Russia and the Environment

Traditional Medicine in Russia
Posted by: , December 15, 2011, 8:57 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized


What is Traditional Medicine?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines traditional medicine as, “the sum total of knowledge, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures that are used to maintain health, as well as to prevent, diagnose, improve or treat physical and mental illness.”  Any form of folkloric or alternative medicine will be categorized as a facet of traditional medicine in this paper, and
Russia has a very active history of practicing this sort of complementary healthcare (World Health Organization).

Herbal components common in traditional medicine

The Origins of Traditional Medicine in Russia

Russia’s treatment methods are extremely diverse because of the wide variety of different ethnicities that inhabit the country.  Although a vast
majority of its citizens reside in the urban centers in the Western area, a myriad of minority factions live throughout the rest of the country that have been there almost as long as the duration of human existence.  These groups include the tartars in the Volga region, the people living in the
North Caucus Mountains, Siberian groups, and citizens of what is now the Ukraine and Belarus (  This range of territories and different peoples in what is now Russia experienced a significant disparity in climate and environment.  Convalescents of different regions required specific care unique to the conditions in which they were living.  These different groups developed natural remedies through systematic experimentation of the healing properties of plants, which was perpetuated by the abundance of different plant species in Russia.  Their research began to yield beneficial results, and this knowledge was passed down throughout
generations to create the foundation of folk medicine. (World Health Organization)

Various Methods of Traditional Medicine

Different modes of practicing traditional medicine have grown expansive in Russia.  Although it has such rich natural resources ideal for making herbal remedies and a strong foundation for traditional medicine, it has also borrowed techniques from other cultures.  Russian imperialism and religious propagation throughout Asia and Europe exposed practitioners to new approaches to medicine (  The ancient practice of acupuncture, which is characterized by stimulating specific regions of the body through the insertion of a needle, came to Russia from China.  Allegedly this method developed when a soldier complained of a stiff shoulder, but could not find a cure to alleviate his pain.  It wasn’t until he was pierced by an arrow in his leg that the pain subsided and the soldier quickly explained what happened to a physician, who began experimenting with the technique. (

Acupuncture disseminated throughout Asia as traveling scholars and physicians made their way throughout the continent.  India
included it in its own traditional medicine techniques, which is collectively known as Ayurveda.  Ayurveda also made its way to Russia through the spread of Buddhism.  It is founded on the tenants of balance and harmony between three elements, or humors: wind (air and space), bile (water and fire), and phlegm (water and earth).  According to Ayurveda, which has a strong Buddhist foundation, these three humors must be in perfect balance in order to be in perfect health.  In order to achieve this balance, Ayurveda preaches the practices of yoga, exercise, and meditation.  It also stresses the importance of good hygiene, and relies on plant based medicine mixed with minerals or metals.  However, the safety of the metal addition to herbal remedies has been called to attention, as heavy metal poisoning is very deleterious.  The validity of this concern has not been
definitely confirmed. (

Another common practice in Russia is cupping.  It is an ancient form of bloodletting that has been seen all over the world.  A practitioner makes an incision on the patient and places a cup over the wound, which creates enough pressure to extract blood.  In Russia, it was believed that the cold and dampness could make one ill, and therefore they practiced a modified version of this method. They would heat up glass cups before placing it on the individual, andmove it in a circular motion in order to stimulate circulation in the body.  It is believed to cure a range of ailments, including colds, muscle spasms, the flu, bronchitis, and even menstrual cramps (


The Importance of Traditional Medicine

Russia’s prevalent use of traditional medicine as a means of healthcare has been particularly helpful given the decline in their medical systems following the fall of the Soviet Union.  The country had always taken healthcare very seriously, and medical attention was readily available to its
citizens essentially free of cost.  However, the system was underfunded and unable to maintain supplies.  As a result, many hospitals
were ill equipped and lacked basic necessities, such as running water.  By the early 1990s, infant and female mortality had increased, as well as the prevalence of infectious diseases, and the life expectancy decreased.  Environmental factors such as air pollution and contamination contributed to the high risk of becoming ill, and the over-crowded conditions led to the propagation of diseases.  Preventable diseases were infecting and
killing people at epidemic levels, and vaccinations were limited.  However, even if there had been an abundance of inoculations, many citizens refused to take them on the idea that they only exacerbated one’s poor health. (

Russian citizens began taking command of their own health through traditional medicine, and even grow their own remedies in the gardens of their dachas.   The Russian government legalized the use of complementary forms of treatment methods, and the Ministry of Health and Social Development recognized a few of these techniques as legitimate medical practices.  Not all forms of traditional medicine will be recongized, despite their legality, because medical science is rooted in standardization, so as to use treatments that have a universal application that any trained physician can administer.  However, traditional medicine is much more individual, in terms of both the patient and the practitioner.  The two medical philosophies are practiced in conjuction in Russia, which has one of the highest amounts of practicing traditional medicine doctors in the world.

Work Cited




Comments Off on Traditional Medicine in Russia

Environmental Activism in Russia
Posted by: , December 15, 2011, 1:39 pm
Filed under: Current Events,Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,



During the Soviet period, the public sphere was largely controlled by the state, due to state control of resources.  Autonomous social action was prohibited.  Most public institutions and organizations were overtaken by state-sponsored organizations (youth organizations, party organizations, trade unions).  However, some semi-autonomous public organizations remained in the environmental sphere.  Due to the necessity for unbiased scientific research to create sound policies, natural scientists made up a separate role of “scientific public opinion” in politics.


Generally, Soviet law favored environmental protection, however natural resources were viewed only as fuel for industrialization.  Scientific research was frequently ignored in the development of state projects.  Another element of Soviet environmental policy was that resource use and development were evaluated by output quotas as opposed to measures of efficiency.[1]  By and large, citizens were little aware of environmental issues due to the secret nation of government actions and projects. [3]


Initially, environmental protection movements were centered in the All-Russian Society for Nature Protection (VOOP).  Later, this shifted to the Geographical Society based in Moscow, as well as the Moscow Society of Naturalists (MOIP).  Finally, the movement was based in student movements called Druzhina (student brigades for nature protection), student brigades based out of universities.

Druzhina member

VOOP and MOIP can be characterized as organizations operating semi-autonomously from state control.  However, the Druzhina movement must be characterized as a more grass-roots style organization.  It began as an initiative of MOIP in the 1960s, and by the 1980s included roughly 5000 members.  They worked to establish preserves of land, and conducted environmental inspections and monitoring, as well as anti-poaching campaigns. Other important players included the Soviet Academy of Sciences, and Komsomol.


Following the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 (see post on Effects of Chernobyl), Gorbachev’s political reforms allowed public debate and citizen involvement in political reform, as well as allowing citizens to organize groups to address political issues.  This led in a rise in environmentalist activity, including petitioning, and demonstrations.  The halt of construction on many nuclear reactors, hydroelectric power stations and gas pipelines are attributed to these actions.


Environmental activism peaked in the period between 1989 and 1991, massively declining with the collapse of the Soviet Union.  The Yeltsin administration brought political support to environmentalism, however the disorganization of policymaking, and Yeltsin’s resignation in 1999 prevented any real results.  Under the Putin presidency social organizations were discouraged, while economic activity was encouraged, especially through the extraction of natural resources.  This has created a particularly unfriendly environment for social activism. [1]


Contemporary Activism


Contemporary activism in Russia occurs in three main forms: Civic, or grassroots, sponsorship by other groups, and through labor unions


Collaboration between movements is especially common in Russia, specifically in the role of fascist and anti-fascist groups

associated around right and left-wing political issues respectively. [13] [14]

Antifascist demonstrator


Environmental activism can be categorized into three main types: conservationism, reform environmentalism, and social environmentalism.  Conservationism is argued as the earliest form, and is usually enacted through government reform.  Reform environmentalism is based on scientific and legal approaches, with the purpose of encouraging the state to adopt environmentalist policies, and to hold government and corporate actors responsible for environmental consequences.  This is representative of large NGOs.  Social environmentalism in contrast, is non-institutional.  This type places responsibility for environmental and social issues on both governmental and economic systems.  This type is more representative of populist and grassroots groups. [4]


Environmental groups can be categorized into three groups.


