Being the hugest administrative unit by area, Yakutia has a low population density, which does not reach even a million as of 2021. India, a state of the same size, is home to two billion people. But this, of course, is understandable: the climate of India is much more comfortable and adapted for life, and the historical and political path is quite different.
Russian pioneers came to the republic in the 17th century: Yakutia has become a place for prisoners and political exile since then. But even now there are not so many people who want to settle in the land of permafrost with polar nights and days: for a modern person, who has been separated from close interaction with nature for many centuries, getting into such hard climate will be total stress for both the psyche and the body. In Russian social networks, photos of cities in the Far North – including the Republic of Sakha – are popularas they depict harsh living conditions: snow-covered cities, frozen houses, polar nights. All this causes a feeling of hopelessness, longing and icing. Playwright Mikhail Bashkirov, who moved to Yakutsk – the capital of the republic – in 2016, says that "all the time you feel the proximity of death" here. The sense of extremity separates Yakutia both geographically and mentally.
Yes, Russia is a snow-covered cold country, but the Republic of Sakha is even darker and colder . Although, is it fair to compare them? It's no secret that Moscow and St. Petersburg have little in common with the rest of Russia. But some of its regions, including Yakutia, can also hardly be called Russia the europeans know.
Sakha is also the name of the indigenous people of Yakutia of Turkic origin. It is important to note that the name "Yakuts" was given to these people by the founders of the Far North – as well as the name of the region, which, by the way, in Russian toponymy is written as "the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia)". The great distance from Moscow and the western part of Russia has allowed these people to form separately, without the influence of Russian or European culture, and to preserve this primordial spirit. Doctor of Cultural Studies Dmitry Zamyatin notes that the Yakuts are isolated not only from the Russian regions, but also from their own language family. However, this only strengthened the national identity of the Sakha, formed at the junction of the Turkic-Mongolian bloodlines, while other Turkic ethnic groups, such as Tatars, Bashkirs or Chuvash, have significantly assimilated with the prevailing Russians by culture-mixed marriages, changing of religion, indifference towards their native language and customs.
Perhaps, among the ethnic minorities from the territory of European Russia, the Sakha people can be compared with the Mari people in terms of loyalty and preservation of folk traditions, a large part of whom still profess a pagan religion based on national mythology.
At the critical moment of the fall of the USSR, republic men of culture, including filmmakers, made a bet on the Yakut language and identity. "The language attracts the viewer, he wants to see Yakut-speaking characters on the screen… Film distributors met us halfway and rented Yakut films," says Sardaana Savvina, curator of the programs of the Yakut International Film Festival.
Any pagan belief originates from the proximity to environmental forces and their personification in deities and spirits. Despite the mass Christianization in the 17th century, folk beliefs, rituals and customs are still strong in Yakutia. For example, the most famous of them is that a person has three souls. The Sakha continue to listen to nature, to cajole it, or to ask for advice and seek support. And how else would it be, when people need to adapt to the harsh nature and please it in order to survive? The unconscious thinking of centuries is much closer and more tangible than the bare and consistent reflection of events. Therefore, the abundance of mystical and mythological symbols and concepts becomes the basis for both thoughtful dramas and horror films.
Intimacy and universality