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12 Aug, 2009 06:02

Boys and girls struggle to stay on Russia’s map

In one part of Russia, the only thing keeping the boys and girls apart isn't their parents but a river. Boys and Girls are actually two villages, but with a combined population of about thirty, their future is uncertain.

Legend has it that the villages take their names from when Catherine the Great traveled down the river with her escort. Boys then came out to greet her on one side of the river and girls on the other. When Catherine asked what these villages were called, somebody said: “Ah, this one is Girls, and that one is Boys”.

Girls are cut off by water. On Thursdays they go to Boys to stock up with bread and other simple delicacies. What might look like a romantic voyage is a routine trip to a grocery store for locals.

The biggest complaint of “girls” though, is that there’s nobody left to cook blueberry pies for. Children have long ago left the village for big cities.

“Before, we saw a lot of street festivities. There were young people all around. And now they’re all gone. They used to play guitar in the evening and make fires. They would even steal wood as they couldn’t get enough of it. Now the fireplace is untouched,” Maria Nikolaeva, a Girls resident, recalls.

A stork on the roof – a symbol of childbirth – looks a little bit out of place here. Only 14 people are left in one village and 15 in the other.

The only young couple which stayed, against the odds, are the Serebryakovs. They were born on opposite banks of the river, met one day and married shortly after. Now they have twins and say they wouldn’t leave their home village for any money in the world.

“Our biggest entertainment is on our own hands. We can also go to the forest for mushrooms and berries, go fishing. Haymaking is a great day out too. We’re not short of amusements at all,” Viktor Serebryakov says.

The only worry for Viktor and Lena is education for their kids. The nearest school is 15 kilometers away from the village and will be closed soon.

Lena's father is the last true farmer left in the neighborhood. Along with his family they produce enough to feed themselves and a whole kindergarten. They say they got President Medvedev's message to revive agriculture loud and clear, and do the best they can.

It's a bit gloomier on the other bank, where 84-year old Ekaterina Sergeeva is one of the youngest residents here. She spent half of her life behind the counter of the very same grocery store where locals buy bread.

She'd be more than happy now if someone brought bread to her – especially in wintertime when roads are dusted with snow.

“Local officials advised me to hire an aid worker for help. But who can I hire? There's nobody left around. Those who come for summer leave before the snow,” Sergeeva says.

When asked what kind of future her native village might have in 10 years’ time, she sets her sights very high.

“On TV they say that people will fly to another planet. So will we, the local villagers, I think,” Sergeeva jokes.

Space travel doesn't seem a short-term prospect though. The more realistic "milky way" for the locals is a new highway from Moscow to St. Petersburg, which will run just four kilometers away from the Boys and Girls villages.

So water transport may then become a thing of the past – and the road will bring more blueberry-pie lovers.

Read also Russian population to reduce to 110 million by 2050