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Smirnov was born in 1953, in an area of Russia bordering the Pacific Ocean known as the Kamchatka Peninsula. His father was an army officer who moved his family from base to base throughout Russia. In his late teen years, Smirnov and his family settled in Moscow, where he went to work for the Ministry of Agriculture. In 1979, Smirnov began to take classes at the Moscow City Art College. He graduated from the art college in 1983 as class valedictorian, with a master's degree in art. His remarkable skill in church and cathedral renovation, led to a prestigious position as a restorer of aging and antique church icons and frescoes. Two years later, he began painting icons "a long-standing tradition among Russia's artists" and his work now graces several major churches throughout the country.