The playful stereotype about bears wandering the streets of Russian towns is said to be deeply ingrained in people who have never even set foot in the country. Although it is far from the truth, every now and again these situations do happen.

“Bears were actually walking about during winter quite recently in my town of Strezhevoy,” explained Ekaterina Bocharova, one of the finalists in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ mascot design competition, in an interview with “They came out of the woods and walked around the streets. It was almost like those jokes you hear about Russia abroad. But believe me, this is very rare.” 

Ekaterina had to travel the longest distance to reach Moscow for the official ceremony held at the start of the final stage of the mascot campaign. She is representing Tomsk State University and lives 3500 km away from the Russian capital.

Ekaterina was born in one of the country's smallest towns – Kedrovy in Western Siberia. According to statistics from 2015, only 2129 people live in the town and Kedrovy sits in 1104th place out of 1114 Russian towns and cities (not including villages and hamlets).

“It's so tiny that you won't even find it on a map,” Ekaterina reveals. “My parents are oil workers and you get a lot of oil field development in this region. People mainly work in oil where I am from. I moved to a slightly bigger town – Strezhevoy – in my second year of primary school, but even that is still pretty small with a population of just over 40,000 people.”

Ekaterina began to show a creative streak right from an early age: “I've drawn for as long as I can remember, starting from when I was very little. I particularly love drawing cartoon characters, cats and dogs above all. It's what I’m best at. I went to art school for my secondary level education and then got in to Tomsk State University to make a career out of my creativity.”

It was at the graphic design department at university where Ekaterina found out about the mascot-design competition. “When I found out about the competition, I realised that it was an excellent opportunity to do something not only for myself but for the wider public as well. I decided that a wolf would be perfect for the mascot. I really love dogs and I have an Airedale terrier called Tyson. He was my inspiration.”

Ekaterina is passionate about football and supports Real Madrid. However, this competition for her was primarily a chance to put herself in the shop window in her dream profession. “If my design wins, then everybody will hear about me. It will give me confidence that I made the right choice of career and I will continue to take part in competitions.

“It will be a huge surprise for everybody. Of course, our teachers advised us to sign up for the competition, but they didn't want to give us false hope. Nobody thought one of us could win. They don't know yet and many people will be surprised that I made it into the final – my mum cried when I told her. Naturally, my parents are extremely proud.”

The campaign to select the Official Mascot for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ kick-started in April 2015. During the first stage of the campaign, young fans chose ten characters to be in the running for the Official Mascot: An Amur tiger, Bogatyr (a legendary medieval Russian figure), a wolf, a Far Eastern leopard, a firebird, an alien, a cosmonaut, a cat, a bear and a robot. They were brought to life by the efforts of Russian design students in the second stage of the campaign, and three finalists were selected by a specially appointed jury panel.

Will the fairytale continue for Ekaterina from the tiny Siberian town? We'll find out in autumn 2016 when her wolf, a tiger and a cat will be presented to the public in their final designs for a countrywide vote to decide the Russia 2018 mascot.