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Kommersant: Sakhalin Region: GENERAL INFORMATION

sakhalin islands

Sakhalin Emblem

Sakhalin Region is spread over 59 islands. It was formed within its present boundaries on January 2, 1947, out of the former Sakhalin Region, Khabarovsk Territory, and territories that became Russian possessions after the victory over Japan in the Second World War. The region includes Sakhalin Island, the adjoining small islands, and the Kuril Islands. It is located on the eastern shores of the Eurasian mainland in the transition zone between the continent and the Pacific Ocean.

The region covers a total area of 87 100 km2 and has a population of 608 000 people. At present, representatives of more than 110 nationalities live in Sakhalin Region, including Russians (81.7%), Ukrainians (6.5%), Koreans (4.9%), Belarussians (1.6%), Tatars (1.5%), Mordvins, Germans, Bashkirs, Kazakhs, Jews, Chuvashes, Japanese, and many more. In addition, there are small numbers of native people, such as the Nivkhis (2000 people) and Orochis (212 people, but their number is steadily decreasing).

There is a particular problem associated with the large Korean community (about 40 000 people at present). The Japanese forcibly deported them from Korea during the period when Korea and South Sakhalin belonged to Japan. Negotiations are going on between Tokyo and Seoul for their return to their historic homeland (21 000 people want to return) at Japan’s expense.

The existence of the Sakhalin Ainu, a native people who once lived here, ended tragically and they are remembered only in museum exhibits. After 1945, the remaining Ainu were resettled on the Japanese island of Hokkaido.

Sakhalin Island’s unique geographical position favors the development of foreign economic relations. The Kuril Islands, with a total area of 10 500 km2, extend from the southern tip of Kamchatka southwestward to Hokkaido and form a natural boundary between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific Ocean. The Great Kuril Range stretches for 1200 km and includes about 30 islands. The largest islands are Paramushir, Onekotan, Simushir, Urup, Iturup, and Kunashir. Southeast of Kunashir and separated from it by South Kuril Strait lies the Little Kuril Range, which extends about 100 km; it includes Shikotan Island and another group of small islands. The Kuriles are typical volcanic islands. There are 160 volcanoes on the islands, 40 of which are active; the highest volcano is Mt. Alaid (2339 m) on Atlasov Island. Russia’s largest waterfall, the 141-m-high Ilya Muromets, is located on Iturup. The state boundary between the Russian Federation and Japan passes through Laperouse, Kunashir, and Izmena straits.

The region has enormous reserves of natural resources that have been of crucial importance in the formation, structure, and development of its economy.

There are more than 17 200 lakes with a total area of 1100 km2 and more than 65 000 rivers and streams, including about 4000 on the Kuril Islands. The largest rivers are the Poronai (350 km long), Tym (330 km), and Lyutoga (130 km). Nearly all the rivers of Sakhalin Region are of importance for fish spawning. The largest lakes in the region are Nevskoe near Terpenie Bay (178 km2), Tunaicha near Mordvinov Bay (174 km2), Busse and Bolshoe Vavaiskoe near Aniv Bay, and Ainskoe and Sladkoe on the west and north coasts of Sakhalin, respectively.

Eight higher educational institutions and their branches, 15 specialized secondary schools, and 19 vocational schools train qualified personnel for the economy. The Russian-American Business Education Center (Alaska, USA) and the Russian-American School of Business Management of Portland University (Oregon, USA) operate in the region.

There is great emphasis on amateur and professional sports and physical training. The region has 9 stadiums, 3 indoor swimming pools, and 240 sports centers.

Sakhalin Region has a whole range of cultural education facilities. The International Chekhov Center, the puppet theater, the regional philharmonic, and the local history and art museums are very popular with residents. A Korean Cultural Center has also opened in the region.


Based on archeological discoveries, the first people appeared on Sakhalin during the Paleolithic period, but much of the history of Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands remains a mystery. Thus, archeologists do not know exactly when settlement began or to what ethnic group the population belonged.

All that is known is that in the 17th century, Ainu lived in the Kuril Islands and south Sakhalin and Nivkhi inhabited north Sakhalin. Ultas (Orok) evidently lived in the central and northern areas of Sakhalin at that time. The first European expedition to the Kuriles and Sakhalin was the expedition of the Dutch navigator Maarten Vries.

