A letter from Evensk, Magadan Region

The ANSIPRA Secretariat received the following letters from Liliya Vukvukhay, the chairman of the district's association of Northern indigenous people of the Southern Evensk District, Magadan Region. With her kind permission, we reprint this letter here because it gives a representative impression of the living conditions in many indigenous villages of the Russian Far East. -- The Editor

Dear friends,

I received the fifth issue of ANSIPRA, thank you very much. I found out that the International Conference of Reindeer-Breeders would take place in Finland in June 2001.

My husband, Evgeniy Vukvukhay, participated in the 1st Conference, which took place in Norway. He came back strongly impressed by what he had seen: how reindeer-breeders lived and worked over there.

Reindeer breeding is in sharp decline in our region. The “Parenskiy” collective, for instance, where we used to work, had in the early 90’s 32,000 head of reindeer: it was one of the largest in the Magadan region. Today it has only 1,500 reindeer left, according to the latest count. The majority of reindeer-breeders is now unemployed.

While it may be true that there are many reasons for this situation, the fact of the matter remains that our reindeer-breeders lead very poor lives, since reindeer-breeding is for them a way of life. Food products are not supplied on a regular basis. There is also a shortage of tents, protective garments, and medications. That’s what life is like among the reindeer-breeders today in our country.

The district leaders may disagree and claim that they are taking care of the reindeer-breeders, while they themselves do not want to work, etc. But our folks have always been patient and diligent. I don’t think that anybody else would be willing to work in the extreme conditions of the tundra, regardless of how much they got paid. Our herdsmen get a miserable salary, sometimes only a thousand rubles ($1=29 rubles).

The bottom line is that without government support, reindeer breeding will never return to the level, which it had in 1990s.

My mother, Evdokiya Stepanovna Sherbakova, is 65 years old. She has led a difficult life: she tended the deer and worked as a stoker in the boiler-room. In order to help her fellow-villagers, she established a collective, “Dyunet,” back in 1999. She spent all her retirement money on registration and other paperwork, shooting licenses, renting gear and weapons. You really can’t make a single step these days if you don’t have enough money in your pocket. In our region, there are many registered collectives of this kind (“Producing Subject of the Indigenous Population”), but nobody can work because of financial reasons.

At present, I work in the Training Center. I teach decorative and applied arts. Students in this boarding school are children of the reindeer-breeders from faraway villages in the region. Girls enjoy working in our classes. I try to explain to them that our tradition and art are related to the deer. Our life is inseparable from the deer, and if we fail to preserve all that, we will loose everything.

By training, I am, like Evgeniy, a veterinary assistant and zoologist. It would be really wonderful to meet you and take part in the proceedings of the Reindeer-breeders’ Conference, as well as to see the masters of the tundra. Women cannot live without the tundra! But without money, we can’t get anywhere, so we have to stay here.

I wish you much success and growth, happiness and health!

Respectfully yours,
Liliya Vukvukhay
25 April 2001, Evensk