Rural revival threatened in Volgograd region as young head for cities
Russia's Volgograd region, located in the southeastern part of the country and named after the mighty Volga River, is full of rural charm, yet there are signs it is not enough to keep its young generation.
In its thousand-year history the region has witnessed both soaring wealth and devastating war.
Pelagea Yashkina, a farmer and wool spinner, is 87 years old. She has worked in agriculture since she was 13.
She keeps goats, geese and chickens, sells woolen clothes and eggs, and does all the work herself.
“I can’t stay still. I’m used to working. I’m an old woman. I don’t have much left or anywhere to go,” says Pelagea.
Pelagea lives and farms in the town of Uryupinsk in Russia’s Volgograd region.
It is typical of Russia’s rural settlements, growing from a small collection of villages with many people there still herding cattle, fishing and keeping smallholdings.
Throughout history, Russia’s countryside has quietly got along with its natural cycles, with major historical events often passing it by.
As a result, rural Russians are often the source of humor. But behind the jokes, rural Russia suffers from a much more serious problem.
Nina Markina works for an emu farm outside a tiny village. She says it is not easy work.
“They become very protective when they’re laying eggs,” says Nina.
“The male protects them and can attack you with his legs. The middle claw is very dangerous.”
This is one of many agricultural jobs she has had. But her children are unlikely to follow her.
“My daughter’s in university. My son’s in tenth grade and we don’t know what he’ll do,” explains Nina. “I’d like them to stay but there’s no future here.”
Russian agriculture was hit by a huge depression in the 1990s.
Livestock numbers fell by half and the area of grain planting by a quarter.
Even now, young people all over Russia are deserting the countryside and moving to the city.
“They need to encourage and stimulate young people to work in the countryside,” says Anastasia Ivanova, a vet on a chicken farm. “They need to pay us more and give us housing.”
But far from jumping ship, Anastasia is one of Russian agriculture’s bright new hopes.
She chose to work at a farm rather than being in nearby Volgograd, and she is not the only one.
“Half of the experts working here are younger than 30,” says Anastasia. “It’s promising young people come here to work. The work is very interesting and you can grow as a professional in many different fields.”
However, not all agricultural sectors welcome young men. The tractor workers, for example, say they would not trust younger staff with such expensive and complicated equipment.
But soon enough they will not get away without the young generation.
Farming out in Volgograd has wide horizons. It has a lot of land potentially producing a lot of food. What it needs now is the incentives and enthusiasm to make young people want what is out there.