Wind Blows Hard Across Iturup

Recently saw a compelling piece in Smartnews.ru.

Had not heard of the site, but its text and photos vividly convey the plight of the inhabitants of Russia’s unneeded military towns.

Military Settlement Gornyy on Iturup (photo: ovsiasha.livejournal.com)

Military Settlement Gornyy on Iturup (photo: ovsiasha.livejournal.com)

Five hundred residents of Gornyy, a military settlement on Iturup in the Kuril chain, have appealed for help to resettle them or fix their broken down homes.  Iturup is the northernmost of the four southern Kuril islands which Japan  claims as its Northern Territories.

Gornyy on Iturup Island

Gornyy on Iturup Island

Smartnews writes that the Ministry of Defense still controls Gornyy, but only in a formal sense.  In reality, it has “thrown away” these former colleagues.

Local authorities want to help, but don’t have a legal right.  They can’t spend money on territory still belonging to the MOD.  They aren’t allowed to replace drafty old windows in buildings under a regional initiative called “Warm Windows.”  The Sakhalin Oblast Duma has appealed to Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu on Gornyy’s behalf.

Forces deployed here, units of the 18th Machine Gun-Artillery Division, were withdrawn from the area, but residents remained with no one to maintain their apartment buildings.

A Building in Gornyy (photo:  ovsiasha.livejournal.com)

A Building in Gornyy (photo: ovsiasha.livejournal.com)

Those who could left.  Those not expecting an apartment elsewhere from the MOD, or with nowhere to go otherwise, mostly military pensioners and their families, stayed behind.  Those with jobs work mainly at nearby Burevestnik airfield, built when the Japanese still controlled Iturup.  They will probably become unemployed when a new airport opens on the Sea of Okhotsk side of the island in the not-too-distant future.

One retiree says the once thriving settlement is now like a cemetery.  Some buildings are completely empty.  Their broken windows look like eyes.  The wind blows through neighboring apartments.  He continues:

“. . . we don’t have street cleaning or trash collection.  But mainly, there’s no future.  It’s hard on the morale, it’s simply dying — the feeling that you served at the very edge of the country, protected it, and now no one needs you.”

Officials don’t even come to Gornyy because you can’t pass through it.  It’s the most remote populated place on Iturup.  It’s 50 km to the rayon center (Kurilsk) and the MOD owns the road and isn’t in a hurry to maintain it.

An oblast Duma deputy says:

“It’s not easy living there for the military, I have complaints from several:  the boys have left, there is no one to register them [as legal residents in internal passports], no one can get medical insurance, or even vote in elections.  So people live, although there is some infrastructure there — a school, kindergarten, stores, but they don’t want to live there.”

Local authorities do what they can, arranging traveling medical care for people in Gornyy.

But ultimately, Smartnews writes, neither Gornyy nor Sakhalin can decide anything, the MOD needs to make a final determination on its property and clarify the fate of those living in the settlement.

Some former military in Gornyy, however, still hope the MOD will deploy an S-400 unit near their settlement and revitalize it.

Gornyy is an extreme case, but still similar to that of thousands of other military towns as well as many neglected and forgotten civilian settlements.

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