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12 Jun, 2010 05:02

Khakassia – where Siberian apricots grow

The Republic of Khakassia in Siberia is a land of smiles and sun – literally. The sun shines more there than any other Russian resorts. And both local residents and tourists are convinced: this is no coincidence.

Vladimir Borodich likes to joke that he has found the only way of gardening without getting his hands dirty. An amputee for more than 50 years, he is Khakassia's most well-known specialist on fruit trees, growing in his Siberian garden everything from pears and apricots to grapes and cherry blossoms.

“Of course, you can’t grow bananas here,” he admits. “It is Siberia after all. There is not enough growing time for lemons either. But tomatoes, apples, and apricots – these are all Siberian treats,” he says proudly while spading his garden.

Cheerful and effortless, Vladimir's had more than his share of pain and despair. Formerly a technician, he almost died less than a week after his wedding when he was electrocuted – an accident that cost him his arms. And while his wife has always stood by him, suicidal thoughts only let go after he took up gardening.

“I was like a tree with chopped-off branches, but then I understood that life is everything. Every single tree, every flower is reaching out for the sun,” he is now convinced. “And so am I.”

When he started his gardening experiment in Siberia half a century ago, many of his neighbors had never seen an apple tree. The unwelcoming climate presented an even tougher obstacle than his disability. Yet, slowly but surely, he managed to conquer both.

With its long winters and loose soil, Khakassia has never been a farming paradise. Yet it has one advantage over other Siberian regions – the sun. This republic has about 160 sunny days per year, something that gives many of its residents a reason to take to the fields.

Nestled on the banks of a salt lake, Salt Lake Village used to run short on even drinking water but now it is home to the largest farm in Khakassia – all thanks to Valery Pauls. A successor of German immigrants and a former director of a collective farm, he is still trying to build socialism within a given village.

“We can no longer stick to the old practices, but haven’t quite learned the new ways, either. But the Soviet system of collective farming wasn’t that bad,” he believes. “One or two people can never do what a big team is capable of.”

A master of carrots and sticks, Valery has even managed to persuade the villagers to stop drinking.

“It used to be a huge problem but then we introduced produce incentives in addition to salary. The more you work; the more grain you get. They have no time for alcohol now,” he shares his managing methods.

While most of his relatives had long emigrated, Valery says he could never leave Khakassia – for him it is very much the land of the free and the home of the brave.