Grassroots Professionalized Government affiliate
Projects *Environmental education and teacher support*Local environmental issues*Eco-spirituality *Biodiversity conservation*NGO support *Environmental enforcement*Biodiversity conservation*Environmental education*Green politics
Tactics *Contact with individuals*Disseminate information*Lobby government *Lobby the government*Disseminate information*Scientific research and monitoring*Cooperate on international projects*Publishing *Use bureaucratic channels*Scientific research and monitoring*Lobby the government*Contact with individuals
Partners *Local educational and cultural institutions *International donors and partners *Government agencies and bureaucrats


Some scholars argue that due to the current political climate, grassroots organizations are unable to lobby government, and that government affiliates do not in fact implement green politics.  Furthermore, that professionalized organizations (such as WWF-Russia, Greenpeace-Russia or the Socio-Ecological Union) are truly grassroots projects run under the umbrella of a professionalized name. [2]

Professional groups have also been established funded with government monies.  For example, Moscow group Ecological International has been established as an international fund for protection of the ozone layer.  However, the Ministry of Defense, and an industrial association support it financially. [3]

Many of the larger organizations for environmental protection are in fact foreign or global.  WWF, Greenpeace, The National Geographic Society, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, as well as international corporations such as Exxon Corporation provide grants for environmental issues.  [3]


Civic activist movements in Russia owe their success to larger political conflicts.  The most successful campaigns have been targeted localized actions that have capitalized on existing conflicts within larger power structures.  In the case of rerouting a pipeline near Lake Baikal, as well as with ongoing protests surrounding the Khimki forest, grassroots organization and mass mobilization has been coupled with support from elite groups.  As well as political repression, the political apathy and distrust of citizens is cited as the primary obstacle to civil activism. [5]


Key Issues:


Khimki Forest (see post on Khimki Forest, and Deforestation)


Rechnik Dacha Village

Protestors and police clash at Rechnik


A dacha village located west of Moscow in the KRylatskoye region covering an area of 20 hectares.[6]  Founded in 1950, part of its territory was included in 1998

in the conservation area of Moskvoretsky park.  In a conflict over the legality of the village, the buildings were condemned to demolition.  Protests of residents resulted in a series of clashes with police. [7]  As of December 1, 2011 demolition had been halted but may resume. [8]


Lake Baikal


Lake Baikal is the oldest and deepest lake in the world, located in southern Siberia.  Construction of a paper mill near the lake was planned in 1954, and protested in 1957.  Pollution from the plant affects both the ecosystem of the lake, air quality around the plant, and the water quality of residents.  To this day, a debate continues on the continuation of the plant. [9]  Protests and rallies have been held across Russia against the reopening of the Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill. [10]

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

A coalition of environmental organizations has been formed to halt pollution from the plant, and create an alternative and ecologically friendly industry in Baikalsk including WWF Russia (Moscow), Baikal Environmental Wave (Irkutsk), Greenpeace Russia (Moscow), Movement of Civil Initiatives (St. Petersburg), The MSU Conservation Brigade (Moscow), Green Wave (St. Petersburg), The Socio-Ecological Union (Moscow), Biodiversity Conservation Center (Moscow), and Center of Expertise “ECOM” (St. Petersburg) [11]  Despite public outcry, production was scheduled to resume at the end of February 2010. [12]


Works Cited


[1] Henry, Laura Red to Green: Environmental Activism in Post-Soviet Russia


[2] Yanitsky, Oleg Review of “Red to Green: Environmental Activism in Post-Soviet Russia” Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews


[3] Switzer, Jacqueline Vaughn Environmental Activism: A Reference Handbook


[4] Dolutskaya, Sofia Environmental Activists as Agents of Social Democratization: A Historical Comparison of Russia and Mexico…/D_Dolutskaya_Sofia_a_200912.pdf?…1


[5] Nikitin, Vadim The New Civic Activism in Russia, The Nation



















Comments Off on Environmental Activism in Russia

Air Pollution in Russia
Posted by: , December 7, 2011, 9:48 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags:

Background information

Using data from the Russian Weather Service, it has been estimated that approximately 15 to 17 percent of all premature deaths in Russia “might be caused by air pollution” (Kazazyan and Reshetin). According to this estimate, 219,000 – 233,000 people die each year prematurely due to unhealthy air. Approximately 2,000 – 4,000 people annually have cancer due to “carcinogens present in the atmosphere” (Kazazyan and Reshetin). According to some estimates, more Russians die from air pollution than from tuberculosis or traffic accidents (Golub and Strukova).

Pollution from factories has been detected in the air, soil, drinking water (due to acid rain), and cows’ milk (Aksel et. al.). Of ten Russian cities examined, air pollution levels increased in all ten cities from 1993 to 1998 (Kazazyan and Reshetin). It has been suggested that this increase in pollution was due to an increase in private vehicle ownership (Cherp et. al.) Residents living in Novosibirsk, Vladimir, Novgorod and Moscow are at most risk for developing cancer from air pollution (Kazazyan and Reshetin). In 1991, the deputy of the Soviet Ministry of Health claimed that 125 cities had higher levels of pollution than permissible by law (Feshback and Friendly).

In 2002, the Russian government took steps to “start environmental management reform” focused on air pollution. In 2004, the Russian government adopted official guiding principles for addressing the negative effects caused by air pollution (Golub and Strukova). In the image below, you can see various levels of air pollution in Moscow in 2008. The map was created by the Russian International News Agency (“RIA Novosti”). The green indicates areas with healthy air, orange indicates areas with medium levels of air pollution, and red indicates areas in the city where the air is unhealthy.

Air Pollution in Moscow in 2008 (Source: RIA Novosti)


Evolution of Pollution

During Soviet times, the largest source of air pollution came from industrial sources. As the Soviet Union developed, inefficient and pollution-heavy machinery was not always replaced. One of the largest sources of air pollution came from the gas refinery industry (Europa Publications Limited). The pollution from these factories affected those citizens that lived closest to the industrial facilities. For example, bronchial asthma increased sevenfold from 1949 to 1981 in Moscow (Feshback and Friendly). Even though economic liberalization experienced by post-communities countries has been thought to spur the use of clean technology polluting industries, this did not occur in most industrial sectors in Russia (Cherp et. al.).

Another type of air pollution that began to concern many Soviet citizens during the 1990s was radiation from nuclear facilities. In 1986, the nuclear submarine Komsomolets caught on fire and sunk in the Barents Sea (Hønneland and Jørgensen). The public grew increasingly concerned about the safety and reliability of nuclear energy after the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl in 1986. For more information about the health effects of nuclear radiation, please see Nealy’s article about Chernobyl below.  

 Common Pollutants in Russia

Although the majority of air pollution in Russia is due to industrial processes, benzene has been found  in large quantities in areas with high levels of cigarette smokers. According to the Kazazyan and Reshetin, benzene has been found to cause approximately 66.03 percent of air pollution related cancers in ten cities examined. Benzene is produced as a byproduct of burning coal, oil and tobacco smoke (US EPA (a)).

The second most abundant pollutant in the ten Russian cities examined is chromium (VI) causing approximately 16.59 of air pollution related cancers in the ten cities researched (Kazazyan and Rehetin). Chromium is a byproduct of steel and cement production, chrome plating, and the manufacture of dyes and pigments. For example, chromium yellow was originally used to paint school buses. Due to the prevalence of chromium in major industrial processes, humans are exposed to chromium through daily activities such as breathing, eating, and drinking water. In areas where chromium pollution is prevalent, humans may experience abdominal pain and vomiting. Chromium is a known carcinogen and has been directly linked to lung cancer. Research also suggests that chromium may also be responsible for complications during pregnancy (US EPA (b)).

The third most prevalent air pollutant in the study completed by Kazazyan and Rehetin was formaldehyde. Although it only consists of 12.96 percent of air pollution related cancer in the ten cities examined, formaldehyde is inhaled in large quantities daily. Even though trace quantities of formaldehyde is found naturally in the outdoors, it is produced by humans in large quantities due to cigarette smoking, use of gas stoves, and manufacturing of plywood . Formaldehyde has been found to cause watery eyes, nausea, skin rashes, and may cause cancer (US EPA (c)). Large sources of formaldehyde may be coming from Russia’s timber-processing and construction industries.

A pie-chart of carcinogenic compounds and their percentage of air pollution related cancers in ten Russian cities (Kazazyan and Reshetin).
Norilsk, Russia

According to the Blacksmith Institute, Norilsk was labeled one of the ten most polluted cities in the world. A former labor camp during the Soviet Union, today Norilsk is the home to approximately 170,000 people and hosts numerous “coal-burning copper, cobalt, and nickel smelters.” Ninety one percent of the pollution released in Norilsk is sulfur-dioxide – one of the leading causes of acid rain (Europa Publications Limited). The smelters in Norilsk produce more sulfur dioxide emissions than France (Kramer).  Even with technological improvements, the three main factories in Norilsk have only reduced sulfur-dioxide emissions by 16 percent since the fall of the Soviet Union (BBC).

