Mysterious sands of Russia

Village of Shoina surviving in the sands

The village of Shoina is spread over several tens of kilometres along the White Sea coast beyond the Arctic Circle and 1,400 kilometres north of Moscow. It was founded in 1930 as a huge base for the fishing industry, producing a variety of canned fish. The port hosted literally hundreds of cargo ships. Shoina was once a hive of activity: the locals grew crops and bred cattle. Songs and social occasions celebrating youth could be heard all through the night.

Today though the settlement is on the brink of an ecological disaster. Deep-sea trawling has wiped out all sea bed vegetation causing a build-up of thousands of tons of sand  which is blown onto the land by powerful arctic winds, obliterating houses and buildings. Even though Shoina's population is shrinking rapidly, some local people continue to stand against the dire effects of desertification: they eke out a living by fishing, growing scarce vegetables and, as if that wasn’t enough, they take charge of ensuring that their local weather station remains operational.

The severe aftermath of desertification has also affected the Kalmykia region, once famous for its fertile lands. The “Cherny Zemli” reserve is a most unique man-made desert, 200 kilometres southwest of Elista, Kalmykia's capital. In the Soviet times the land here was set aside to grow corn. That decision however turned out to be an unqualified disaster; The crop drew massive amounts of water from the ground and completely dehydrated the soil leaving behind only sand. The locals speak out about how they’re now seeking to counter the aftermath of desertification.

The “Chara sands” desert has been recognized being among the most unique places on the Russian map. This natural wonder is in the extreme north of Zabaykalsky Krai, in Kalarsky District. An outstanding mix of mountain ice peaks, dark Taiga forests and endless patches of mysterious quicksand attracts tourists from all over the country but only the bravest of travellers can make it to this desert. The natural wonder is buried deep in pathless woods and seemingly impassable swamps.

In this programme RTD unveils the distinctive dunes of Russia’s permafrost and steppes, discovers how they emerged and what needs to be done to protect nature.