The easternmost part of Russia, the Far East is not without reason called the distant one — more than eight thousand kilometers separate it from Moscow, and local time is seven hours ahead of Moscow! And, according to reviews, the most benevolent and responsive people live in the Far East!
The Kuril Islands are located in the cold waters of the North-western Pacific Ocean between the Kamchatka Peninsula and Hokkaido. The chain consists of 22 main islands, most of which are volcanically active, and around 30 smaller islets.
There are at least 160 volcanoes amongst the islands, 40 of which can be described as currently active. The islands which form part of the ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’ provide the perfect backdrop for our Russian Far East cruises.
The island of Sakhalin is the 948-kilometre-long heart of the Sakhalinskaya Oblast (Sakhalin Region) which includes the disputed Kuril Islands and more than 50 smaller islands. Japan has long claimed the Kurils but since World War II they have come under the Russian rule. Travellers find getting around the region somewhat costly and difficult, but for those who make the effort there is a great deal of natural beauty to admire with three-quarters of Sakhalin covered in forests and mountains.
The name Sakhalin is derived from Sahaliyan, which means ‘black’ in Manchu. Viewed from space, the shape of the island is said to resemble a fish, with its many rivers and lakes likened to fish scales.
Being seven time zones from Moscow makes Sakhalin locals feel quite separate from the capital of the Russian Federation and complain that about 95% of all their revenue goes there. It is a regular grumble that the gas sourced in the Sakhalin region is sent to Komsomolsk and Khabarovsk by pipeline and then sold back to the island at inflated prices. Russians who have moved to Sakhalin from the west of the country complain that life is more costly than back in Moscow and St Petersburg. Despite this, most Sakhalin inhabitants, including the descendants of the Korean workers forcibly taken there as virtual ‘slave labourers’ by the Japanese during World War II, are politically ultra conservative.
Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is the booming capital of the region, which is fuelled by the oil and gas industry. The landlocked city which sprawls between two mountain ranges benefits from the high spending business visitors who pass through en route to the rigs or large construction projects.