September 01, 2021

Virgin Arctic



Virgin Arctic
Picture yourself here. Winter in Levkovka village, Arkhangelsk Oblast. Aleksandra Raspopina

Russia is pushing ahead with a new drive to populate the country’s remote and unpopular fringes. Starting this year, Russians can claim a hectare (about 2.5 acres) of land in the Arctic zone – absolutely free. The catch? Within five years, you must actually use your hectare, by living there, farming it, or otherwise engaging in economic activity.

The so-called “Far Eastern Hectare” program (bit.ly/fareastland) has been around for five years, thought up as a twenty-first century Virgin Lands campaign or Homesteading Act. The goal is to save Russia’s far-flung regions from depopulation and lack of investment. Up until this year, the plots were only available in Russia’s Far Eastern region, and the project has not been a smashing success. Out of more than 80,000 claimed hectares, only 18,000 have actually been put to economic use. That shows a lack of interest, since the program has over 200 million hectares available.

Perhaps to reignite public interest, and to open up land closer to the European part of the country, the program now also offers land in the Far North, including Arkhangelsk Oblast, Murmansk Oblast, and Karelia. On the one hand, these are regions that are more frequently visited from Russia’s biggest population centers. On the other, there is a reason these lands are being abandoned by people that are already there. Just a brief look at real estate websites is enough to find a 12-hectare (30-acre) lot for sale in the Komi Republic (one of the participating regions) for less than $2,000. As one sarcastic commenter succinctly put it on the Arkhangelsk website 29.ru: “I’ve always dreamed of a hectare on permafrost.”


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