Dead Forests of Norilsk (image: NY Times)

 The pollution in Norilsk has created a dead zone around the city effectively killing 1.2 million acres of forest. During the spring thaw, streams are filled with black soot (Kramer). The human effects have also been tragic. According to Doctor Svetlana Golubkova, people that immigrated to the industrial city in the 1960s were healthy, but their children and grandchildren are ill (BBC).

Indoor Air Pollution

While outdoor air pollution affects all humans, some indoor air pollutants disproportionately affect the individuals working in certain factories. On average, factory workers all over the world are exposed to higher levels of chemicals and toxins than those who do not work in factories. For example, factory workers at a milk processing plant in Saint-Petersburg are exposed to more chlorine than legally permitted. At a factory built with Russian and Western funds in 1989, researchers found in 1998 that workers were exposed to “air pollution with toxic substances” (Belova et. al.). Concentrations of alkali were found up to three times higher than the maximum permissible concentration. Chlorine was also found in concentrations of 0.5 – 1.5 mg/m3, two to three times higher than permitted concentrations. Ammonia was found in the factory ranging in concentration from 5 – 93.3 mg/m3 , while the maximum permissible concentration by law is 20 mg/m3 (Belova et. al.).

Another source of both indoor and outdoor air pollution is lead. Lead has been found in large quantities in indoor dust and paint. Even though Kazazyan and Reshetin’s research found that lead was only responsible for 0.10% of air pollution related cancers, lead is still a serious concern. One study examined kindergarteners in the Russian cities of Karsnouralsk, Ekaterinurg, and Volgograd in 1997 – each city has multiple factories and heavy vehicular traffic (Esteban et. al.). During the time of the study, Russia had not completely implemented a ban on leaded gasoline or leaded paint. As a result, Russian citizens were still being exposed to lead in heavy quantities in both outdoor and indoor environments.  Researchers found that, on average, 23 percent of the children had elevated blood lead levels and two percent of the children were anemic (Esteban et. al.).


Tracking Pollution in Moscow

Clicking on the image below will take you to a Russian website that tracks air pollution levels in Moscow. For reference, “часы” refers to hourly levels of air pollution while “сутки” refers to the level of pollution within a 24-hour period. Green flags shows where pollution is below the maximum possible concentration of pollutants (i.e. SO2, NO2), orange flags show where pollution is in the range of permittable concentration, and red flags show where pollution levels have exceeded the maximum possible concentration.



Aksel, E., Brodsky, B., Ivanova, I., Klyuev, N., Revich, B., Ushakova, T., Zhuchenko, N. Dioxin Exposure and Public Health in Chapaevsky, Russia. Chemosphere 43(4–7). 2001. Available:

 BBC. Toxic Truth of secretive Siberian city. 5 April 2007. Accessed: 12 December 2011. Available:

 Belova, L. V., Kresova, G. A., Liubomudrova, T. A., Mishkich, I. A. Assessment of Working Conditions in a Modern Russian Milk Processing Plant from the Aspect of Occupational Medicine. Croatian Medical Journal. 40(1): 93 – 98. 1999. Available:

 Blacksmith Institute. The 2007 Top Ten of Worst Polluted Places. 12 September 2007. Accessed 12 December 2011. Available:

 Cherp, A., Kopteva, I., Mnatsakanian, R. Economic Transition and Environmental Sustainability: Effects of Economic Restructuring on Air Pollution in the Russian Federation. Journal of Environmental Management. 68(2): 141 – 151. 2003. Available:

 Esteban, E., Daley, W. R., Gurvitch, E., Karpati, A., Kuzmin, S. V., Noonan, G. P., Privalova, L. I., Reissman, D. B., Rubin, C. H., Zlepko, A., Zukov, A. Lead Poisoning among Young Children in Russia: Concurrent Evaluation of Childhood Lead Exposure in Ekaterinburg, Krasnouralsk, and Volgograd. Environmental Health Perspectives. 110(6): 559 – 562.  2002. Available:

 Feshback and Friendly. Ecocide in the USSR. Harper Collins: New York. 1992.

 Golub, A., Strukova, E. Evaluation and Identification of Priority Air Pollutants for Environmental Management on the Basis of Risk Analysis in Russia. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health. Part A. 71. 86-91. 2008. Available via EBSCOhost.

 Hønneland, G.,  Jørgensen, A. Implementing International Environmental Agreements in Russia. Manchester University Press. United Kingdom, 2003.

 Kazazyan, V. I., Reshetin, V. P. Public-health Impact of Outdoor Air Pollution in Russia. Environmental Modeling and Assessment. 9(43-50). 2004. Available:

 Kramer, A., Yaffa, J. For One Business, Polluted Clouds Have Silvery Linings. New York Times. 12 July 2007. Accessed: 11 December 2011. Available:

 United States Environmental Protection Agency (a). Benzene. 2008. Accessed 21 November 2011. Available:

 United States Environmental Protection Agency (b). Chromium Compounds. 2000. Accessed 13 December 2011. Available:

 United States Environmental Protection Agency (c). An Introduction to Indoor Air Quality: Formaldehyde. 1997. Accessed 13 December 2011. Available:


More info:

Dirty Air Kills People.  (Video in Russian)

Comments Off on Air Pollution in Russia

Health effects from Chernobyl
Posted by: , December 5, 2011, 2:44 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Chernobyl Accident


An environmental disaster affected nearly 75 million people in recent history.  April 26, 1986.  Although this date may not ring a bell to all Westerners, this is a significant date in nuclear history, especially for all citizens of post-Soviet countries.  Though there have been several nuclear reactor explosions and disasters, such as Hiroshima or Three Mile Island, the Chernobyl accident is by far the worst to date internationally.  Chernobyl was a monumental international disaster, even though it occurred in the Ukraine, which at the time was a republic of the Soviet Union and located 375 miles from Moscow (Hawkes et al 1).  The Chernobyl disaster heightened anxiety about nuclear power internationally and decreased the rate thereafter of the nuclear science race (Hawkes et al 215).

This accident resulted from an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor located on the Pripyat River (Hawkes et al 2).  The nuclear reactor exploded on April 26, 1986 at 1:23 am, local Moscow time (Hawkes et al 14).[1]  Although there had been other nuclear explosions within years of the Chernobyl disaster, Chernobyl triumphs them all and is the largest nuclear explosion to date.

According to French physicist Georges Lochac, “the explosion was initiated in the machine by the emergence of a powerful flow of magnetic leptonic monopoled…which transmuted the nuclear fuel in the reactor and its emission” (Akkerman 13).  Ultimately, as a result of the Chernobyl disaster, approximately 350,000 people were evacuated and 40,000 people died (Akkerman 13). Additionally, the Chernobyl accident affected roughly 75 million people living in the Soviet Union, and 9 million citizens continued to live in contaminated areas after the disaster (Akkerman 14).  Though it has been twenty-five years since the disaster, not all of the effects from the Chernobyl disaster are known, and scientists are still continuing to discover negative effects.  While those living in post-Soviet countries were impacted most by the accident, internationally, the world was affected, particularly in areas of psychological and physical health due to the amount of radioactivity released, which also caused iodine deficiency (ID).

Here is a picture that shows the effect of radiation in the surrounding areas of Chernobyl, which even include other continents:

International effect due to Chernobyl accident (The Chernobyl Catastrophe 2).

The safety of Chernobyl prior to the explosion 

Before the explosion, approximately 20,000 people lived in the town of Chernobyl, which had been established for the purpose of serving the nuclear plant (Hawkes et al 4).  Internationally, but also locally, anxiety had heightened about nuclear advancements, so Soviet scientists constantly had to reassure citizens of the plant’s safety.  Nikolai Fomin was Chernobyl’s chief engineer, and he understood the anxiety of the citizens.  He reassured them by explaining that Chernobyl is environmentally safe for the land and for the people (Hawkes et al 6).  Furthermore, Fomin reported in an article “the odds of a meltdown are one in 10,000 years.  The plants have safe and reliable controls that are protected from any breakdown with three safety lines” (Hawkes et al 7).

Background of nuclear explosion

Unfortunately, however, the citizens’ fear was confirmed on April 26, 1986, when tubes filled with hot water leaked radiation.  The nuclear reactor contained 1,600 metal tubes that were filled with water and pressure (Hawkes et al 11).  The tubes were unusually hot with water with an overwhelming amount of pressure as well (Hawkes et al 12).  After the explosion, radioactivity and extreme levels of heat were released (Hawkes et al 12).  After the fact, Soviet scientists could not believe that this has happened due to its unlikelihood (Hawkes et al 13).