Russian explorers played an enormous role in studying Sakhalin and the Kuriles. The first expedition (in 1646), led by V.D. Poyarkov, explored the northwest coast of Sakhalin; and in 1697, V.V. Atlasov discovered the Kuril Islands. The process of studying and gradually annexing the Kuril Islands to the Russian state had already begun by the 1710s.

At the same time as the Russians were advancing through the Kuriles from the north, the Japanese were making their way to the South Kuriles and the extreme southern part of Sakhalin. Japanese trading posts and fishing boats began to appear here by the second half of the 18th century, and scientific expeditions began in the 1780s. Mogami Tokunai and Mamiya Rinzo played a special role in Japanese research.

In the late 18th century, a French expedition led by Jean-Francois de La Perouse and an English expedition led by William Broughton explored the coasts of Sakhalin. Their investigations gave rise to the theory that Sakhalin was a peninsula. The Russian explorer I.F. Kruzenshtern reinforced this theory in summer 1805, when he made an unsuccessful attempt to cross between Sakhalin and the mainland.

G.I. Nevelsky put an end to the dispute in 1849, when he found a navigable channel between the island and the mainland. Following Nevelsky’s discoveries, Sakhalin was annexed to Russia, and a succession of Russian military posts and settlements arose on the island. Between 1869 and 1906, Sakhalin was Russia’s largest hard labor camp for exiles.

In the early 19th century, Sakhalin and the Kuriles became the subject of a Russian-Japanese territorial dispute.

The Russo-Japanese border changed repeatedly over the next two centuries. According to the Simodsky Agreement of 1855, the boundary passed between the islands of Urup and Iturup and Sakhalin remained undivided. In 1875, Russia ceded the North Kuriles to Japan in exchange for full rights to Sakhalin. After defeating Russia in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905, Japan seized South Sakhalin from it. The Japanese subsequently occupied North Sakhalin from 1920 to 1925. The last boundary changes occurred in 1945, when Russia took back South Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands after the Soviet victory in the Second World War.


Nature has endowed Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands with beauty and riches. Forests of fir, larch, pine, cedar, and spruce cover more than 80% of the region. Total timber resources amount to more than 600 million m3.

Commercially important animals inhabiting the region include the bear, wolverine, fox, sable, hare, reindeer, squirrel, chipmunk, ermine, and otter. The axis deer, Ussuri raccoon (raccoon dog), muskrat, and Barguzin sable have become naturalized here in the last 20 years. Manchurian elk and wild boar are also encountered. Birds such as the wood grouse, woodcock, ptarmigan, blue tit, woodpecker, mallard, teal, guillemot, and cormorant inhabit the forests and coasts.

The forests have an abundance of various kinds of berries, mushrooms, medicinal herbs, and other wild plants such as ferns. Sakhalin’s forests are a vital part of a natural ecosystem that helps preserve a rare spawning ground of the Pacific salmon.

The seas surrounding Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands are the most productive biological regions of the world ocean. The Sakhalin-Kuril basin is one of Russia’s largest fishing grounds, with many valuable commercial fish species. Ninety percent of the catch consists of salmon, herring, flounder, pollock, saury, mackerel, cod, navaga, greenling, and halibut. Crabs, shrimp, whelks, and bivalve mollusks, such as scallops and mussels, are harvested on the Sakhalin and Kuril shelves.

Seaweeds such as laminaria (sea kale) and ahnfeltia [a red seaweed] are also of great commercial importance.

Many species of marine mammals inhabit the seas around Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands. They include spotted seals, ribbon seals, Steller sea lions, fur seals, sea otters (listed in the Red Book), and various species of whales.

The region has large freshwater reserves and natural areas suitable for treatment and recreational purposes.

Sakhalin Region has wide variety of subsurface mineral resources and is well supplied with fuel and energy resources. The hydrocarbon resources of Sakhalin Island and the adjacent shelf, where most of the proven and probable oil and gas reserves are located, represent the greatest worth for the economies of both Sakhalin Region and the Far Eastern region as a whole.

Coal deposits are notable for their varied grade compositions, mainly of high-rank power-plant fuel.

Hot springs and mixed water-steam springs that are important for practical use in the power industry are located on the Kuril Islands and in several districts on Sakhalin. The region’s total energy resources considerably exceed both current and long-term internal requirements and have great significance for the entire Far Eastern region.

