take us in the evening.”

Repo’s duties still include interpreting, translation and serving as a contact person. Supporting cooperation between the St Petersburg power system in Northwest Russia and Fingrid’s power system centres is a central part of his current duties.

Yrjö Repo keeps up with events in Finland’s neighbouring country via Russian newspapers and news websites. A good understanding of the culture is essential to avoid bringing up volatile issues at meetings.

“Sports, and ice hockey in particular, is always a safe topic with Russians,” advises Repo. He says that Russians really aren’t all that different from Finns in terms of business collaboration. They are sincere and easy to talk to.

“For example, Russians are more like Finns than the Swedish people are. In fact, Russians and Finns actually share some similarities in terms of their nature.” •