Significant health effects due to Chernobyl disaster

The explosion caused many negative effects including a halt to nuclear power, psychological and physical health effects. The Chernobyl accident caused an aspect of Soviet defeat because the citizens felt the Soviet scientists were unable to live up to the promises that they had set; they proved they were unable to protect their citizens from radiation, which caused disastrous health effects (Akkerman 13).  For example, initially, 237 workers, who helped clean up the Chernobyl accident, were diagnosed with health problems: 28 people died in 1986, with a grand total of 47 work-related deaths were reported by 2004 (Sumner 31).

While there are numerous negative health-related problems caused by the Chernobyl accident, exposure to radiation is among the worst of the problems.  For example, the radiation released from the explosion caused all types of cancer, particularly thyroid cancer.  Although it is hard to decipher who was diagnosed with cancer due to Chernobyl and who was not, it is clear that the number of those diagnosed with cancer increased after the Chernobyl accident (Sumner 31).    Childhood cancer was usually detected within ten years of the accident.  Thyroid cancer was particularly prevalent among children of Chernobyl because the younger the person is, the higher risk he or she has of developing thyroid cancer (Sumner 32).   For example, by 2005, there were 4,000 children of Chernobyl who were diagnosed with thyroid cancer due to exposure in the Ukraine, Belarus and Russia (Sumner 32).  Thyroid cancer, however, was not the only form of cancer diagnosed as a result of exposure to radiation.  Overall, there were more cases of diagnosed cases after Chernobyl accident in 1986, according to the graph below.

There is an obvious increase in number of cancer cases since Chernobyl (The Chernobyl catastrophe 29).

(The Chernobyl Catastrophe 29).

Although the radiation appeared to be invisible, its effects were deadly (Kuchinskaya 407).  23% of the territory was contaminated with radionuclides (Kuchinskaya 409).   In order to compensate for the economic effects of Chernobyl, the Soviet government issued money; however, many citizens referred to this as “coffin money” because of the deadly effects of Chernobyl (Kuchinskaya 415).  In addition to an increase in thyroid cancer, other serious health concerns arose from Chernobyl.  For example, “chronic diseases, heart conditions, gastritis, memory problems, chronic fatigue” are all issues that have increased in children after the accident of Chernobyl (Kuchinskaya 418).  Furthermore, there was an iodine deficiency and lack of vitamins and minerals that created additional health concerns (Jackson et al 453).  For example, lack of selenium causes thyroid disorders, cretinism, and cardiomypathy; lack of fluoride resulted in poor dental hygiene; the lack of iron caused anemia, exhaustion, and lack of concentration (Jackson et al 456).   These effects may not be seen immediately, but are, however, detrimental consequences from Chernobyl.

The iodine deficiency caused by the Chernobyl disaster not only lowers the IQ of a child, but it also affects the working capacity of a child (Jackson et al 456).

Here is a graph to see the decreased IQ level of children who lived in contaminated areas surrounding Chernobyl:

Decrease in IQ level of Chernobyl children (The Chernobyl Catastrophe 99).

Other main health concerns and connection to WWII

There are additional health concerns such as increased stillbirths, birth defects, more cases of Down’s syndrome, cardiovascular disease, cataract induction, and psychological effects caused by Chernobyl (Sumner 40).  While thyroid cancer was a major effect from Chernobyl, urine and bladder cancer in the Ukraine and Belarus increased as well between 1986 and 2001 (Sumner 39).   Some researchers surmise that leukemia, particularly childhood leukemia, increased due to the radiation released from Chernobyl.  However, this is controversial because other European countries unaffected by Chernobyl also saw increased cases of childhood leukemia, so it is difficult to draw a conclusion (Sumner 38).

Regardless, it is clear that many health effects were caused by extreme radiation released into the air from the Chernobyl accident.  Prior to Chernobyl, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were highly talked about with radiation; however, Chernobyl trumps the statistics from the nuclear bomb.  For example, the risk of cardiovascular disease due to radiation is three times greater from Chernobyl than from Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Sumner 41).   Additionally, Lynn Barnett explains, “The resulting radioactive fallout has been estimated as equivalent to that of 200 of the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki”  (Barnett 46).  Chernobyl, however, to date, has caused the greatest environmental impact due to a nuclear disaster.

Psychological effects as a result of Chernobyl accident

Due to the heightened fear of nuclear power and distrust in the government, psychological issues arose as a result of the Chernobyl disaster.  Due to detrimental environmental effects, citizens were forced to relocate, and the economy plummeted.  Additionally, the timing of the Chernobyl disaster also coincided with the start of the collapse of the Soviet Union, so there were underlying social, political and economical issues occurring simultaneously with the Chernobyl effects (Sumner 42).  Psychological effects from Chernobyl include anxiety, depression, pessimism, apathy, dietary changes, alcoholism, addiction to tobacco, and the feeling of social exclusion (Sumner 42).   Some citizens suffered from a more general psychological disease, post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD) due to the consequences of Chernobyl, particularly relocation and economic decline (Barnett 48).

International efforts to provide aid for Chernobyl

While the effects of Chernobyl stirred up the Soviet community, there was a need for international efforts to overcome such consequences from high levels of released radiation and iodine deficiency.  Approximately 3.5 million people lived in affected areas.  Though not all 3.5 million people were directly affected, their fear caused mental health issues (Barnett 47).  Therefore, due to such drastic numbers and reflecting on the past, particularly examining Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there was a strong need for international efforts (Barnett 47).   For example, due to the iodine deficiency spreading across contaminated areas from the Chernobyl accident, iodine was added to foodstuff (Jackson et al 457).   Throughout the 1990s, the Clinton Administration worked closely with Russian officials to have joint efforts to improve contaminated areas (Jackson et al 459).   Although iodine deficiency (ID) had been an issue for years, in 1990, at the World Summit for Children in New York, ID was declared an official global issue (Jackson et al 457).

In addition to iodine, other minerals and vitamins were low in soil of contaminated areas.  Therefore, there was micronutrient malnutrition spreading across Russia, and it was essential to have international support to suppress the spread of malnutrition (Jackson et al 461).  Throughout the decade, Russians worked with other countries, primarily the United States, and in 1999 the Russian government ultimately created Resolution No. 1119, which helped to prevent ID (Jackson et al 463).

25th anniversary of Chernobyl

April 26, 2011 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy, and for this reason, it is hard to determine all of the long-term effects because it was relatively recent.  Efforts and commemorations, however, still exist today.

Watch this brief news clip to see how the United States has continued to work with the Russian government on the issue of Chernobyl: US-Russian governments stance on Chernobyl

Watch this video to see the joint efforts of Moscow and Kiev to commemorate the Chernobyl disaster on the twenty-fifth anniversary: Moscow and Kiev joint efforts in anniversary of Chernobyl

In these two videos, note how countries, cultures and religions are able to come together to overcome such a tragedy together.


While Chernobyl was significant and initially progressed nuclear technology, its effects from the disaster caused international anxiety and fear for nuclear power.  Chernobyl is the worst nuclear disaster in the world’s history and its environmental legacy continues today.  Though twenty-five years later, efforts are still essential to improve the land surrounding the Pripyat River.  The Chernobyl disaster struck citizens internationally with fear and hesitation towards the government and towards nuclear power, and the world leaders are still struggling with this today.  Although life has improved in Chernobyl over twenty-five years, it is hard to determine the long-term effects of the disaster.  Thus, it is necessary to still keep Chernobyl on the radar and learn from the mistakes in order to prevent another nuclear disaster.

For further reading on nuclear waste disposal in modern day Russia, read the blog entry “Nuclear waste disposal” by Shawn Gessay.

Works Cited

Akkerman, Galina.  “A walk in Chernobyl.”  New Times (2006): 12-15.

Barnett, Lynn.  “Psychological effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.”  Medicine, conflict and survival 23.1 (2007): 46-57.

Hawkes, Nigel.  Geoffrey Lean, David Leigh, Robin McKie, Peter Pringle, Andrew Wilson.  Chernobyl: The End of the Nuclear Dream.  New York: Vintage Books, 1987

Jackson, Richard J., David M. DeLozier, Gregory Gerasimov, Olga Borisova, Paul L. Garbe, Lioudmila Goultchenko, George Shakarishvili, Joseph G. Hollowell, and Dayton T. Miller. “Chernobyl and Iodine Deficiency in the Russian Federation: An Environmental Disaster Leading to a Public Health Opportunity.” Journal of Public Health Policy 23.4 (2002): 453-470.

Kuchinskaya, Olga.  “Articulating the signs of danger: Lay experiences of post-Chernobyl radiation risks and effects.”  Public Understanding of Science 20.3 (2011): 405-421.

“Remembering Chernobyl, 25 years on.”  Youtube, 25 April 2011.  Web.  26 November 2011.

