Photographer and Teacher Sergey Medvedchikov is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography. From the project ‘The land of Vasyugania’. To see Sergey’s body of work, click on any image.
Vasyugan swamp is one of the largest wetlands in the world, with total area of over 53,000 square kilometers. It extends 550 km from west to east and 270km from south to north spreading mainly over the territory of Tomsk region (partially over Novosibirsk, Omsk and Tyumen regions) and, as scientists say, it continues to grow. The swamp is located on the territory of Vasyugan plains along the river Vasyugan. This miracle of nature has enormous reserves of peat, which is known to serve as a filter to purify the air. Many Siberian rivers take their origin here, and there are thousands of big and small lakes.
Vasyugan swamp is located far away from human streams and trails. Part of the population living on the territory of swamps, and on adjacent lands, is engaged in hunting and fishing, gathering berries and mushrooms and involved in farming. But most people are related to oil and gas industry, as there are many companies producing oil and gas, in numerous fields. On the one hand – it gives people the opportunity to earn good money by Russian standards, and live quite prosperous compared with the inhabitants of some other regions of the country. On the other hand, the industrial production of hydrocarbons causes irreparable harm to the flora and fauna of the region. Another major environmental hazard is caused by spent stages of spacecrafts, taking off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which, under an agreement with Kazakhstan, fall just within Vasyugan swamp.
Since ancient times, there lived the representatives of indigenous peoples: the Khants, the Selkups and the Evenks, who were collectively called the Ostiaks by Russian pioneers .
Some residents settled here during Stalin’s repressions, when they or their parents were deported to Vasyugan during tragic times for the country. It was quite an obvious choice of the Stalinist dictatorship, as this region had been known as a place of exile since the days of the Regal Russia. The period of the thirties of XX century brought a lot of human misery and sufferings to this region. Barges of NKVD, loaded with thousands of special settlers (people who were expelled by Stalin’s regime from their places of residence, often without any judgment, mainly on national or social grounds), floating along the river Vasyugan, landed people in rotation on the right and left banks every five kilometers. The newcomers were allowed to take only the bare necessities: clothes, tools, minimum supplies. Thereby people founded the settlements in the places of landing. Most of them had no experience of survival in taiga, where there wasn’t a soul for hundreds of miles away. Great many people died from diseases, cold and hunger, there were even cases of cannibalism. They had to adapt themselves and survive in very harsh conditions of the new life. During these difficult times the native population of these places provided exiles with invaluable help, supplying them with food and teaching the basic ways of feeding themselves, – hunting, fishing, gathering berries and mushrooms. Thus the natives started living side by side with the arriving exiles in some cases creating mixed marriages with them.
In the second half of XX century, while the development of new oil fields was on, a lot of qualified professionals came here: engineers, geologists, teachers, etc. As a result there were oil villages settled, with the population of 3000 – 5000 people. People were making huge money and had the opportunity to travel and visit relatives in other cities, relax at the resorts of the former Soviet Union, and even go to other socialist countries. Air service between the settlements, as well as the nearest major towns was intensive, infrastructure was being developed. Schools, kindergartens, welfare enterprises, clubs and cinemas were growing rapidly. As eyewitnesses say: “Life was burning”.
But gradually, starting with the period of “perestroika” the locals, because of either lack of work or severe climate, started to leave these places, moving to Tomsk and other Russian southward. Many people, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, migrated to the lands of their ancestors: Germany, Poland, Israel, Estonia and other countries. Nowadays the population in many villages is being decreased significantly and many settlements have already disappeared.
P.S. I express my sincere appreciation to T. Martynova, V. Zarubina, N. and A. Bazilevsky, V. Freund and many other people for their support in organizing the trips, sharing shelter, hospitality and warmth of your hearts.
All images 2008-2009 and text © Sergey Medvedchikov
By Sergey Medvedchikov