by Nikolai V. Shokhirev

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 The Russian Federation stretches over a vast expanse of eastern Europe and northern Asia. The Asian part of Russia (east to Ural Mountains) is called Siberia. Siberia is usually sub-divided into Western Siberia, Eastern Siberia and Far East. 

Lake Baikal is one of the biggest and most ancient lakes of the world. It is situated nearly in the center of Asia in a huge stone bowl set 445 m above sea level.
* It covers 31,500 sq. km and is 636 km (395 mi). long  and 79.4 km (49 mi) at its widest point.
* It contains about 23,000 cu. km. of water, that is, about one fifth of the world's reserves of fresh water.
* Baikal is the deepest lake in the world: its maximum depth in the middle - 1,620 m (1.01 mi).


Russian cossack  Ermak crossed Ural in 1582. In a little more than 50 years Russian pioneers came the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk (Pacific Ocean), and 5 more years later went down to Amur.

Mangazeya was a Northwest Siberian Russian colony in Siberia (1597 - 1672).

The Trans-Siberian railway was constructed in 1891 - 1905.

Siberia played a key role in the Russian civil war of 191820.  In 1918 Omsk was the capital of the independent (from both Red Forces and White Forces) Siberian Federation.

Siberian Flag

An autonomous Siberian government  was soon superseded by the regime of Admiral A.V. Kolchak.  The White forces were aided by contingents of czarist political exiles and by the Czech Legion, a group of Austrian army deserters who had hoped to fight alongside the czarist army.  In Aug., 1918, a U.S., British, French, and Japanese expeditionary force joined the anti-Bolshevik units in Siberia.  The main purpose of this allied expedition was probably to prevent German use of Siberian resources in World War I.  Most of Siberia was in White hands by late 1918, but Czar Nicholas II and his family were murdered by the Bolsheviks at Yekaterinburg (formerly Sverdlovsk) that year.  Early in 1920, Admiral Kolchak's government collapsed, and he was executed.



Kurgan Province (Oblast)

Main cities

Kurgan : founded 1662; population 370,000

Shadrinsk : founded 1662; population 90,000

Lake Baikal

In early March, snow still blankets lake Baikal, its deep waters sealed beneath three-foot-thick ice. Over the next two months, under bright springtime sun, the ice will slowly thaw in a process punctuated by cracking sounds not unlike the sharp report of guns. As long as the ice remains in place, though, scientists can set up camp right in middle of this 400-mile-long, 5,000-foot-deep lake.

Russia says "Sacred lake" is 25 million years old-the oldest lake on the planet. It is also the deepest lake, holding more water than all of North America's Great Lakes combined. It's aquatic life comprises more than 1,500 animal species and 1,000 plant species, two-thirds of which are endemic. According to marine scientist Andy Rechnitzer, Baikal is more biologically diverse than other lakes because oxygen-rich water circulates from its surface to its deepest depths, a process likely related to geothermal vents. 


Sacred Shaman Rock in Pribaikalski National Park.

One of the most interesting animals in the lake is the Baikal seal, or nurpa, the world's only fresh water seal. Nurpas use their sharp claws to carve dens for their families while ice is still forming. Finding their dens is relatively easy: look for air bubbles trapped in the ice after being exhaled by nurpas. You can also look for small breathing holes poked into snowdrifts by the seals.

 The Baikal nerpa, sunning themselves in Zabaikalski National Park.

For a diver to get into a den is another story. First, a diving crew member must use a small metal saw to cut a small hole in the ice. Then a circular, manhole-size opening is cut with a chain saw, and long poles are used to push the round slab under the ice. To keep the hole from freezing over, it must be constantly raked. A team effort, indeed. Under the ice, the water is warmer than the air [36 degrees F], but it is still very cold for scuba diving. Every 30 seconds or so, divers must tug on safety lines attached to their wrists to let the crew above know that they are all right. 

Seen from an underwater perspective, the seal's den is an intricate ice carving, complete with tunnels and an igloo-like canopy that functions as an air pocket. Nurpas are shy, and pups resting on a bunk bed of ice quickly dive into the water when startled by a visitor. 