Sumner, David.  “Health effects resulting from the Chernobyl accident.”  Medicine, conflict and survival 23.1 (2007): 31-45.

“The Chernobyl Catastrophe: Consequences on Huamn Health.”  Greenpeace. 1-137.  2006.

“02.07.2010 President Yanucovich.  Hillary Clinton.  Chernobil conference..wmv.”  Youtube, 2 July 2011.  Web.  26 November 2011.

[1] The explosion of Chernobyl occurred the last weekend in April, which leads up to two major Russian holidays: May 1, May Day and May 9, which celebrates the anniversary of the defeat of Hitler (Hawkes et al 9).  Although the Soviets had been preparing for these holidays, the explosion halted such celebration. 


Comments Off on Health effects from Chernobyl

Nuclear Waste Disposal
Posted by: , November 28, 2011, 12:13 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Nuclear Waste Disposal at the end and after the fall of the Soviet Union

            Joseph Stalin initiated the nuclear program in the 1940s in response to the Manhattan Project in America.  The program survived the fall of the Soviet Union and continued into the reestablishment of Russia.  Like most civilizations in transition, Russia struggled politically, economically, and socially.  As a result, nuclear waste disposal became haphazard and was sometimes dangerously conducted.  Pervading political systems provided little oversight into the issue of how radioactive materials should be treated.  However, even if there had been more regimented legislation pertaining to the disposal of nuclear waste, Russia simply couldn’t afford to safely treat their radioactive materials.  The disposal sites they had were quickly reaching maximum capacity, and there was not enough funding to build new ones.  The situation was becoming more critical and by the 1980s it came to a boil.  Russian citizens protested the poor handling of nuclear waste after a history of less than ideal disposal methods in both the Soviet Union and Russia.

Traditional methods of disposing waste products in the Soviet Union included dumping materials into the Arctic Ocean and the Baltic Sea, storing it in waste sites in the north or to the Far East of the country, or by sending it out on ships and reprocessing spent fuel.  These precarious methods led to several accidents in which nuclear waste contaminated the facilities or the environment directly.  For example, in 1956, a storage tank at the Mayak dumping site containing volative nuclear waste exploded and irradiated 23,00 square miles, affecting hundreds of thousands of people, causing one of the worst nuclear accidents ever seen.   The consistent exposure to radioactive waste posed the risk of detrimentally altering the ecosystem both in and surrounding the bodies of water used as dumping sites.  The waste was likely diluted by the water, but in the event that it condensed and maintained its radioactivity, it would lead to harmful aftereffects.  Such a contamination would lead not only to the destruction of the terrain and local wildlife, but also to the human population as well.  Irradiated water and fish would significantly strike the economy centered on fishing.

The practice of dumping nuclear waste came under fire in the 1980s.  The Soviet Union was a member of the London Dumping Convention, which had established nearly a decade earlier that hazardous nuclear waste was not to be disposed of in the sea, or any other major body of water.  However, Soviet citizens began to voice a public outcry that arose from speculations involving a breach of that agreement.  Reports emerged detailing massive disposals of nuclear waste, both liquid and solid, into various oceans and seas, including the Barents Sea, Kara Sea, and the Sea of Japan.  Additionally, nuclear reactors and submarines fueled by nuclear power had been releasing hazardous material into the water after suffering major damages.  The public pressure forced government action of the recently reinstated Russia, which resulted in a detailed report outlining all nuclear disposals into the seas.  This report, known as the White Book, indicated every specific incidence of submarine accidents or purposeful dumping, and provided an estimate for the amount of radioactive waste in the water given the amount of contamination that lasted from 1959 until the last recorded incident in 1993, which was several thousand cubic centimeters.


Russian submarine powered by nuclear fuel


The state of aquatic nuclear waste dumping was not the only aspect of disposal in disrepair; land storage was also unsatisfactory.  Accidents at some of the facilities had put them out of commission, and the other sites could not accommodate the quantity of waste.  The waters surrounding the Andreeyvna Bay nuclear waste facility, located on the shores of the Barents Sea, are completely barren of fish and aquatic life because of the numerous leaks of radioactive fluid.  Additionally, ships used to store excess waste were also becoming too full and were themselves a potentially dangerous source of disposal (Russia).

Nuclear Waste Disposal Now (21st Century)

            Russia began taking steps to ensure safe and environmentally friendly disposal of nuclear waste products after its publication of the White Book.  Government agencies have been created to take over responsibility of safe storage and transportation of nuclear waste, and also of rectifying any damage caused through negligent disposal.  The State Nuclear Energy Corporation, or Rosatom, took over for the Navy as the chief overseer of safe nuclear fuel management.  They are responsible in both militaristic and private matters of nuclear fuel practices.  The Rostekhnazor, the successor of the Gosatomnadzor (Federal Inspectorate for Nuclear and Radiation Safety), came into fruition in 2004.  They became a condensed agency comprised of their predecessor, the Federal Service for Technological Oversight, and the Federal Service for Oversight of the Environment an the Use of Nature.  The Rostekhnazor was created with the hopes of forming a more efficient department in handling waste management matters, as opposed to having to comply to the jurisdiction of several different divisions.  The agency ensures the safe and ethical disposal of nuclear wastes from various facilities, proposes new regulations in which how this waste should be handled, moniters nuclear activity, safeguards industrial safety, and accounts for materials and physical protection (Russia).

In 2006, Russia participated in a conference in Munich in order to learn about new waste management techniques being implemented around the world.  With the aid of the International Atomic Energy Agency and its contributing members, Russsia decided to construct waste management facilities, disarm nuclear-powered submarines, decontaminate military bases, and to collect radioactive waste from polar ice caps (Russia to Discuss).  The submarines have since largely been deactivated, but that has not been enough in ensuring safe nuclear waste management.  Storage units are still being filled to their maximum capacity, and have been since the 1990s.  Several propositions have been made since then to add more land facilities and more funding has been provided to do so.  Also, temporary storage units are being built at Andreyeva and Gremikha.  Both are active nuclear waste facilities, however they had fallen into poor condition.  Andreyeva is one of the largest storage facilities in Russia, but the buildings and containment units were nearing collapse and not effectively storing waste.  Clean-up of Andreyeva has been initiated and is projected to be complete in 2015.  Gremikha was in a similar situation.  A former naval base, it was also one of the largest nuclear waste facilities in the country.  It houses spent fuel and reactor cores from submarines, and the area surrounding the storage facility was very highly irradiated.  Measures have been taken to clean up the site, and in 2009 fuel tanks were removed and transported to a reprocessing facility.  The rest of the fuel is to be removed and sent for reprocessing by this year (Russia).

In 2010, Russia passed its first bill to regulate nuclear waste disposal.  The bill’s projection includes a 50% increase in safe storage and a decrease in waste not isolated by the environment by 2025.  The plan also includes the installation of temporary storing facilities.   Also in 2010, $1 billion was allocated  towards nuclear waste clean-up (Ozharovsky).


Andreyevna Bay

Future of Waste Disposal and Cleaning up

            Russia has taken significant and admirable steps in addressing the severe problems associated with their nuclear waste management techniques.  However, they are not yet fully absolved and it remains a fairly low priority.  In 2001, the ban of importing nuclear waste was lifted and plans to add nuclear waste sites in Siberia are underway. Challenges still present themselves in the restoration of areas damaged by negligent disposal, particularly at land-based storage sites that have neared depletion.  Newly discovered contamination spots are still emerging, and restoring the polluted sites has taken decades–which has not been to the satisfaction of enivironmental activists who question the long duration of clean up processes (Ozharovsky).  For the time being, Russia’s plans for reversing its nuclear waste damage include interim disposal sites and continuing to address the contaminated areas.  As long as they maintain careful disposal practices, uphold their devotion to safe cleanup measures, and continue their relationships with foreign powers equipped to  resolve some of their radioactive waste issues, then Russia will continue on its way to protecting its citizens and environment from nuclear hazards (Russia).


Work Cited

“Russia to Discuss Nuclear Waste Disposal Projects with IAEA | Russia.” RIA Novosti. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. <>.

Ozharovsky, Andrei.  “Radioactive dump in Moscow: A ten-year history of reckless procrastination.”  Bellona.  Web. 6 Sept. 2011.

“Russia.” Nuclear Threat Initiative: Home Page. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. <>.


“International Nuclear Waste Disposal Concepts.” World Nuclear Association. World Nuclear Association, June 2011. Web.

