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Matter-Eater Lad

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Antonina Makarova, 78, is the last resident of the village of Kstinovo, 130 miles north of Moscow. She says the village once thrived, but now "even the thieves have disappeared." The number of people in the region has shrunk by about 250,000 since 1989.


Oct. 13, 2006, 2:32AM


In a nation that's losing more people than it's gaining, Putin is offering financial incentives to repopulate

Trying to restore region's greatness



Los Angeles Times


KSTINOVO, RUSSIA — Welcome to Kstinovo, population one.


Antonina Makarova, 78, spends her days watching news and soap operas in her peeling wooden dacha, the only inhabited structure in two lanes of sagging cottages that once were a village. Her nearest neighbor, 80-year-old Maria Belkova, lives in adjacent Sosnovitsy, population two. But Belkova can't hear anymore, and all in all, Makarova finds the television better company.

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"All the houses here were filled with people. There was a cheese factory. But now everyone else has died. God has taken care of them, and he's still making me suffer," Makarova said. "Even the thieves have disappeared."


The Tver region, along the upper reaches of the Volga River 130 miles north of Moscow, is dotted with more than 1,400 villages such as Kstinovo marked "nezhiloye" — depopulated. Since 1989, the number of people here has shrunk by about 250,000 to about 1.4 million, with deaths outnumbering births more than 2 to 1.


Russia is the only major industrial nation that is losing population. Its people are succumbing to one of the world's fastest-growing AIDS epidemics, resurgent tuberculosis, rampant cardiovascular disease, alcohol and drug abuse, smoking, suicide and the lethal effects of unchecked industrial pollution.


The public health-care system is collapsing. And many parents in more prosperous urban areas say they can't afford homes large enough for the number of children they'd like to have.


The former Soviet Union, with about 300 million people, was the world's third-most populous country, behind China and India. Slightly more than half of its citizens lived in Russia. The country has lost the equivalent of a city of 700,000 people every year since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, only partially offset by an influx of people from other former Soviet republics. A country that sprawls across one-eighth of the globe is now home to 142 million people.


The losses have been disproportionately male. At the height of its power, the Soviet Union's people lived almost as long as Americans. But now, the average Russian man can expect to live about 59 years, 16 years less than an American man and 14 less than a Russian woman.


Sergei Mironov, chairman of the upper house of Russia's parliament, said last year that if the trend didn't change, the population would fall to 52 million by 2080.


"There will no longer be a great Russia," he said. "It will be torn apart piece by piece, and finally cease to exist."


Russian officials, flush with revenue from record prices for the country's oil exports, have started to respond. President Vladimir Putin this year pledged payments of $111 a month to mothers who elected to have a second child, plus a nest egg of $9,260 to be used for education, a mortgage or pensions.


"Russia has a huge territory, the largest territory in the world," Putin said. "If the situation remains unchanged, there will simply be no one to protect it."


Plunge into poverty

The economic earthquake of Russia's transition from communism to capitalism plunged tens of millions into poverty overnight and changed the value systems upon which many had planned their lives.


A small minority, mostly in urban centers such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, were able to exploit the absence of rules in the chaotic 1990s to become fabulously wealthy. But such a profound social transition, coming at the end of a century of war, revolution and ruthless social experimentation, condemned a great many more to a deep malaise.


Those who lost out have proved susceptible to drinking, smoking and other habits that killed millions of Russians even in the best of times. In more extreme cases, they kill themselves.




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