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Photos: Life in Russian Mission

  • Author: Loren Holmes
  • Updated: October 24
  • Published October 24

Russian Mission is a Yukon River village of about 340 people. Yup’ik people have long had settlements and seasonal camps along the life-giving river. In the mid-1800s, Russian Orthodox missionaries established a permanent village and built a log chapel. Today, most people in Russian Mission still identify as Russian Orthodox and harvest much of their food from the river and surrounding lands.

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Light streams through holes in Willie Takumjenak's smokehouse as king and chum salmon dry in late June. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Syra Kozevnikoff, 9, rides her bicycle in Russian Mission in June. The tan building behind her is the village public safety office, which has three jail cells that are rarely used. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Pete Stephanoff flies a kite with his children Pete, 4, and Colt, 2. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Paula Changsak and her daughter Jenessa Tinker, 4, visit the gravesite of Tinker's sister Dariel. Dariel was born with brain damage and died at age 6 months. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Russian Orthodox missionaries established a permanent settlement at this spot along the Yukon River about 1837 and constructed a log chapel, which is no longer standing, around 1845. The church is still very important in the village, with most people identifying as Russian Orthodox. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Matthew Changsak walks home after his shift working for the telephone company. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Russell Vaska rides his bicycle in Russian Mission. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Scrap metal from the old city gym is piled up near the Yukon River. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
From left, Monica Kozevnikoff, 6, Syra Kozevnikoff, 9, Xavier Joseph, 10, and Charissa Kozevnikoff, 12, eat snacks outside the Russian Mission Native Store. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Basil Larson loads gear in his fishing boat. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Lianna Peterson eats lunch with her children Logan Larson, 8, and Kianna Larson, 3, at the family's fish camp. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Natasha Alexie helps her son Noah Askoak, 3, aim a bow and arrow. The family was passing time waiting for the end of a subsistence fishing closure on the Yukon River. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Children play in the Yukon River in June. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
A Crowley fuel barge arrives in Russian Mission to deliver fuel to the school and city. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
A Crowley fuel barge offloads 40,000 gallons of diesel for the school. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Jonathan Chunak, left, and Emmanuel Andrews try to push a boat into the water so they can go fishing. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
The old Elevation of the Holy Cross Church, constructed around 1851, sits atop a hill overlooking the village of Russian Mission in March. Russian Orthodox missionaries established a permanent settlement here along the Yukon River about 1837 and constructed a log chapel, which is no longer standing, around 1845. The church is still very important in the village, with most people identifying as Russian Orthodox. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Downtown Russian Mission in March. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Patricia Pitka mixes pulltabs at the bingo hall. Pulltabs and bingo are common ways of paying for city services in many small Alaska communities. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Bingo caller April Pitka works a game at the bingo hall. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
A dog rests in a parking lot outside the school gym while a basketball tournament goes on inside. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Teams from Pilot Station and St. Mary’s were in Russian Mission for a basketball tournament in March. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Clothes dry outside a home in March. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Cassandra Askoak holds a Kalashnikov-style semiautomatic rifle in the family's kitchen. Askoak says the family uses the rifle for moose and bears but that she also keeps it handy for when things get crazy in the village. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Blake Askoak, 5, plays with a rifle clip at his kitchen table. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Cassandra and Nicephore Askoak and their children, Amelia, 2, and Blake, 5. Nicephore's father Simeon Askoak was a Village Public Safety Officer in Russian Mission when he committed suicide in the spring of 2005. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Amelia Askoak, 2, plays with marten that her father Nicephore Askoak brought home from the family trapline. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Keith Pitka skijors with his dogs. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Young pups crowd their mother's doghouse in Basil Larson's dog yard. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Basil Larson in his dog yard. He often carries a handgun while mushing for protection from wildlife. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Basil Larson mushes his dog team in March. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Christian Kozevnikoff, 1, blows out a candle after a Saturday evening service at Elevation of the Holy Cross Church. This Russian Orthodox church was founded in 1843, and most people in the community are members of the church. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Rev. John Larson leads a Saturday evening service at the Russian Orthodox Church. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Russian Orthodox priest Rev. John Larson walks home after Sunday service. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Moses Gabriel and Brent Paukan eat brunch after Sunday service. Gabriel is a retired Russian Orthodox priest, and Paukan was visiting from St. Mary's for a basketball tournament. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Cassandra Askoak smokes a cigarette in the doorway of her home. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
April Pitka knits in her home while her husband Yago sits on the couch behind. They share the one-room house with their three children and Yago's cousin. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Mayor Sheila Minock. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Daniel Askoak holds his son Gabriel. Askoak is a former Village Police Officer. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Isabella Takumjenak, 7, pulls her sister Rosetta Kozevmikoff, 10 months, on a sled. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
The Yup'ik Eskimo village of Russian Mission, population 300, sits on the bank of the Yukon River. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Marie Askoak, 90, at her kitchen table. Askoak is the oldest person in the village. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
Children play on an ATV outside the school. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

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