No Man’s Land: Vanishing Tribes of Siberia

In our imaginations, Siberia is a vast perpetually frozen land where foxes outnumber humans. Siberia is indeed sparsely populated, yet there are an astonishing diversity of indigenous tribes who call this inhospitable place home, including some of Turkic-Mongol and even Japanese descent due to Siberia’s border proximity with northern Mongolia, China and in the far eastern regions, with northwestern Japan. Many of Siberia’s forty-plus tribes are on the brink of extinction. They include the Evenki, the most widely spread ethnic group and the almost disappearing Taz or Tazy people of northeastern Siberia.

Over a period of nine years, Alexander Khimushin, an adventure photographer travelled the world, visiting 84 countries, including Siberia. From this tour, he started a documentary project, The World in Faces to photograph fast-disappearing ethnic groups for posterity. For Siberia, Khimushin travelled by 15,000 miles alone on his SUV, from the shores of Lake Baikal to the coast of the Japan Sea. Here is a sample of his incredible portraits of Siberian minority tribes. many of whose population is down to several dozen people.

Faces of Siberia (from The World in Faces, a project by Alexander Khimushin)

Indigenous tribes in Siberia, their habitats classified by language groups.

The Evenki are the most widely scattered of all the native peoples of Siberia. They inhabit a gigantic area of the Siberian taiga that stretches 2.5 million sq. km from the River Orb in the west to the Okhotsk Sea in the east, and from Arctic Ocean in the North, to the island of Sakhlain in the south. The original home of the Evenki was the area around Lake Baikal in the south of Siberia. Today, there are only 30,000 Evenki left in the whole of Siberia.

An Evenki elder in the south Yakutia/Amur Oblast border of Siberia. A hunter, local elder, ex-reindeer herder, he spent his entire adult life as a nomad living in a tent looking after his numerous reindeer.

Evenki Reindeer Herder Boy. Timpton river bank, Yakutia/Amur Oblast border, Siberia.
Evenki Mom with Baby. Neryungrinsky District, Sakha Republic, Siberia.

Evenki Little Girl. Sakha Republic. Siberia. This is a Yakutian Evenki girl from Olenek region—one of the coldest and most remote areas of Yakutia. Some speak only basic Russian.

An Even young man from the Eveno-Bytantaysky District, Yakutia. Siberia. Not to be confused with the Evenki, the Evens live in northeastern Siberia, one of the most remote and cold regions of Siberia.

Ulchi Girl. Bogorodskoe, Khabarovsk Krai. Far East, Siberia.

Ulchi Woman. Ulchsky District, Khabarovsk Krai, Far East, Siberia.

Ulchi Young Man. Bulava, Khabarovsk Krai. Far eastern Siberia.

Sakha Girl. Sakha Republic, Siberia. Sakha people speak a language that belongs to Turkic group, yet they are Shamanists, not Muslims. Their depend on horses for their livelihood in contrast to the Evenki people who rely on reindeers.

Sakha Girl. Sakha Republic, Siberia. Wearing traditional wedding mask. Sakha people are very proud of their unique culture. They live in the coldest area of the world, where every winter, for at least 2 months the temperature is consistently below -40 Fahrenheit.

Dolgan Girl. Sakha Republic. Siberia. A rare people, the Dolgans are the Northernmost Turkic speaking ethnic minority group in the world. A small number live in the very remote area of Northeast Yakutia, while others live in the north of Krasnoyaksky Krai, on Taimyr peninsula.

Nivkhi Man. Nilokaevsky District, Khabarovsk Krai, Okhotsk Sea shore, Siberia. It is still unknown how Nivkhi people arrived in the Far East, as linguistically they are not related to any other Tungus-Manchurian people inhabiting Siberia along the Amur River. There are few Nivkhi people left in Siberia.

Tofalar Man. Sayan Mountains, Irkutsk Oblast. Siberia. A very rare people living isolated in the Sayan Mountains north of Mongolia, bordering Russia. There are no roads to their village; one can only get to them by helicopter.

Oroqen Man. Èlúnchūn Zìzhìqí, Inner Mongolia, North-West China. The Orochens are linguistically related to the Russian Evenki.

Buryat Girl. Buryatia Republic, Siberia. Buryat people have quite different traditional clothing depending of their clan. They are ethnic Mongols with very similar language and traditions. They are among the very few ethnic groups in Russia who practice Buddhism.

Buryat Shaman. Bagdarin, Bauntovsky District, Buryatia Republic, Siberia.

Tuvan Mongolian Man. Altai region. North-West Mongolia. While there are many Tuvans living in the Tyva Republic of Russia, across the border from Mongolia, a small number of so-called Mongolian Tuvans live in Mongolia. This man is one of them. His family lives in a yurt and raise and milk yaks of the remote grassy highlands next to a glacier in Mongolian, part of the Altai Mountains.

Uilta little girl, living in the north of Sakhalin Island in Siberia, close to northern Japan. Some elderly Uilta people were born at the time when Sakhalin was part of Japan, and have Japanese names and surnames. Uilta people have almost disappeared.

Udege Man. Primorsky Krai, Far East, Siberia. A very rare people living in dense taiga along the Bikin river (the “Russian Amazon”). Until now, most of the Udege people collect and sell ginseng root and honey for a living.

Semeyskie Woman. Pervomaika, Zaigrayevsky District, Republic of Buryatia, eastern Siberia.

Tazy Woman, Mikhailovka, Olga Bay, Primorsky Krai, east Siberia. The Tazy speak Russian and the Taz language is related to Mandarin. There are few very Tazys left in the whole of Siberia.

Nanai Girl. Nanaysky District, Khabarovsk Krai. Far East, Siberia.

Ainu Young Man. Hokkaido Island, Japan.

Chukcha Girl. Sakha Republic, Siberia.

Photographer Alexander Khimushin in Far East Siberia with the Nanai People.

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