The North Pacific

Calamity Islands


Reference Point

The Sakhalin region stretches across 59 islands off the eastern coast of Russia. Most of these islands came under Soviet jurisdiction in September 1945, following an agreement drawn up at the Potsdam peace conference after the end of World War II. In the 1940s, about 300,000 Japanese citizens repatriated to Japan from Sakhalin and from the Kuril islands, while the number of Soviet residents grew from 70,000 to 450,000 people. Today, island residents lead a tough life mostly based around fishing, selling to markets in Russia and Japan. The disagreement over which country owns these territories continues to this day.

The photo book Calamity Islands contains historical and contemporary photographs, stories and opinions of island natives, collected by the documentary photographer Oleg Klimov over his several years at Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands.

The research uses quotes from the Anton Chekhov’s Sakhalin Island, as well as materials and photographs from the archives of the Moscow Literary Museum, Sakhalin Local History Museum, Anton Chekhov’s Sakhalin Island book’s museum, USA Library of Congress, and from media reports.

A comparative visual and social analysis of the local residents’ lifestyles, from the hard-labour times to modern day, is conducted at Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands – the continental Russia’s only island area.

Through topographically singling out the unique islands of the state that is nearly a continent, and enduing them with the qualities of Russia’s “social subconscious”, OIeg Klimov tries to explain the post-Soviet person’s behaviour and examine the causes of their ressentiment, confirming his conclusions with visual images.


The first European on Sakhalin Island

Marten Gerritsz Fries is fairly well-known around the Pacific, but unknown to people in the Netherlands. There are no statues and no stories about him in history books. In that respect, his life story fits seamlessly with the forgotten history of Sakhalin […]

The Dutch had already been active in Asia from 1596 on. They were triggered by rumours about gold and silver on two unknown islands, as reported by a Portuguese ship’s crew driven ashore earlier in the 1580s. Fuelled by this report, a gold rush started after 1611. Dutch espionage brought the story to the Netherlands […]

René Attema, Frisian historian

Why and How Anton Chekhov went to Sakhalin

It was reserved for the worst criminals: one of those areas of the Russian empire where the death penalty was still imposed for murder and other crimes. The island’s sole inhabitants were 10,000 convicts, a few of their family members, hundreds of officials in the prison system and the few thousand hunter-gatherer Nivkh aborigines who had survived the epidemics and atrocities inflicted by Russian colonisers […]

Donald Rayfield, English writer

No Man Is An Island

Each individual I met seemed, when alone, like a nice person to me, but whenever my new acquaintances found themselves together in some “interest groups”, they often became monstrous in their judgements about people who were not part of their circle or did not share their views of life, national policies and national leaders. Thus, I saw the burgeoning of a subconscious feeling of hatred the human mass produces whenever an “only true idea” or ideology purporting to embrace the whole world fails […]

Oleg Klimov‘s Observation Diary, 2016

Downsides of an Empire

Imperialist countries have at least one characteristic in common. They cannot cope very well with the loss of their former glorious empire. They rather crave revenge on the course of history than accept the inevitability of history […]

What about Russia? Just like the Netherlands – and England and France, by the way – also Russia is not able to cope with its lost empire in 1991 when the Soviet Union ceased to exist. The collapse of this czarist-based communist empire into a new smaller Russia and fourteen independent former colonized states ended nearly 450 years of Moscow’s expansion […]

Hubert Smeets, Dutch journalist


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