Monday, August 15, 2016

When Even Petrozavodsk is Far Away – the Death of a Karelian Region

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 15 – The Loukhi region of Karelia is dying, a native Karelian, the grandson of a Finn who is married to a Ukrainian, says. There is no work, there are no prospects, the population is aging, becoming more alcoholic, and declining in number. Indeed, he says, the only enterprises that have opened in Putin’s time are Internet stores.

            Identified as Pavel by Kasparov portal writer Maksim Sobeski who says he has changed the name to protect his source, the Karelian provides a deeply disturbing picture of a portion of the Russian Federation foreigners almost never see and even Russians have only the most cloudy and distorted ideas about (

            Sobeski notes that “Loukhi arose as a railway station on the line connecting to Murmansk. Then after the revolution, mines and lumber processing industry opened, and people came for the subsidized wages. They didn’t live badly,” but then everything collapsed in the 1990s. The mines were flooded and the wood was sent to Finland rather than processed there.

            Residents are driven to stealing what they can. Not long along, they stole 17 kilometers of power line, and now whenever anyone works on the power line, there have to be as many guards as workers to keep that from being repeated.  And those with jobs only have them if they are willing to travel enormous distances, Pavel says.

            And such arrangements are completely stupid: “Our  brigade from Loukhi is sent to clean the road in Olonets 700 kilometrs away, while people from Petersburg come to us” or even further away.  At least the pay is better than nothing. And at present, “railroads and highways are “one of the few sectors which are generously financed in Karelia from the budget.”

            One of the saddest aspects of life is that “the people in Loukhi live without roots.  There are very few Karels any more; most residents come from elsewhere hoping for big salaries and low cost homes. But the salaries almost completely have disappeared, and house prices are so low that no one can sell a house and move elsewhere. Trapped, they turn to alcohol.

            “Many Karels were russified long ago,” Pavel says. “After the war, Karelia was filled up with ethnic Russians. Before that, many Karels in the most rural places didn’t know that there was a USSR and that a Soviet-Finnish war had happened. Some had heard that a Karelian republic had been proclaimed, and they thought they lived in it.”

            Pavel notes that his grandfather was “a Finnish soldier,” something that was concealed from his father and from him for a long time.”  Both tried to locate relatives in Finland in the 1990s but were unsuccessful. They hoped to be “repatriated to Finland” because there people can live in dignity.

            Since 2000, the population of Loukhi has fallen from 20,000 to 12,000; and it will continue to fall. Those who can find work elsewhere will leave, and the old will die.  But moving out is hard because housing prices are so low. With what you get, Pavel says, you can’t have a roof over your head even in Petrozavodsk.

            At some point in the future, he concludes, he “together with his wife and children will leave Loukhi forever,” possibly gaining the chance to see places like Petersburg – which he visited once – or Vologda oblast – where he worked or even happily to spend time with his wife’s relatives “in sunny Ukraine.”

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