Image Links:


Comments Off on Nuclear Waste Disposal

Forestry in the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation
Posted by: , November 28, 2011, 4:15 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,


More than one-fifth of the world’s forested areas are located in Russia (Hitchhock, “Russia’s Boreal Forests”). They are the largest forested area on the Earth spanning over 12 million km2 of the Russian landscape (Russia’s Boreal Forests). Due to the extreme temperatures, there is little biodiversity in Russian forests in comparison to other forests, such as the Amazonian rainforests. The four main types of trees in Russian forests are birch, pine, spruce, and fir (“Russia’s Boreal Forests”).

Although large areas of land within Russia are not inhabited (for example, vast regions of the Sakha republic), various indigenous groups such as the Selkups and Evenks depend on the forests for survival. For these individuals, the forest provides food such as mushrooms and berries, land for traditional agricultural needs, and allows for hunting (“Russia’s Boreal Forests”).  There are many issues that affect how Russian forests are managed today, including hunting and poaching, deforestation, and most recently – annual summer fires. As of 2010 there were approximately 36 national parks, 69 wildlife refuges, and more than 10,000 nature monuments located in the Russian Federation (“Russia’s Boreal Forests”).

Source: World Wildlife Fund


Russian forest management has a long and, at times, complex history. In Kievan Rus from the 8th to 12th century, there were no laws or regulations managing the use of Russia’s forests. One of the first written documents discussing the preservation of forests was written in a protective deed. One of the first written documents discussing the preservation of forests appeared in a protective deed from 1477-8 to the Vyazhitsky Monastery, which prohibited the keeper of the monastery from harming any flora or fauna. Almost 200 years later in 1649, Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich passed into law the Council Code. Article 23 of chapter seven allowed the servants of the tsars “to cut trees in any private forest without taxation” (Lehmbruch et. al.). Articles 220 and 223 stated: “If anyone, even an heir or landlord, cuts the forest without permission or violates other regulations leading damage of the forest including [intentional] fire, [they] will be prosecuted and punished and fined” (Lehmbruch et. al.). One of the earliest documented cases of hunting reserves dates back to Tsar Aleksei (1629-1676). The tsar was known to be an avid hunter and set aside seven islands as the “tsar’s reserve” (Essick et. al.).

In the 1600s the Russian government saw that the forests had three main values – establishing a military defense line, maintaining borders, and reaping economic benefits from the commercialization logging. During Peter the Great’s rule, from 1682 to 1785, over 200 decrees and other documents were written outlining various issue we consider today to be simply known as “forest management.” One of Peter the Great’s most symbolic and important decrees was the decree of November 9, 1703. This decree required a survey of all forested areas within approximately 30 miles of the capitol. At this time, Peter the Great wanted to ensure that there would be enough wood for shipbuilding. Those that disobeyed the law and cut down trees illegally were faced with the death penalty (Essick et. al., Lehmbruch et. al.)

Pavel I (1754-1801) established the Russian Forestry Department in 1798. In this newly established system forests were managed by provincial forestry departments. From 1798 to 1811, the forestry department fell under the jurisdiction of the Navy because of the need for wood to build ships. In 1811, the Forestry Department was moved to the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Finance and was reestablished as the Forest Division (Lehmbruch et. al.). In 1898, the first forest tax was imposed. As a result, the tsar was able to impose fees on logging companies and collect a royalty for the estimated costs of reforestation (Lehmbruch et. al.).

While much of the world was using coal during the 19th century, wood became the primary fuel source in imperial Russia. Due to a property rights system more outdated than most European nations, “there was no awareness of forests as a limited resource”  (Lehmbruch et. al.). Steam engines and factories relied on wood as a fuel source. With the advent of the telegraph and telephone and a decreasing amount of forested area around the major cities, wood from far away could be ordered. This allowed for an increase in deforestation in also the more rural areas of Russia. Deforestation had devastating effects the rivers and climate of Russia. For example, cold winds from the north wreaked havoc on orchards and farms (Lehmbruch et. al.).

Tsar Alexander III hunting

After the October revolution in 1917, Lenin attempted to emphasize the importance of managing the nation’s forests, yet no practical changes occurred. As a result of nationalization during the first Five-Year Plan, citizens were given more freedom in logging in the forested areas. The first attack on forestry management occurred under the leadership of M. G. Zdornik in 1929: “As long as we need forests we will harvest them in accordance with our needs without any theoretical discussions” (Lehmbruch et. al.). Soviet forestry management occurred with practically no changes until the enactment of a Forest Code in 1977. One positive aspect of forestry management that occurred during the Soviet period was the system of reforesting. In exchange for helping replant the forests, citizens were given hay, timber for building, and firewood. It has been estimated that forestry employed approximately seven percent of the total Soviet workforce (Lehmbruch et. al.).

The Forest Code of 1977 centralized forest management mirroring the management system that occurred before 1917. There were three main flaws with this forest code. First, the code did not put in place adequate mechanisms to allow for the mechanism of the code to be implemented. Second, the code did not successfully bring together efforts made by the legislative, general executive and departmental levels. The third problem “was the exaggerated role that subsequent, departmental regulations came to play within the framework of the Forest Code” (Lehmbruch et. al.).

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the first law designed to focus on forestry management was the “Foundations of the Forestry Legislation of the Russian Federation” in 1993. This law introduced new concepts to Russian forestry that had been absent from Soviet law such as “forest classification schemes and various government sphere of competition.” Four years later, the Forest Code was signed into law in 1997 and “was a great deal more comprehensive than the 1993 law” and attempted “establish a legal basis for all aspects of the ‘rational use, conservation, protection, and reproduction of forests’ (Hitchcock).

The 1995 Russian federal law states that protected areas are “areas of land and water surface and the air space above them, where natural complexes and objects of special nature conservation, scientific, cultural, aesthetic, and recreational importance are located. These areas are fully or partly withdrawn from economic use on the decision of state authorities, and a special regime of protection is established for them” (“Russia’s Boreal Forests”). 

Lena River, Baikial-Lena Reserve


Deforestation in the 21st Century

Deforestation has always been a concern in Russia. Unlike government-sanctioned logging that attempts to limit harm to ecosystems, illegal logging does not follow government-sanctioned rules pertaining to the preservation of ecosystems. Russia’s timber industry is essential to the country’s economy and therefore must be managed appropriately (Hitchhock). According to the World Wildlife Fund “Recent estimates of rates of deforestation in Russia’s forests are as high as 20,000 km2 annually, comparable to the annual rate of forest clearing in the Brazilian Amazon Basin.” One reason for the increase in timber extraction from Russia’s forests is the increasing demand for resources in China and Europe (Russia’s Boreal Forests). Furthermore, the passing go the Forest Code of 2006 has exacerbated the problem – illegal logging increased 38% from 2006 to 2007 (Hitchcock). It has been estimated that illegal logging has results in an annual lost of $1.5 billion to the Russian economy (Essick).


Forest Code of 2006

Enacted on January 1, 2007 the Forest Code is basic law that the management, control and protection of forests in the Russian Federation. The Forest Code is comprised of 16 chapter and 109 articles that both deal with the preservation and exploitation of Russia’s forests. According to Hitchcock, the Forest Code of 2006 showed three main issues – it revealed the inability of the Russian government “to design and draft effective legislation, its lack of commitment to environmental issues and its weak capacity in terms of imposing its preferences on the legislative process.” The first draft of the Forest Code would have permitted the privatization of parts of Russia’s forests. Due to complaints from citizens and non-governmental organizations this suggestion was scrapped from the final draft. Nevertheless, the Forest Code “is a law primarily focused on the commercial stimulation of the forestry sector” due to the government’s desire to “attract investment” (Hitchcock).

The Forest Code attempted to decentralize the management of Russia’s forests. For example, the Code requires that individual oblasts (states) are required to submit forest plans. These forest plans outline how the oblast will use, develop and protect the forest within their boundaries. One concern with this aspect of the law is that there is virtually no enforcement of this aspect of the law. As a result, oblasts may have little motivation to comply with the law and establish and implement forest management plans. As a result of this decentralization, there is a fear that negative results such as an increase in illegal logging will only be exacerbated (Hitchcock).

According to the Taiga Rescue Network, there have been three main changes in the forest since the 1997 Forest Code. First, the new law does not require developers and users of forest land to submit environmental impact statements. Second, restrictions and have been eased on developers in forested areas. Last, protected areas are no longer protected from logging limitations. Additionally, the Taiga Rescue Network argues that the Forest Code does not protect the rights of indigenous people by guaranteeing them the right to use forests for subsistence (Lehmbruch et. al.).


Forest Fires

In 2010, Russia saw its hottest summer on record (Bryanski) and the worst record of forest fires since 1973 (Yaroshenko). Most of Moscow and the surrounding areas were filled with thick smoke from the peat fires. It has been argued that the most recent Forest Code of 2006 was in part to blame for the severity of the fires by decentralizing the Russian forestry service and “turned the country’s vast forests into a virtual no-man’s land” (Bryanski).


