Cablegate: Taiga Native Village Krasniy Yar: Every Day Is a Crisis

R 150716Z DEC 08


E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) Summary. In the 1930's Stalin relocated many indigenous
minorities of Primorye and Khabarovskiy Krai to remote northern
areas. One such town is Krasniy Yar. The remote town is an
eleven hour drive from Vladivostok, the last four hours over a
rough snow road (zimniki) cut through the woods. CG and Pol FSN
traveled to Krasniy Yar on December 10-12 and stayed with an
indigenous family from the "Udege" minority. End Summary.


2. (U) The Udege people share the village of Krasniy Yar with
members of the Nenets, Chukchi, and Orochi indigenous people.
Traditionally, the Udege were hunters, but they were also
co-opted into growing opium for the Chinese as well as gathering
ginseng. They are included in the "Red Book" of indigenous
people of Russia, numbering about 2,000 total throughout the Far
East. In the "Peoples of the Red Book" publication it is noted
that "Udege habitats were incorporated into Russia in 1860, but
for a long time the real rulers were the Chinese traders of furs
and ginseng, to whom many Udeghes were hopelessly indebted.
Russian peasants began to settle in the Ussuri region sometime
after 1883, but this colonization did not much concern the
Udeges, who roamed deep in the forests. On the contrary,
according to the observations of many travellers of that time,
the Udeges' attitude towards the Russians was remarkably
friendly, since the Russians displaced the exploitative Chinese
traders. The Russian influence on Udege folk culture was also
less than that on other Amur peoples. The women's folk costume,
as well as the men's hunting garb and equipment, were relatively
well preserved."


3. (U) Only one village separates Krasniy Yar from Luchegorsk,
the nearest town at the end of the snow road 100 kilometers to
the south. Local residents remember well when the town was only
accessible by helicopter. With the snow road open in winter
they have access to goods and a means to communicate with the
outside world; however, the small village faces a host of
problems, some brought on by the road itself. Along with
poachers and city dwellers who deplete taiga resources in
summer, the road has brought forest fires and trash. The
unpaved road is also used in summer, but after spring rains it
becomes nearly impassable for weeks at a time. The Rayon
Administration, located in Luchegorsk, is responsible for road
maintenance, but locals say the administration does a poor job
of it. The village itself maintains some twenty to thirty
kilometers of the road using its own resources, but cannot
maintain the entire 100 kilometer stretch.

4. (U) On the way to Krasniy Yar we passed perhaps a half a
dozen other cars and several Kamaz trucks hauling logs using
double trailers. There is enough traffic from the outside world
to support eight small shops in the village. The store we
visited had room for a maximum of four shoppers at a time.
While Krasniy Yar's residents have access to satellite
television and exotic tropical fruit juices in their shops,
there is no internet and no cell phone service. The once-a-week
bus to Luchegorsk is the only means for Krasniy Yar residents to
receive advanced medical attention in rayon polyclinics.
Workers in the tiny, three-bed, Krasniy Yar medical clinic were
last paid in August, four months ago, and medical care is
extremely basic.

--------------------------------------------- -------

5. (U) There are few private vehicles, though many residents
own Buran or "Blizzard" snowmobiles, which cost over five
thousand USD. A snowmobile is more important for most residents
since the taiga is the source of life. We were shown sable and
squirrel pelts as well as handicrafts using local furs and wood.
Pelts these days fetch precious little, with the sable pelts,
about the size of a catcher's mitt, selling for only 40 or 50
USD and the squirrel for only fifty cents to a dollar a pelt.
Tiger bones and skins as well as bear paws are sold to the
Chinese by poachers, but that was one subject that was not
discussed openly in detail by locals.

6. (U) To supplement the local economy, USAID has provided seed
money for the handicraft business. Some local women are finding
a market for their hand sewn native souvenirs in Japan.
Vladimir Shirko, chair of the local community, described the
USAID project as the first program to have a real impact on the
community. Even with the USAID support though, one local woman
said the town was dying.


7. (U) Krasniy Yar is surrounded by birch, cedar, and pine
forest, but residents are prohibited from logging nearby. To
obtain firewood they are required to seek a permit 20 kilometers
away and log in a forest there, rather than in the surrounding
woods, which belongs to the "Tierney Les" logging concern. One
huge downed tree log might last a week as firewood for a local
home during winter. During this visit, the temperature was
minus 37C. Even with the cold, local residents believe winters
are generally getting warmer, disrupting hunting patterns and
disturbing the local ecosystem. There are still tigers, bears,
and wild pigs in the forest. Residents consider it a "sin"
however to kill a tiger, saying the hunter who does kill a tiger
will soon die himself.

