Nicolai Lilin, "Kolima" grew up in Low River, Transnistria, an unacknowledged republic of the former Soviet Union among a class of professional criminals who had been transported there from various places in Siberia in the 1930s. They were know as the Siberians or Urkas, and formed a closely knit society. His parents were Yuri and Lilya; he also had a mentor "Grandfather" Kuzga chosen by his father to give him additional guidance. They wore many tattoos, which had great significance, and Nicolai, who showed a talent fro drawing, decided when he was 12 to be a tattoo artist: he was mentored in this by "Grandfather" Lyosha. When he was 18, he was drafted into the Russian army and served as a saboteur in Chechnya. Fighting between rival criminal societies led to a breakdown of the Urkas. He later became a fisherman off Ireland, and then moved to Turin, Italy, where he runs a tattoo parlor.