Sunday, September 2, 2018

Deaths Outnumber Births in Pskov Oblast Three to One, Making Funerals Only Growth Industry

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 1 – Pskov Oblast, on the western edge of the Russian Federation adjoining adjoins Belarus, Estonia and Latvia, is dying out faster than any other Russian region, with deaths this year three times more numerous than births. Indeed, it has been referred to since the 1990s as “the capital of Russian depopulation.”

            In the current issue of Sobesednik, journalist Olga Kuznetsova reports that not only villages are dying out, leaving on the names, but so too are ancient and famous cities like Pskov and Velikiye Luki (

                The death of the oblast began after the war, local people say, when recruiters from neighboring Baltic republics came and offered higher-paying jobs than the local agricultural economy could.  But the decline has accelerated because of extreme poverty: there are few cars and housing projects. Instead, people travel on horseback from one wooden house to another. 

            The only “growth” industry is in funeral services. Most people die before they reach 60, never seeing a pension. And their numbers are large. This year, so far, 49 have died in a single small town. Last year, 70; and the year before, 100. But this decline reflects the fact that the town has declined in population by 3500 people over this period.

            Increasingly people are dying in their 40s and early 50s, local people say, often from heart disease and cancer. In the 1990s, even more died: the population was larger and many people had motorcycles and died in accidents.  In one year, residents recall, 400 people from the town died that way. 

            Lev Shlosberg, the head of the Pskov regional branch of Yabloko, says that all this reflects the fact that Pskov oblast doesn’t have its own economic base. As a result, 20 percent of its people are below the poverty line, “eat bad products and purchase cheap medicines. They have no money to support themselves at a normal level.”

            “More than 60 percent of the deaths are from circulatory and heart diseases,” but “the region doesn’t have a development strategy. And without a correct policy for redistributing federal funds it is impossible to change everything.” He notes that since 2011, Pskov oblast has been in “last place” among Russian regions in terms of government spending per capita.

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