Baumgartner, D. M., Everett, R. L., Kuzmichev, Y. P., Teplyakov, V.K. A History of Russian Forestry and Its Leaders. 1998.

Bryanski, Gleb. Opposition says Putin law cripples Russia fire-fighting. Reuters. 4 August 2010.

Lehmbruch, B., Malmlöf, T., Mashkina, O. Editors: Carlson, L., Olsson, M. Initial Analyses of the Institutional Framework of the Russian Forest Sector. International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. June: IR-98-027.

Essick, C. Crisis in the Forest: The Environmental Impact of Illegal Logging under the New Russian Economy. Colorado Journal of International Environmental Law and Policy. 15(2). 2004. 246.

Hitchcock, Ellen. The 2006 Forest Code of the Russian Federation: An Evaluation of Forest Regulation in Russia. Austrailian Slavonic and East European Studies. 24 (1-2): 19 – 39. 2010.

ОХОТА И ПОЛИТИКА. 29 October 2011.охота-и-политика-охота-николая-ii-напом/

Russia’s Boreal Forests: Forest Area Key Facts and Carbon Emissions from Forest Deforestation. World Wildlife Fund. 16 November 2007.

Yaroshenko, Aleksei. Russian Fire. 11 August 2011.


Further Reading

Forest Code of the Russian Federation. 4 December 2006.

 Khatchadourian, Raffi. The Stolen Forests: Inside the Covert War on Illegal Logging. The New Yorker. 6 October 2008.

Federal Law on Voluntary Fire Protection. 6 May 2011.


Related Links

Russian Forestry Museum.

Wild Russia: The Secret Forest. National Geographic. 1 June 2011.

Forest Fires Ravage Russia.

Nightmare Continues: Ghost villages, ruined lives left by forest fires. RussiaToday. 5 August 2010.

Comments Off on Forestry in the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation

The History of Dacha Life
Posted by: , November 27, 2011, 8:15 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,


Dachas are common in Eastern Europe.  Russian dachas resemble American country homes, which center on a rustic lifestyle and community building; however, a great difference is that not all Russian dachas have modern plumbing.  Dachas are generally located not far outside of urban cities; their residents occupy land plots for summer gardens or leisurely activities (Zavisca 786).  The term “dacha” in Russian has the same root as the Russian verb meaning “to give” (Lovell, “The Making of the Stalin-Era Dacha” 255).  Historically, Russians have had traditional dachas since the late seventeenth century as established by Peter the Great.  The Russian dacha lifestyle and culture is still carried out through modern times.

While the size of the dacha varies from family to family, today, gardening is a key focus and value of the dacha culture (Zavisca 786).  Throughout Russian history, the Russians have been plagued with food shortages especially during times of war and during the Soviet Union, particularly in the 1930s and during her collapse.  Therefore, gardening is a popular activity at dachas.  This leisurely activity represents the value of the Russians who have pride for their land and produce.

The importance of the dacha and its role, however, are controversial in Russia because while some Russians assert that dachas are intended for food cultivations, others argue that leisure is the prime focus of the dacha culture (Zavisca 799).  The function of the dacha is controversial; therefore, there are various types of dachas: departmental dachas owned by organizations, Soviet dacha plots, dacha garden plots and privately owned dacha plots (Lovell, Summerfolk: A History of the Dacha 211).  Over the course of Russia’s history, the dacha has changed in form as denoted by society and the government; however, ultimately, dachniki focus on both gardening and leisure; however, the government often plays a role in the control and production of the dacha gardens depending on the economic state of the country (“The Making of the Stalin-Era Dacha” 256).

Here is a modern day picture of dacha you may find in Russia:

This is an image of what a modern day dacha in Russia looks like (Zavisca 807). Please note that this is a dacha from the Russian elite; therefore, not all dachas are necessarily this size.

The history of the dacha from the 17th century up to the Soviet Union

The modern definition of the dacha emerged in the eighteenth century under Peter the Great.  As defined in the 1700s, dachas were intended for summer use and located not too far outside of major cities.  Although presently, dachas can be associated with economic value and prosperity due to agricultural produce, this is a more recent phenomenon, and agricultural surplus was not attached to the original intent of the dacha (“The Making of the Stalin-Era Dacha” 255).  Pleasure gardens, however, have existed at the dachas for aesthetic purposes since the eighteenth century (Caldwell, Dacha Idylls: Living Organicallyin Russia’s Countryside 40).  Historically, for Russians, dachas were places of leisure and rest.  The rise in popularity and usage of dachas throughout the nineteenth century helped to establish the middle class (Zavisca 794).  Furthermore, they continued to gain popularity prior to the Revolution in 1917, and represented not only the middle class, but also the bourgeois lifestyle (“The Making of the Stalin-Era Dacha” 255).   The early roots of the dacha trace back to the reign of Peter the Great, and its initial intent was to have a summerhouse to spend time in nature and away from the chaos of the city.

Soviet-era dachas 

The Russian Revolution in 1917 and the Soviet Union drastically changed the purpose of dachas to correspond to the government needs of the time period.  The Soviet meaning of “dacha” combines both the past and present-day definitions (“The Making of the Stalin-Era Dacha” 288).  Soviet dachas demonstrated the need to have a place for relaxation but also to have a place for food cultivation, which will be later discussed in this article.

Click this link to see pictures of Soviet-era dachas:

Initially, during the revolutionary period between 1917 and 1921 dachas were abandoned, and the focus of the Russian culture was not on f leisure, but, rather, the focus was political and social (“The Making of the Stalin-Era Dacha” 256).  At the end of the civil war, however, there was a housing crisis (“The Making of the Stalin-Era Dacha” 259).  In turn, the dacha community was affected, and Soviet officials thus gained control the dacha properties and supervised the dacha communities.  This difference is exemplified by the Soviet regime seizing control of dachas and mandating that they be rented out to organizations, rather than to individuals (“The Making of the Stalin-Era Dacha” 275).  This control of the dachas corresponds to the Soviet system, which infiltrated the private lives of its citizens.

Soviet officials were advised to supervise previously abandoned dacha homes in order to prevent further chaos from remnants of the Revolution (“The Making of the Stalin-Era Dacha” 257).  While in the past, dachas represented a Russian bourgeois lifestyle and culture, the Soviet government tried to prevent this association (Zavisca 805).  The Soviets greatly valued equality and sought to discourage class distinctions; thus they strived to eliminate the association of dachas with bourgeois homes.  Furthermore, elite dachas were turned over to Soviet control throughout the 1930s (Zavisca 794).  In addition, the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, was sent in the 1930s to keep vigilance on the Russian dachas (“The Making of the Stalin-Era Dacha” 262).

Ultimately, the Soviet government sought to control dacha life in order to prevent suburban expansion that they had witnessed in England and the United States (“The Making of the Stalin-Era Dacha” 266).  Throughout the Soviet Union, Soviet officials sought to strive for excellence in all aspects of a culture and wanted to be represented as the best and unique.  If the Soviets were to mimic the West and create more suburbs, the Soviets would not be as unique, or in their minds, superior.  The shift in dacha culture is caused by the desire and implementation of the Soviet government to regulate and keep a better watch on their citizens and land.

In order to further allocate and control dacha properties, the Soviets manipulated the dacha property particularly during food shortages to benefit the whole of the Soviet state.  For this reason, starting in the 1930s it became more common for Soviet citizens to live in the city year round but make constant trips on the weekends to the dachas, rather than to only occupy the dachas in the summer (“The Making of the Stalin-Era Dacha” 278).  Soviet dachas often became associated with food cultivation due to the many food shortages that occurred throughout the Soviet Union.

Listen to the song “At the dacha” by Veronika Darina At the dacha Lyrics to \”at the dacha\”


The emergence of dacha gardens

The dacha gardens gained more importance during the Soviet Union and were viewed not only for aesthetic purposes, but they were crucial for the survival of the Soviet Union.  It became a Soviet initiative to support garden-plot dachas for food production (Summerfolk 214).  The notion of garden plots greatly increased and gained support during the Brezhnev regime.  The expansion of urban plotting and food cultivation and collectivization of potatoes and vegetables were crucial elements for Brezhnev (Zavisca 794).  Furthermore, the Soviet Party in 1985 supported the garden-plot movement (Summerfolk 213).  Stemming from the Soviet period, during the economic crises throughout the 1990s in Russia, gardening at the dachas in post-Soviet Russia allowed Russians to avoid an entire food shortage (Dacha Idylls 81).  While the Soviets drastically changed the value of the dacha garden, its legacy is carried out through modern day, and Russians seem to enjoy this leisurely work.

