While encroaching civilization has brought comfort and modern amenities to Russia’s Southern Kurils, some residents yearn for the freedoms of times past.
At six o’clock on the misty and dark morning of November 26, 1941, a fleet of 28 warships quietly departed from Hitokappu Bay, in the Kuril Islands under the command of Captain Mitsuo Fuchida of the Imperial Japanese Navy and set sail on a secret mission toward the icy waters of the North Pacific Ocean. Eleven days later, on the morning of December 7, planes took off from the fleet’s aircraft carriers to carry out their attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, bringing the United States into World War II. Iturup Island, which contains Hitokappu Bay, made its small but important imprint on world history.
After the war, the Soviet Union annexed the Southern Kuril Islands from Japan, setting off a diplomatic dispute that has prevented the signing of a formal peace treaty between the two powers to this day. The islands’ Japanese residents were deported to Japan several years after the war, although some elderly Russian locals fondly recall the brief years they cohabitated on the islands with their Japanese neighbors. Today, creeping civilization and a desire to attract tourist income has opened the islands up to the outside world as never before, but not all of the changes have been welcomed by their nearly 20,000 residents.
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