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    Chukchi Autonomous Area (Chukotka)


Thousands of years ago during the Stone Age first people came to Chukotka. They were primitive hunters from Southern parts of Central and East Asia. At that time the tundra valleys of North-East Asia and Alaska were connected by a natural land bridge. As enormous ice masses of the last Great Glacial Epoch were melting and vast territories between the Chukotka peninsula and Alaska were flooded. Since then that territory has been covered with the waters of the Bering and the Chukchi seas.

Dozens of ancient camps were found by archaeologists. The earliest among these camps are Ananaiveem (about 8400 years ago) situated on the river that bears the same name, and Koolen IV (about 6 000 years ago) on Lake Koolen not far from the Uelen settlement. Archaeological discoveries show that ancient dwellers of continental Chukotka did not travel much because of the lack of transport means and the impossibility to replace their house with a warmer one in the cold conditions of the tundra. Sledges, draught deer and dogs appeared in Chukotka comparatively recently, and if hunting or fishing grounds were suddenly exhausted sometimes whole tribes died out as it happened with Yukagirs on the Omolon river when deer suddenly changed their usual migration ways. People became good at hunting and learned to live comfortably in conditions where others can hardly survive.

Chukotka was colonized by the Russian Empire in the seventeenth century, and with time American traders became active there (until the Cold War closed the border). Their lives changed significantly after 1917, when the Soviet Union was formed. Many Russians, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Armenians, and other nationalities migrated to Chukotka throughout the 20th century, until the indigenous population was reduced to less than 10% of the population by the 1980s.

By 1989, the population of Chukotka was up to about 160,000 people. Many of the non-natives came to work there because they could make so much more money than they could back in what they call the "mainland," that is, in the more temperate zones of Russia. You might compare this to the time when the Alaska oil pipeline was booming, and lots of people went there to work. In Chukotka, they could work in construction (building the socialist cities of the future), mining, administration, teaching, and in other support services. Many of these "Incomers" fell in love with Chukotka and its people - often marrying one of them - and became "locals" who adopted Chukotka as their permanent home.

In the 1990s, the collapse of the Soviet Union brought just as many changes to Chukotka as it did to the rest of Russia. It became no longer profitable to live and work there, and since life is felt by non-natives to be so much harder in the North, many of them began to abandon the region. The population has dropped by more than half since 1989 -- the 2002 Russian census showed the population to be down to about 58,000, and it has continued to drop since then.

Many more non-natives wanted to leave Chukotka, but they either could not get the money together to move, or they had no place to settle back in the "mainland," or both. The federal government has been developing programs to help people migrate out of Chukotka, and there are discussions of converting Chukotka -- and other regions of the Russian North -- into non-residential work zones.

Meanwhile, new people continue to arrive, mainly miners, construction engineers and entrepreneurs who stay temporarily to take advantage of new opportunities. While much of the population (especially those in the rural areas, who are mainly indigenous) are struggling to get by or falling into poverty, there are signs of wealth being flashed in Chukotka's cities. Recent arrivals from Moscow sport fur coats, drive new cars, and have apartments stocked with coveted Western electronics, such as VCRs and washing machines. A great deal has changed in Chukotka since the election of a new governor, Roman Abramovich, in 2001. The business oligarch and owner of Chelsea football club has spent over US$1 billion in the region on developing infrastructure and providing direct aid to the inhabitants. There are also reports, however, that Chukotka gave Abramovich's companySibneft tax breaks in excess of US$450 million.

Explore the northern coasts of Chukotka and Wrangel Island - Book tour "Across The Top Of The World"





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