--------------------------------------------- --------

8. (U) Shirko was open and direct about the town's challenges.
Although ethnically Ukrainian, he is a strong supporter of
preserving Udege culture and language. He said Krasniy Yar has
a population of 650 "on average," compared with some 800 people
in Soviet times. He said that for most residents, life has
become increasingly difficult. While the rich natural beauty of
the area is evident, our hosts complained that they could not
actively attract tourists because they needed a federal permit,
which has not been issued. Shirko is hoping to preserve the
hunter lifestyle of the Udege and other native people, but he
sees deforestation from big timber operations as a real threat.
The language is also dying out, and very few families speak the
Udege language at home.

9. (U) The local community, headed by Shirko, does its best to
support residents, especially pensioners, by providing meat and
other food products as well as firewood in winter. The
community has built 14 new wooden houses for locals during last
ten years. Shirko said that the community manages to purchase
fuel for the town's ancient generator, which supplies the town
with electrical power 20 hours per day.

10. (U) The town's biggest scandal is the state of its eighty
million ruble new schoolhouse. The schoolhouse was built just
two years ago by an outside contractor and already the roof
leaks and light fixtures have come crashing down in classrooms.
The school briefly had internet access but could not pay the
bills. Shirko is considering taking the contractor to court to
force the contractor to renovate the building. He is also
considering court action to preserve the local forest from
industrial timber operations as planned by the Tierny Les
company and other logging companies.

--------------------------------------------- ---------

11. (U) The town is also hoping to resurrect more Udege and
other native cultures but the "Dom Kulturi" closed 20 years ago
and the school director has elected not to include native
language in the curriculum. Given that there are no teachers
for chemistry, biology, mathematics, or English, it is perhaps
understandable that teachers are focusing solely on the other
two of the three "R's." Shirko lamented the school's decision,
saying "no language, no culture" although the school did put on
a display of traditional dance for the Consulate visitors.

12. (U) The other controversial issue was whether to allow an
orthodox church to open in Krasniy Yar. According to locals,
the church sent "a drunk" who failed to impress the local
population. The church was given a registration permit, but
there has been no progress towards building a church as the
local population made it clear that the pastor was not welcome.

13. (U) Vladimir Shirko is nostalgic for the Soviet days when
"they didn't touch our woods and the river was healthy." Now,
fishermen come from Khabarovsk in the summer and take hundreds
of kilos of fish, leaving few fish for the locals. Vladimir
said that thirty years ago no one froze to death, no one went
hungry and there was education and medical care for everyone.
Thirty percent of town residents are pensioners. The oldest
resident is 87. He spoke a mix of Udege and Russian and
appeared to be in good health when we met him in the local shop.

14. (U) Two small towns close by Krasniy Yar were Soviet
logging settlements. Since `perestroika', their residents have
been jobless, and survive mainly by poaching. Few of their
residents have the resources to move to another town for work.


15. (U) Most goods come from China, including fruits,
vegetables and clothing, but locals still find many of their
needs met from hunting, fishing, and local gardens. At our host
family home the dinner included wild mushrooms and fern from the
forest, and jam made from strawberries from their own garden.
The home was warm, but there was no running water and the
outhouse was as basic as it could be.


16. (U) Residents say they don't exactly feel forgotten. They
have made their case to federal and kray authorities for better
medical care, protection for and access to the local forest, and
money to renovate the school. But the answers they get from
central authorities are discouraging. They feel discriminated
against and are desperate for solutions. That they discussed
their problems so openly with foreigners making a brief visit
shows how determined they are to make their case to anyone
willing to listen. But there problems are complicated and date
back a long time. In the school lobby there are portraits of
various Russian leaders. President Medvedev has the most
prominent portrait, but nearby is a portrait of Stalin, the
"founder" of Krasniy Yar.

17. (U) We wondered if the town's overwhelming local problems
were compounded by global issues. Town Chief Vladimir Shirko
was asked if the tiny settlement was at all feeling the effects
of the global economic crisis. He laughed and said that in
Krasniy Yar, every day is a crisis. At the very least, the town
has a committed public servant trying to find ways for the town
to survive.


© Scoop Media

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