The Tersky coast is home to some of the oldest settlements on the remote Kola Peninsula in northwestern Russia, with some villages dating back to the 15th century. While the town of Teriberka, on the peninsula’s northern edge, draws tourists who want to peek at the Northern Lights (as well as those who know the town as the backdrop to the Oscar-nominated film Leviathan), many fisherman’s villages on the southern Tersky coastline are dacha settlements, and as such are unoccupied for a large part of the year. Most of those who own these dachas live in larger towns across the Murmansk region: Murmansk itself, Kirovsk, and Kandalaksha, to name but a few.
Kashkarantsy, a small village with a lighthouse overlooking a pebble beach, is one exception. In 2010, it had a population of 79 people but, as Belarusian photographer Anastasiya Dubrovina learned on her visit in 2021, the lighthouse workers and their families actually reside in other towns. Today, only 12 people live in Kashkarantsy permanently.
Moscow-based Dubrovina had previously visited Murmansk, the region’s industrial centre, but was drawn away from the port city. “Of course, Murmansk is a more developed city, but it lacks the severe natural beauty of the Far North,” she says. “I wanted to explore the small settlements south of Murmansk, where you can see exquisite examples of wooden houses, chapels, and traditional crafts.”
There is no public transport along the south of the Kola peninsula, and local trains only go as far as Kandalaksha. To reach the five villages along the Tersky coast — Umba, Kuzreka, Kashkarantsy, Varzuga, and Kuzomen — Dubrovina hired a car. In Umbra, she visited an ethnographic museum complex known as Tonya Tetrina, which showcases traditional crafts and artefacts made by the Pomor people (whose name means ‘seasiders’) — hunters and fishermen who were among the first to put roots on the peninsula as early as the 12th century. She also photographed Umbra’s bakery, which makes and delivers bread to neighbouring villages on the Tersky coast. Supplies are delivered to Umbra by helicopter. “Though it is expensive, in the off season it is the only way to deliver goods, provisions, and passengers to remote settlements,” Dubrovina explains.
Further on in Kuzomen, quiet landscapes make for breathtaking images, which look all the more ethereal in the warm golden hour light. “It looks like the Wild West,” the photographer recollects, “a tiny settlement, surrounded by endless sand and emptiness, and atop the only hill you’ll find a sand-covered cemetery.” Yakut horses, which were once brought to the region to revitalise local agriculture, now roam the village.
Yet Dubrovina’s photos only give fragmentary views of village life. In reality, she says, “Kuzomen has been an environmental concern for Russia.” The area is overwhelmed with sand, which damages buildings and the Varzuga river. The sand itself is believed to have come from mass logging, while overgrazing and annual forest fires have further turned the once green landscape into a wasteland. After Varzuga, there are no more roads to reach former remote Pomor villages, such as Chabanga and Capoma. However, if you’re lucky, you might find a local treasure from the amethyst mine, which lies just a few kilometres away.