Wednesday, December 28, 2022

‘We’re Not Part of Russia at All,’ Irkutsk Villagers Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 27 – Rural Russia when it attracts attention at all almost always is talked about in the most general terms, but in the last two weeks, the People of Baikal portal has featured two stories from a single 180 person village, Vershina Tutury, where time has stopped or even gone backward and where the people increasingly feel they’re not part of Russia at all.

            The two articles ( and paint a devastated portrait of an impoverished place without medical facilities, a post office, a police station, or basic services – and where the people are losing hope.

            The village was established in the 1920s during the Soviet effort to wipe out nomadism among the Evenks. But now, their descendants believe that their traditional way of life has been ruined and that the Russian authorities are to blame. If Moscow would only leave them alone, they’d manage, residents say; “We’re not part of Russia at all.”

            Putin’s war in Ukraine may put the final nails in the coffin of Vershina Tutury. On the one hand, Moscow’s offer of high pay to those who volunteer to serve there is attracting the last of the young men. Their parents often don’t want them to go but poverty is forcing everyone’s hand.

            And on the other, the war has ended outside investment in the town. Villagers were promised a new school but now those promises have been put off as money has been shifted to spending on the war and on annexed portions of Ukraine. The school is decaying, without adequate internet connections or even enough teachers.

            There are several danger signs: Far too little Evenk is being taught any more. Evenk parents want their children to learn English so they can leave. And many young people have given up on the idea of education altogether. We can always return to hunting and fishing, pupils say, hardly the restoration of tradition Vladimir Putin constantly talks about.

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