Numerous shows of ferrous, precious, and nonferrous metals have been identified in the region; and a whole range of deposits and shows of gem-quality semiprecious stones (agate, amber, carnelian) with high artistic value have been discovered. There are also known shows of polymetallic ores with rare metal admixtures on the Kuril Islands.

There are great prospects for increasing reserves, expanding production of all forms of recoverable raw materials, and development of new production facilities on the basis of untapped raw material resources.


Sakhalin Region is part of the Far Eastern economic district and is one of the country’s largest regions. It has large raw material reserves and is in a very advantageous geographical and geopolitical location that favors the development of foreign economic relations. Sakhalin Region is in fourth place among the ten Far Eastern regions in industrial output and has a wide range of natural resources, including oil and gas, hard and brown coal, ferrous, nonferrous, rare, and precious metals, raw materials for the chemical, agricultural chemical, and cement industries, many other mineral resources, biological resources (land and sea), freshwater resources, and recreational areas.

Industry is Sakhalin Region’s leading economic sector. The most important industries are fishing and fish processing, forestry, woodworking, pulp and paper, light industry, food, and oil and gas.

Companies located in the main industrial centers, i.e., Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Korsakov, Nevelsk, Kholmsk, Okha, Uglegorsk, Shakhtersk, and Nogliki, process most of the raw materials produced in the region. In addition to raw material production and processing, there are companies involved in ship repair, equipment repair, and production of cans and wooden and cardboard containers.

Agriculture is mainly of a domestic, suburban nature and specializes in growing vegetables, potatoes, and feed crops. Beef and dairy cattle farming, poultry farming, and fur farming are also actively expanding. Reindeer are raised in the northern part of the region.

Sakhalin Region is the only place in the Far East where oil and gas are produced. The oil and gas industry is concentrated on North Sakhalin. There are 58 known oil and gas fields.

The fuel and energy complex includes the oil and gas, coal, and power industries. Today, they produce 54% of the region’s industrial output and thus are an important source of budget revenues and provide 25% of the region’s export potential. The future of the oil and gas industry is tied to the substantial reserves of the oil and gas fields of the Sakhalin shelf. Crude oil is transported by pipeline to a refinery in Komsomolsk-on-Amur (Khabarovsk Territory).

The seas of Okhotsk and Japan and the eastern part of the Pacific Ocean are of paramount importance to the economy of Sakhalin Region; and the Far East as a whole ranks first in fish catches among the country’s economic districts. The fishing industry, which has more than a 30% share in total commercial production, is the region’s most developed and best equipped industrial sector. The Sea of Okhotsk has some of the largest fish stocks among the seas bordering on Russia. In recent years, fishing vessels have been operating in the Indian Ocean. Factory ships and a whaling fleet have also been put into operation. The main fish processing centers are Kholmsk, Korsakov, Nevelsk, and Yuzhno-Kurilsk.

Companies in the industry include the South Sakhalin Fish Plant (Yuzhno-Sakhalinsky rybozavod), AO Korsakov Deep-Sea Fishery Base (Korsakovskaya baza okeanicheskogo rybolovstva), the Nevelsk trawler fleet base, and the Ostrovnoi Fish Plant (rybokombinat Ostrovnoi). Routes connecting Russia with Japan, North Korea, China, and the United States run through the Sea of Japan. The region has prospects of becoming a major transportation center on foreign trade routes between the Russian Federation and Japan, the United States, North and South Korea, China, Singapore, India, and other Asia-Pacific countries. Sakhalin Region’s border location, ice-free ports, and closeness to developed countries of the Asia-Pacific region create favorable conditions for cooperation and foreign capital investment. The number of companies with foreign investments is continually increasing and is now more than 300.

Development of Sakhalin Region’s vast resources will require enormous capital investments, and thus a priority investment program to attract foreign investments is being drawn up. The enormous scale of resources and investments in projects to develop the oil and gas fields of the Sakhalin shelf provides additional incentive for cooperation between Sakhalin and foreign companies in the most diverse spheres of activity. Investment cooperation through companies with foreign investments is an important line of cooperative development between Sakhalin Region and other countries. The development of joint small business ventures with neighboring countries has become a key objective in the region.


