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23 Mar, 2009 07:22

Don Quixote of Russian province

A pensioner from an isolated part of central Russia’s Voronezh region says he is the true voice of the Russian countryside. He has been making videos documenting the difficult living conditions in his home village.

He even sent one to the Kremlin, but says it was returned unwatched.

In his life Valentin Belkov has been a farmer, tank engineer and gold miner. Yet it is frustration – not a lust for money – that drove him to take up his new job as a chronicler of provincial life. Valentin simply films what he sees.

Sellers at a weekly village market say business is bad in the face of rising prices and falling incomes, as more and more people locally lose their jobs. Some shoppers are alarmed by Valentin's camera. Others are spurred on to vent their feelings.

“The industrial plant has been shut down. The farms have been shut down. There is no water in the taps. There are no lights in the village,” said one of the local residents.

The economic decline of the vast Russian countryside spans decades. Many young people who grow up there move to the city to look for jobs.

More than fifteen years have passed since the subsidized Soviet state farms were dismantled. Few competitive farms have appeared in their place.

Valentin showed RT around an abandoned farm. There used to be 500 cows on it.

“Now there is only dung left here,” he said. “It's like the place has been bombed. It's like when the Russians retreated during the war.”

Valentin says rural Russia has been neglected by the government, whilst local officials are not accountable to their communities.

In fact, he often gets chided by the village administration for bringing his region into disrepute.

“The ordinary man has no protection in this country. On TV they can say whatever they want- but it's just a talking shop. And when there is an election, it doesn't matter who is in the running, the winner is known in advance,” Valentin says.

His cheap camera, grainy footage and his quixotic quest might make him easy to laugh off, but what about the things he has to say?