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Misha Maslennikov

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Chukotka

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CHUKOTKA IS A LAND OF LONELINESS

        Chukotka has so much sheer space, uninhabited and inaccessible, that itís as if no one needs you but yourself. However, the state needs Russian travelers, diverse specialists, the military, and seamen, who have put down roots in Chukotka for generations already. Sent there by the state some time ago, they now dream of returning to the "mainland". The Chukchi, a critically endangered minority people, may also want to go to the mainland, but they cannot leave their ancestors, whose memory they traditionally revere, and this matters more than any bureaucratic subsidies. Clergymen and Orthodox believers are another thing: in these sparsely, sporadically populated locales, those who pray are few and far between, and it seems that God is the only one aware that above all these people need themselves. Nevertheless the greatest and most prominent feature of life in Chukotka is necessity. Relatives and friends, acquaintances and colleagues, go visiting each other, across the street, from one entranceway to another of the same half-empty, half-ruined buildings built half a century ago. All around are empty streets, with the empty eye-sockets of windows, often bereft of glass, and empty abandoned lots. But here and there a light shines, and here people live, and work. And while they might not need you, with your camera and your casual interest, you need them all, without exception.
        Where is the paradox? In the fact that you have been gazing upon the boundless ocean, the majestic hills and the distant stony horizon somewhat longer than a tourist, a seasonal worker, or a foreign resident agent. You remember the way you rubbed shoulders with the sea hunter, the old huntsman and the fisherman, the harbor master and the seacook, the simple Chukcha boy or the priest, perhaps a monk. Are you starting to understand something? You are becoming aware that without people Chukotka is dead, and that it is looking for you, and waiting for you, and that it needs you.

Misha Maslennikov