The Charter of Sakhalin Region, which came into force on January 19, 1996, defines Sakhalin Region’s status as a subject of the Russian Federation.

The Sakhalin Regional Administration headed by an elected governor is the region’s highest executive body. The governor determines the main lines of the Administration’s activities and organizes its work on the basis and in pursuance of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, Federal laws, Decrees of the Russian President, Russian Government resolutions, and regional laws. The governor, as head of the Administration, represents regional interests in Federal government bodies, as well as in relations with other subjects of the Russian Federation and foreign governments, including the signing of agreements with them.

The Sakhalin Regional Duma exercises legislative (representative) authority in the region. The Duma is elected for a four-year term and consists of 27 deputies elected by the people of the region on the basis of equal, direct, and universal suffrage by secret ballot. The regional Duma can initiate legislation in the State Duma of the Russian Federation.


Despite its island location and remoteness from well-traveled trade routes, Sakhalin Region has never been completely isolated from the influence of mainland civilizations and cultures, as Russian and Japanese archeological excavations have shown. Sakhalin Region has survived the strange history of its development, gone through difficult times, and felt the influence of both European and Asian cultures.

In Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the region’s cultural capital, Japanese architectural features blend whimsically with Soviet architecture. The region has more than 1000 thousand historical and cultural monuments, 124 of which are under government protection. Some of the most valuable of these are the Starodubskoe-2 and Susuiskaya archeological sites; the building of the Chekhov and Sakhalin memorial historical and literary museum, where Chekhov stayed during a visit to Sakhalin in 1890; the monuments to Chekhov in Aleksandrovsk-Sakhalinsky and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk; the monuments to Lenin in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Aleksandrovsk-Sakhalinsky, and Okha; and the monument in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk to Soviet soldiers who died in the battles to liberate South Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands in 1945.

State and municipal cultural centers and 138 clubs cordially welcome visitors. The region’s 16 museums have unique collections representing the country’s cultural property and a memory of the glories of past history with architectural monuments, art treasures, and archeological relics. There are also two theaters: the Chekhov International Theater Center and the Sakhalin Regional Puppet Theater. And the Sakhalin Regional Philharmonic continues to delight music lovers.

Performances by the Sakhalin Russian Folk Choir, the Gratsiya and Rodnichok ballroom dance ensembles, the Etnos Russian folksong ensemble, the Governor’s show and symphony music orchestra, and many other groups enjoy great success. The Arila-nif, Mengume Ilga, and Pilaken folk ensembles, which work in areas where small native groups live, present the national art of northern peoples.

The cities of Kholmsk, Korsakov, and Aleksandrovsk-Sakhalinsky have their own interesting cultural life. Kholmsk has a museum of marine fauna on the shore of Tatar Strait and an exhibit of art donated by the Artists’ Union at the Seaman’s Palace of Culture and Technology. Aleksandrovsk-Sakhalinsky is famous as the city where the great Russian writer Anton Chekhov stayed during his trip to Sakhalin Island in 1890. His book Sakhalin Island (Ostrov Sakhalin) was of great interest to the island. The Chekhov and Sakhalin museum was opened in Aleksandrovsk-Sakhalinsky in honor of the 100th anniversary of Chekhov’s visit.

As Sakhalin Region was cut off from the country’s major information centers, it was forced to make maximum use of its own information resources, especially library resources. Today, the region has 226 libraries, including 17 belonging to centralized library systems, one district library, and three regional libraries (a general science library, a children’s library, and a library for the blind). These libraries have played a key role in forming an information society at the local level. The region’s libraries have a total stock of 4 816 000 books.

Natural sites worth noting include mineral springs, therapeutic mud sources, and geothermal springs with therapeutic properties, volcanoes, and waterfalls. The region’s uniqueness draws large numbers of tourists, who have the opportunity to visit world-famous Stolbchaty Cape on the island of Kunashir where they can walk on a soft comfortable beach and get an unaided view of Japan. There are also unique archeological sites and places associated with aboriginal cultures.

The region has two ski jumps and a slalom course that hold both local competitions for athletes from Siberia and the Far East and international competitions. Tourists are offered a variety of tours and recreation in any season and for any taste.

The tourist industry of Sakhalin Region is expanding. More than 50 companies have received licenses to engage in international tourist activities; they are also involved in domestic tourism.

Official site of the Sakhalin Administration: and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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