Altai, the jewel of Russia that sends its people to Ukraine

It is a land of legends. There are many of them in the Altai, Russia’s majestic and majestic mountain region in the Siberian peaks. These legends are told from generation to generation in these Scythian and shamanic lands, where the local people, the Turkish ethnic group, have survived despite the invasions of modernity. Now more and more for tourists.

So, around Lake Teletskoye, the largest in the region, a vast expanse of fresh water called “golden lake” but painted in rich blue hues, local residents remember the history of the seven mythical sisters at the foot of one of the many waterfalls. . Earlier, they began to weep so much that their tears pierced the stone at the departure of their seven charming princes who were going to war. The waterfall continues today to delight tourists in search of inner tranquility. And some great selfies.

“These legends are our wealth and strength. Coming to Altai means returning to nature and real life! » At the edge of one of these 20,000 rivers flowing in all directions, Altınay speaks in a soft but determined voice. This young woman’s name means “golden moon” in the local language, which is still widespread in this republic, especially in the villages where three-quarters of the population live.

Legends and traditions

Moon lights and movements are extremely important here. In the national museum in the center of the capital Gorno-Altaysk, the mummy of the prince of Ukok, the prince of ice, the venerable shaman from Scythian legends is allowed in the eyes of tourists only on certain days when the moon rises. An old and strong superstition. Like this tradition: tying ribbons to trees for good luck.

The local people of Altai, whose family includes more than seven generations, continue to live according to the rhythm of these legends and traditions. “The philosophy of knowing how to live away from Moscow and everything. But not quite…”Altınay smiled shyly.

In this great republic of Portugal, one of the most remote entities of the world’s largest country, this young woman is undoubtedly happy to see the influx of tourists from all over. All families came by car from neighboring regions for camping and trekking. At the same time, rich Muscovites take advantage of five-star hotels with a stunning view of these mountains, which stretch between Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China after a flight of more than four hours.

It is one of the poorest districts

The Altai Nature Reserve, included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, presents the most beautiful natural landscapes of Russia. Lake Teletskoye, on the shores of which Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin just stayed, is one of the deepest lakes in the world. Like other regions of Russia, the republic benefited from the Covid pandemic, which boosted domestic tourism along with restrictions on foreign travel.

“But there is also an effect of a special military operation”, – warns Altynaya. A reference to the Kremlin’s official statement on the attack on Ukraine since February. Sanctions and air bans have forced a small minority of Russians accustomed to vacationing in Europe to leave this summer to explore their country. “At the same time, the reverse movement has accelerated”, – insists Altınay. A taboo subject, the authorities talk about it in little detail. However, several hundred men actually went to fight in Ukraine.

Like many others, the young woman speaks from behind the scenes of the most beautiful region of Russia: she is also one of the poorest, with no industry and living on subsidies from Moscow. In villages without gas, families are heated with wood and often cow dung. There are few jobs.

However, the region is rich in resources, with all the ores of Mendeleev’s table buried under rock covered with forests of pine, cedar and birch. However, they are not exploited: the extreme protection of nature and the lack of businessmen willing to invest in these remote corners. Despite all its mountains, the republic, which depends on its neighbors for electricity, has not built a modern hydraulic dam.

Recruitment of volunteers

Agriculture dominates and the omnipresent cows in the fields and on the roads enforce their laws. Horses revel in such freedom. In villages, children learn to ride from a very young age. And from generation to generation. Some families continue to live as nomads in the desert plateaus. They move from one transition to another to adapt to the very harsh climate in winter, with heavy snowfall and temperatures that can drop to minus 40 degrees.

This surrounding poverty provides good conditions for recruiters of volunteers ready to take up arms in Ukraine. “More for money than geopolitical mission”we are slipping in place by reminding that the average monthly salary in the republic hardly exceeds 20,000 rubles “Depending on the situation, the salary offered on a voluntary or contractual basis ranges from 50,000 to 150,000 rubles per month…”

Altai, the jewel of Russia that sends its people to Ukraine

In moderation, in a tourist car, in a resident’s kitchen or on the roads desert, tongues loose quickly. One mentions the absence of her husband from the national guard, the Russian Guard, a parallel force to the army. “He left without specifying the destination in early February” but now he calls on the phone almost every day “From the liberated cities of Ukraine”. He cites the example of an 18-year-old boy from a neighboring poor village who was drafted into the army immediately after completing his military service in the spring. A few weeks later, his body was returned to his family in Altai in a coffin from Donbass.

“There are few who doubt the nature of the operation in Ukraine”

Some have images of heroes, such as this volunteer who had two fingers amputated after an injury and decided to return to the front. Others, like this brother who spent weeks in the hospital, overcome uncertainty. The fear of forced and forced separation torments many. A surgeon is content to provide true-false medical certificates as proof of his inability to join the battle.

“There are facts. But few people question the nature of the operation in Ukraine., a rare voice openly criticizing the Kremlin in Gorno-Altaysk laments Sayan. This woman, who is very cautious and limits her comments on social networks, does not hesitate to speak her opinion over a coffee table, including against local people. “He won with propaganda and created the psychological conditions to support any action of the Kremlin even after losing his son”. “The people here are indifferentis sorry Away from Ukraine and geopolitical issues. Even if it actually follows the events…”

Altai, the jewel of Russia that sends its people to Ukraine

Women mourning a husband, brother or son who died in battle are no longer only a part of Altai legends, eighty years after they took a large part in the casualties of the Second World War. Monuments to the heroes of the “Great Patriotic War” are legion along the road to Chouia. This “northern silk road”, an artery through the mountains during the Soviet Union, is the center of the republic’s tourism, the route to its natural wonders. Each hour offers different views.

It follows the Katun River and ends up… on the Moon and Mars! Shortly before the Mongolian border, the rock takes on a stunning whiteness and then a surprising rust color. A “space” journey in the desert of silence, far from everything…


A large region with a small population

After a gradual invasion, Altai was finally annexed by the Russian Empire between 1864 and 1867, later incorporated into the USSR. The village of Tchemal, with its Orthodox Old Believer church, is an interesting legacy of the Russian appropriation of these Asian countries.

Today we must distinguish the Altai region, the plain area and the Altai Republic are covered with mountains. They are two separate entities within the Russian Federation.

The population of the republic is slightly more than 200,000. The local people, a Turkish ethnic group, make up 35% of the population.

as big as Portugal, there are about 7000 lakes in the republic. Teletskoye is the largest (230 km2) and the deepest (325 m). Global warming is making itself felt: now from May, summers are hot and glaciers are melting faster and faster.

Katun river It has its source in Mount Beloukha (4,506 m, one of the highest points in Siberia), known in local stories as the gate to the Kingdom of Shambhala, according to a Hindu-Buddhist myth at the heart of Euro-Asian history.

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