Russia Woos Orthodox Sect to Repopulate Siberia





Not many people want to live in the isolated tracts of Siberia, where temperatures can fall to minus 40. But for the Old Believers, members of an offshoot of the Russian Orthodox Church who were persecuted by the Soviets, it's paradise. Now Moscow is trying to lure the deeply devout ethnic Russians back out of exile in a bid to repopulate the region.

With his white beard and felt jacket, Fjodor Kilin looks like he has stepped straight out of an oil painting by an old Russian master. The 70-year-old stands in front of a plain icon of the Virgin Mary. His melodious voice fills the farmer's cottage. He is speaking a soft Old Church Slavonic that few Russians know anymore, tinged with a Spanish accent.

A year ago, Fjodor and his wife Tatjana packed all their worldly belongings and their passports, which were issued in the Uruguayan capital Montevideo, to journey to the land of their forefathers, a country they had never seen before. From the subtropical lands on the border with Argentina, they traveled to Siberia in Asia.

The Russian government helped them start a new life. In June 2007, Moscow set up a program designed to lure exiled ethnic Russians scattered around the globe back to their homeland, particularly to Siberia, which is becoming increasingly depopulated.

All manner of people are required in Siberia, even those like Fjodor and Tatjana. The two are Old Believers, members of an offshoot of the Russian Orthodox Church who were persecuted by the Soviets. The Russian government hopes to attract 300,000 returnees by 2012. However, only 20,000 have come home so far....


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