Three University of California Berkeley master's candidates in journalism traveled this winter to the Russian Old Believer communities on the Kenai Peninsula to work on a documentary film. The Atlantic has published an offshoot article and still photos from their visit, focusing on the centuries-long journey that brought the Old Believers from Russia to Alaska via China, South America and Oregon. Also covered is the 1980s split in the Peninsula group, which now occupies two communities, the original near Anchor Point and a newer, more conservative, "priestless" outpost east of Homer where outsiders aren't as welcome. Among the challenges both groups are facing in the new century: youth who leave for college and don't return, and the potential loss of their Slavonic language.
From The Atlantic:
The Yakunin clan was much smaller in 1968 when they started building a Russian Orthodox village called Nikolaevsk in an isolated corner of Alaska's Kenai Peninsula. Members of the Old Believers--a Russian Orthodox sect that left the church in 1666, in the face of state-issued church reforms--traveled more than 20,000 miles over five centuries in the search for the perfect place to protect their traditions from outside influences.
The women wear teal, pink, red, and purple satin dresses, all made with the same basic design that covers their bodies down to their ankles. Married women cover their hair with scarves that match their colorful gowns. Father Nikolai has a full red beard that reaches the top of his round belly and his hair is in a ponytail that runs down his back over a traditional Russian shirt. ...
"If we stopped believing and stopped going to church and observing the orthodox way of life," Father Nikolai says, "we would cease to exist."
On a journey back through time that touches some of the most remote corners of the globe--a generation ago, Oregon, before that Brazil, China, and Siberia--the Yakunin clan emerges out of history as a family in search of a way to live without compromise. But even at the end of the world it's impossible to resist change forever.