Be sure to look at the picture of the Brezhnev era dacha!

Here is a picture of a dacha from the 1970s during the the Brezhnev era (Zavisca 795).


Although the Soviets implemented and supported the dacha gardens for food cultivation, many Soviet citizens thoroughly enjoyed the gardening and labor.   Additionally, competitions arose among the dachas to create the largest surplus and quantity rather than having the dacha with the most square feet (Zavisca 796).  The main incentive, however, was for people to manipulate their crops and gain a surplus of food at their dachas.  This has become a more recent phenomenon from the Soviet Union and lasting until modern day Russia.

Dacha activities

In addition to gardening, hunting and fishing are popular activities at the dachas (Zavisca 787).  Russians are able to cut back on spending and be self-sufficient by gardening at their dachas (Hervouet 159).  Moreover, Russians take great pride in growing their own food rather than buying produce at local markets (Zavisca 797).  Russians find it more desirable to pick and gather food together because of the social gathering rather than the solidarity of buying food at a market (Dacha Idylls 93).   Another crucial aspect is that for Russians, collecting their own natural foods represents a step away from capitalism (Dacha Idylls 99).  Russians thoroughly enjoy this relatively new purpose of dachas not only to fully avoid food shortages but as a means to relax and gather with friends.

Look at the picture of the dacha from 1991 and note the differences between the dachas from the 1970s and from the early 1990s.

Here is a picture of a more modern day dacha from 1991 (Zavisca 790).


While many Russians enjoy gardening and see the economical benefits, others feel that gardening is too much of a physical burden (Zavisca 804).  Regardless, dachas, even nearly three hundred years after their original establishment, still exist in Russia.  By 1995, there were over 1.5 million dacha garden plots, and 1.65 million urban families own dachas (Summerfolk 216).  The Russian government established Garden’s Day as a national and public holiday in 1999.  This reiterates the importance and legitimacy of the modern Russian gardening movement (Summerfolk 216).  Additionally, because of the shift of the dachas to be year round and to have more of a focus on gardening, there are now two terms for dachas: kottedzh and dacha.  Kottedzh refers to a year round dacha-like home, which resembles the western tradition, whereas dachas maintain their original roots of being primarily summer cottages located outside of urban cities (Summerfolk 220).

Natural foods movement at the dacha

The dacha garden can help a family economically while also helping them to create and maintain an identity (Hervouet 166).  Natural foods are grown at dacha gardens such as: peppers, zucchinis, radishes, carrots, onions, peas, lettuce, pumpkin, cabbage, beets, garlic, cucumbers, green beans, strawberries, raspberries, red currants, grapes, herbs and spices (Hervouet 160).  Mushroom picking and berry picking are highly common activities for Russian today to participate in while at their dachas (Dacha Idylls 23).  It is not uncommon for Russians to travel to their dachas with the sole purpose of gathering produce, particularly berries and mushrooms (Dacha Idylls 74).  For example, the Tver region is a popular location for berry picking (Dacha Idylls 74).  Caldwell explains, “Russians’ affection for and preoccupation with mushrooms and berries are not isolated phenomena but belong to a culturally pervasive set of concerns with natural foods” (Dacha Idylls 77).  The Russian natural foods movement represents the shift of dachas to focus more on food cultivation and gardening compared to gardens for aesthetic purposes or dachas as solely places of relaxation and solidarity.

Watch this video about berry and mushroom picking at dachas: Modern dacha practice of berry and mushroom picking

Similarly, Melissa Caldwell explains the modern use of the dacha garden-plot and elaborates on the importance of natural foods in Russia, and the role of the dacha in the production and collection of natural foods.   Russians often grow vegetables and fruit at their dacha garden-plots.  It is not uncommon for a Russian to go the dacha to pick their ­­produce, in particular, berries and mushrooms.  Caldwell explains for most Russians, the benefits of picking food at dachas outweigh the convenience of getting produce at grocery stores that are more local (Caldwell, “Natural Foods” 83).  Additionally, Caldwell explains that, Russians take pride in their produce, and the food is also ecologically clean, which is a large benefit (“Natural Foods” 88).  Furthermore, Russians like knowing where their food came from and the soil in which it was grown, so growing and eating their own produce is another benefit for this reason (“Natural Foods” 88).

For most Russians, there are too many benefits of the dacha gardens not to take advantage of them.   In the mindset of most Russians, another benefit of cultivating their own food is that they would be succumbing to the Capitalists if they ate mostly commercialized, packed, and distributed food (“Natural Foods” 87).  As a whole, the importance and focus on dacha culture and lifestyle has created a new movement favoring natural foods, and the Russians take great pride in this movement, and their ability to eat that which they have grown on their plots.  Although this has become more of a recent phenomenon, the origins of this movement traces back to the desire to have dacha gardens throughout the dacha history.

The dacha as represented in literature

In addition to Caldwell’s article on Natural Foods, dacha life is depicted in Russian texts such as Anton Chekhov’s “Dachniki”.  Anton Chekhov wrote the short story entitled “Dachniki” in 1885.  “Dachniki” encompasses the values of the Russians with their emphasis on the importance of the dacha.  In the story, two young newly weds begin their new married life together at the dacha.  The subject of the story emphasizes the value of a simple, not ornate, lifestyle of the Russians in the late nineteenth century.  Furthermore, Chekhov describes the couple’s routine and daily walks in the countryside, which are more meaningful due to the natural setting surrounding them.  Chekhov writes that the moon is jealous of the solidarity of the couple in such a serene and natural setting (Dacha Idylls36).   Chekhov’s “Dachniki” represents the Russian value of nature and desire to have a less urban lifestyle, even in the late 1800s.

Watch this video to see a short clip about Anton Chekhov’s estate and dacha where he wrote many of his famous works. Birthplace and dacha of Chekhov



Although dachas were perceived as initially being only for the elite prior to the Soviet Union, the Soviet government strived to ensure equality including land plots, even dachas.  In present times, many families, regardless of socioeconomic status, own dachas; however, their purposes can vary from being dacha plots to garden-plot dachas or a combination of the two.  While some Russians view gardening at dachas as a peasant activity, the gardening and natural food movement indicates the popularity in such activities and that it is not an issue related to social class for the majority of Russians.  Presently, the size of the dachas varies from large villas to more cottage-like dachas; however, the overall dacha community does not differ greatly (Dacha Idylls 18).

Though the function of dachas has changed over time as asserted by the government, the overall dacha community remains untouched.  The focus on dacha life represents the value of the Russian culture to not focus solely on modernization, urbanization, and rather to also desire a slower paced lifestyle on the weekends at their dachas (Dacha Idylls 53).  Dachas do not have copious amounts of private land; in fact, the dachas are often very small plots and shared by their communities.  The open dacha gardens and dacha lifestyle depicts the Russian value of community and togetherness, which is something that has remained constant since the origins of dachas by Peter the Great (Zavisca 805).  The overall culture and community established by the dacha has changed slightly over time; however, it is based largely on the governmental needs.  Nonetheless, the dacha community remains popular and of large importance for the Russian culture, particularly in the garden-plot movement and the focus on leisure and down time at the dacha.  The dacha community exemplifies both the aesthetic and leisurely values of the Russians.


Works Cited

Caldwell, Melissa.  Dacha Idylls: Living Organically in Russia’s Countryside.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011.

Caldwell, Melissa.  “Natural Foods: Feeding the Body and Nourishing the Soul.”  Dacha Idylls: Living Organically in Russia’s Countryside.  Berkeley: University of California Press, N.y.

“Check out Chekhov’s dacha, birthplace of his most famous works.”  YouTube, 23 September 2011.  Web.  27 November 2011.

Hervouet, Ronan.  “Dachas and Vegetable Gardens in Belarus: Economic and Subjective Stakes of an ‘Ordinary Passion’.” The Anthropology of East Europe Review 21.1 (2003): 159-168.

Lovell, Stephen.  Summerfolk: A History of the Dacha 1710-2000.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003.

Lovell, Stephen.  “The Making of the Stalin-Era Dacha.”  The Journal of Modern History 74.2 (2002): 253-288.  The University of Chicago Press.

Seventeen Moments in Soviet History.

Zavisca, Jane.  “Contesting Capitalism at the Post-Soviet Dacha: The Meaning of Food Cultivation for Urban Russians.”  Slavic Review 62.4 (2003): 786-810.

“Дача.avi.”  YouTube, 6 July 2011.  Web.  20 October 2011.


Comments Off on The History of Dacha Life