‘Even Yandex stopped showing us in searches’
“They just shut us off, that’s it,” says Olga. “In Russia, you can read us only with a VPN or some other way to bypass the block, like a special, cunning browser. And even Yandex (Russia’s largest search engine and a competitor of Google; see Russia.Post article on Yandex here - Russia.Post
) has stopped showing us if you specifically try to find us there. We filed a lawsuit to challenge the block, of course. Yet in such cases, everyone always sues but no one ever wins – in Russia, the prosecutor's office and Roskomnadzor are always right…”
The creators of People of Baikal
call their project an independent online journal. On the site is the shortest and simplest manifesto imaginable. Word for word it goes like this: “Schools and clinics, post offices and pharmacies are being closed in the villages. People are leaving for the cities. But many remain. They live without normal roads, sometimes without light and communications. And often there is no one to tell this story, as journalists simply don’t make it to these places. We describe life in the Siberian backwater.”
The editorial staff
consists of four female journalists, all of whom live in Irkutsk: Elena and Karina, like Olga, are a little over forty, while Natalya is younger, having just turned 30. Anton, a photographer and photo editor, also works with them. That’s it. There isn’t anyone else.
They take very seriously, and formulate literally, the task they’ve set for themselves – to describe the life of people living around Baikal – a task that is, at first glance, very modest, involving some sort of particular professional modesty, but in fact requires special determination, perseverance and courage. Counting from Baikal, they actually specify where each story, along with the fate of each character, plays out: near the title of each of their reports is a figure – e.g. 140 km, 270 km, 560 km, 1,930 km – which represents the distance to the nearest shore of the lake, measured right on a map.
And the piercing, distinct feeling that permeates every story they tell, every character they describe, every conflict, every victory, every anecdote, every loss – this is the striking contrast between the grandiose majesty of Baikal, the world's largest freshwater lake, a one-of-a-kind miracle of nature, and the quiet, imperceptible to the casual observer flow of ordinary lives around the lake.
From the very first weeks of its work in the spring of 2020, People of Baikal
attracted the attention of Redkollegia
, the most authoritative and well-known independent media award in Russia today. It has been around for six years now, thanks to funding from Boris Zimin, the son of businessman, scientist and philanthropist Dmitri Zimin. (Disclaimer: Sergey Parkhomenko is a coordinator and jury member for the Redkollegia award and manages conferences and workshops under its auspices.)
Nearly every publication of People of Baikal
invariably becomes a contender for the award, and each of the authors of the online journal has managed to receive it, and more than once.
Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the life of the people of Baikal, like the fate of People of Baikal
, has been ruptured. Olga and her colleagues are sure that this rupture is something different – not the same as what is happening in the lives of people throughout the rest of Russia.
Military experts and political analysts realized at an early stage of Putin's war against Ukraine that the Russian invasion contingent was formed – from the standpoint of geography and nationality – in a rather specific way.