In June, conditions at Lake Baikal are much different. Although the water temperature is about the same as it is in spring, the air temperature is usually in the 60s. Visibility underwater is perhaps 200 feet, many times greater than that in most lakes. The "Great vis" at that time of year is caused by the water's relative lack of minerals and by countless small crustaceans eating the algae, plankton, and bacteria that can cloud fresh water and salt water alike. Clarity does not last long, however. By mid July, an algae bloom produces pea-soup conditions. 

Except for the numbing cold that pains their ears, face, and fingers within minutes of entering the water, divers exploring the shallows of Baikal might feel as if they are hovering over a meadow on a sunny day. Looking up from a depth of 50 feet, they can see clouds in the sky. Looking down, they sea fields of fluffy green algae. 

The greens spires of three-foot-tall candelabra sponges poke through the algae. Such large sponges, which get their color from algae living symbiotically in their tissues, are not rare in saltwater, but in other freshwater lakes they have no parallel. The sponges are homes for amphipods, alien-looking shrimplike creatures that are as small as specks or as large as human thumbs. And the waters of Lake Baikal hold 240 species of them. 

Hiding among the sponges and algae are sculpins, bottom-dwelling fish that are masters of camouflage, their patterned bodies blending in with their surroundings. These ancient fish, like most cold-water species, don't move fast; it's just too cold here to make quick moves. So, the lake's 40 species of sculpins, comprising 80 percent of Baikal's fish biomass, rely on camouflage for protection against larger fish. Pear 

Near the lakes northern and, at a depth of approximately 1,350 feet, a geothermal vent provides warmth for the community of sponges, snails, worms, and fish living in the pitch-dark environment. The existence of this vent confirms that Baikal is a place where continental masses are being pulled apart. Photographer Emory Kristof, who has visited the site for the National Geographic Society, explains: "The communities of life resemble organisms normally found in an ocean, which gives weight to the theory that Baikal is an ocean in the making." 

One rarely seen creature is the omul, a delicious fish endemic to the lake. Its scarcity indicates Baikal is ecologically out of balance, a result of the destructive effects of industrial development and logging nearby. Vadim Fialkov, of the lake Baikal Limnological Institute, reports that "local environmental groups have put pressure on the government to reduce the amount of effluents that are dumped into the lake. With some luck, we'll get Baikal back to its pristine state and keep it that way. "To help the effort, UNESCO has recommended that the lake and its watershed be designated a World Heritage Site." 

Source: The Wonders of the World, National Geographic Society



The 1.5-million Novosibirsk is the third largest city of Russia after Moscow (8M) and St.Petersburg (5M) and the chief city of Western Siberia (see the map). Born in 1893 as a future site of a railroad bridge crossing the great Siberian river Ob where the latter is crossed by the famous Trans-Siberian Railroad (built in 1890s - 1900s), it officially became a town in 1903. Now it is the unofficial capital of Siberia. 



Ob Sea (artificial lake) near Akademgorodok


The Church of All Holies in the Land of Russia which lightened up in Akademgorodok near Novosibirsk


Akademgorodok Scientific town, actually one of the districts of Novosibirsk

Kazansko-Nikolsky Cathedral in Omsk (founded:1716 ; population 1,160,000)


View of Tobolsk (founded:1587 ; population: 540,000)
- the Old Capital of Siberia (the residence of General Governor of Siberia)

Other major cities (from West to East):

Tyumen (founded: 1586 ; population: 540,000)

Tomsk (founded:1604; population: 500,000)
It is a major educational center of Siberia, with a university (founded 1880) and a medical school (founded 1888).

Barnaul (founded:1771; population: 600,000)

Krasnoyarsk (founded:1628; population: 910,000)

Irkutsk (founded:1654; population: 630,000)

Ulan-Ude (founded:1649; population: 350,000)

Chita (founded:1653; population: 370,000)

Yakutsk (founded:1654; population: 190,000)

Verkhoyansk, the coldest permanently inhabited settlement on earth (-56F/-49C on average in winter). The summer temperature can exceed 90F (32C).


Altai Region. Native Siberian people


(to be continued)

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©Nikolai V. Shokhirev, 2004-2005