Staunton, Nov. 30 – The Russian countryside has been “the victim of an unending series of experiments from collectivization [under Stalin] to optimization [under] Putin,” film maker Denis Bevs says. And as a result, tens of thousands of villages have become ghost towns overgrown with weeds.
What is remarkable is that many Russians who now live in cities retain warm memories of the villages where they and their ancestor live. Some are working to erect monuments where those homes once were, and ever more are choosing to be buried not in urban cemeteries but in those of villages which no longer exist (sibreal.org/a/ischeznuvshie-russkaya-derevnya-ot-kollektivizacii-do-optimizacii/31577043.html).
“Today,” Bevs says, “no one can say exactly how many rural settlements and villages have disappeared from the maps of the RSFSR and Russian Federation over the last 50 years.” Soviet censuses did not count villages, and Russian ones typically list as existing even if there are no people there anymore.
The 2010 census reported that there were 153,000 rural settlements and villages, but of these, Moscow admitted, 20,000 had no people in them. They are ghost towns, overgrown with weeds, and their number has only grown given Vladimir Putin’s “optimization” program which has closed post offices, schools, and stores in many of htem.
Russian historian Oleg Gorbachev says that “the state has always treated the village as an inexhaustible source of resources” for its needs. Indeed, “modernization of the economy at the expense of the village is our national trend.” But the resources are running out as the villages and rural settlements are dying or already dead.
“Of many villages today nothing remains. There is no designation of them on present-day maps, and there is no information about them on the Internet. Even the foundations have disappeared … and it is becoming ever more difficult to find places which once existed,” Bevs says. What is interesting is that many urban Russians are now deciding to be buried there.
Since the beginning of perestroika, the film maker continues, more than 20,000 villages have officially died, and another 20,000 are in fact ghost towns in which no one lives but which the authorities continue to act as if they exist. Many more are on the brink of destruction and will disappear from the map in the future.
According to Gorbachev, “we are losing the country. Now, we do not understand what is being done to us not only in distant places beyond the Arctic circle but even in central Russia. There is land, but it is covered with weeds. And another historian, Yakov Yakovlev agrees but hopes that some recovery will be possible.
There are still Russians who “want to live on and work their own land … They want to feed their children normal and natural products and not some unknown fruits and vegetables from the supermarket.” If the state would provide only a little help, they would stay and fight for the future of rural Russia.
Tragically, the government shows no sign of recognizing such a need, and the people themselves are not in many cases in a position to do anything themselves.