Wanna live on a Pacific volcano? Russians get the itch to go east

Wanna live on a Pacific volcano? Russians get the itch to go east
To tackle the problem of under-populated regions in Russia's Far East, local authorities are to provide zero percent mortgages for homebuyers in the Kuril Islands.

“People have a choice to either live in an apartment building, or build a home of their own. In the second case, the municipal authorities will provide the land," said Sakhalin region governor Oleg Kozhemyako. The interest-free mortgage will be financed by the local mortgage agency, he said.

Currently the Kuril Islands have 364 blocks of flats, of which 44 are deemed uninhabitable. The local authorities plan to allocate $17 million to build 9,000 square meters of new housing, two-and-a-half times more than was built last year.

In April, a law was introduced allowing Russians the right to claim a free hectare (10,000 square meters) of land in the Far East. The areas include Yakutia, Kamchatka, Chukotka, Primorye, Khabarovsk, Amur, Magadan, Sakhalin and the Jewish Autonomous Regions.

The land can be used for any lawful purpose; however the new owners cannot rent, sell, or give the property away for five years. Yakutia said it will provide another 2.5 hectares to anyone interested.

Critics say that just giving out land in the Far East won’t be enough to attract people because of the remoteness, the high cost of moving and the lack of infrastructure in the region. Some regard the program as populism, as it’s impossible to do business with such high costs and say authorities should provide farmers with cheaper loans and invest more in infrastructure.

Despite the challenges, one in ten Russians is ready to move to the Far East, according to a poll by a headhunting agency Superjob.ru.

The Kuril Islands have been part of the Soviet Union and later the Russian Federation since the end of World War II in accordance with the Yalta Agreement of 1945.

Japan has disputed Russia's right to the southernmost islands in the chain, which it calls the Northern Territories. Tokyo insists the post-war pact did not include these islands, as they were not part of the Kuril chain.

US geographers have traditionally regarded the territory as part of the Kuril chain. The Soviet Union and its successor Russia have insisted the whole group of islands were included in the Yalta treaty.

The islands in question are Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and Habomai.