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Irkutsk: Environment and Culture
Study in Irkutsk, Learn about Siberia

  Okholon Island on Lake Baikal has a unique geology and environment. It's also a sacred site for the native Buryats. Students will have the chance to visit this natural wonder as part of most SRAS Irkutsk programs.

SRAS students in Irkutsk will take advantage of the region's wide cultural and educational opportunities to immerse themselves in not only Russian culture, but to better understand the environment, history, and indigenous cultures of Siberia.

Considered the birthplace of Russian environmentalism, with a unique environment around Lake Baikal that attracts scientists and tourists alike, Irkutsk is one of the best places to study environmentalism and how rapidly changing policies (from the Tsarist, Communist, and now Federal Governments) can affect environmental change and impact local cultures.

This lineup of events is designed to be an intensive, hands-on, sensory introduction to the environment and diversity of Russia and Eurasia. It is meant especially for those students interested in environmental history and policy, but also for those who want to better understand how the environment and diversity are central to the modern Russian identity.


I. Development Issues

Related Programs:

Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill*
This now-shuttered factory was Lake Baikal's #1 pollution source for several decades. The factory's construction sparked unprecedented environmental activism in Irkutsk in the 1960s, setting off a social movement that remains strong to this day. Baikalsk factory today presents a surrealistic picture of abandoned buildings gradually being taken back by nature.

Olkhon Island*
As the world's fourth largest lake-bound island, and given its position in the world's largest fresh water lake, Olkhon has a unique geology and environment. It's also long been considered a sacred site for the native Buryats. Today, the island is seeing tourists flood in as nature tourism takes hold in the Baikal area, benefiting the local economy but also threatening the environment and sacred sites alike.

Angark, a city near Irkutsk, is known for its Petrochemical and Electrolysis Chemical Complexes. The chemical industry made this city of 200,000 residents closed to any foreign visits in the Soviet era. While the complexes continue to be an important part of the local economy, they are also ecological concerns.

Irkutsk Dump
The dump can give you a visual (and perhaps shocking) experience of how garbage is typically dealt with in a large Russian urban center.

We will see one of the largest federal road construction projects as well as a number of new luxury suburbs that, while positive economically, are threatening many adjacent forested areas. We will also pass the huge Irkutsk hydroelectric dam, representative of five such dams in the area that feed a large local aluminum industry with inexpensive electricity. We will also spend time at the lake, visiting Chersky peak, hiking, and seein other local sites.hung


Siberian Native Groups

The settlement has a major Buddhist dastan (temple) and a Buryat culture museum. Restaurants provide all variations of the Buryat ethnic cuisine. 

This city was once a stop on the historic route to Mongolia. "Arshan" means "spring" in the Buryat language. It is one of the most famous resorts and spa locations in Siberia, with hot and cold springs and open air mudbaths. Historically it was an example of Soviet era recreational location where Soviet peasants and workers could spend their state-provided one month vacation. In addition, ethnic Buryat cuisine (chebureks and pozy) is available.



Irkutsk Walking Tour and Regional Museum
Our walking tour will show you the main sites of the city and orient you to your new home. We will see Kirov Square, a Gothic-style Polish Cathedral, the Cathedral of Apparition of Our Lord, the Church of Our Savior, the Monument of Friendship between Russia and Japan, the Regional Administration Building, and the Eternal Flame Memorial. You will stroll along the embankment of the Angara River and through the parks of Irkutsk, where there will be plenty of fantastic photo opportunities. During warm months the embankment is a promenade with stalls for snacks and drinks, where you can try locally brewed kvas. You'll stop by the Regional Museum, located on one of Irkutsk’s main drags, Karl Marx Street, and get an introduction to the history and cultures of the local peoples that make up the Irkutsk Region. Led by a young, friendly, English-speaking local – a graduate of the Linguistic University – who will be happy to answer any questions you have about the city. Wear good walking shoes! 

Decembrists’ Museum
Irkutsk has been named the Decembrists center of Russia. The Decembrist uprising took place in the Senate Square in St. Petersburg in December 1825, when a group of conspirators (led mostly by military officers who had come into contact with Western European liberal-revolutionary ideas during the Napoleonic Wars), made an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow autocracy and abolish serfdom. The 5 main conspirators were hanged, and 121 others were deprived of all rights and sentenced to hard labor and exile in Siberia (or to military duty in Caucasia). The Decembrists were not allowed to socialize with the local people or attend public events, so you will see the parlor room where the Decembrists held private concerts, plays, and literary readings. The museum houses genuine items which belonged to the Decembrists and replicas of those things which were lost, such as pieces of furniture, tableware, stoves, musical instruments, ancient chandeliers, embroidery, books, sheet music, pictures, and photographs. You will also learn more about the hard lives of the wives who followed their husbands into exile. On some days, the candles are lit, music is played and poetry and stories are recited - just like when the hosts were alive.

More Information:

Ice Breaker Museum
The Angara Ice Breaker was made in Great Britain and was used for operating the Trans-Siberian railroad connection between port Baikal and the eastern Buryat coast. It was also used both by the Reds and Whites in the Russian Civil War.

Taltsy Museum of Wooden Architecture and Ethnography
This outdoor museum offers several preserved, traditional wooden buildings as well as full-sized Buryat yurts (collapsible, portable housing). Read more about from a previous student here. 

Circumbaikal Railway
Until the Circumbaikal portion was completed (1904–1905; double-tracked, 1914), goods carried on the Trans-Siberian Railway had loaded and unloaded from ferries in order to cross Baikal. Today, the historic route is part of the Trans-Siberian railroad that many travelers take not just for the glorious views of the mountains and lake that it affords, but also to feel like part of history.


Geology and Ecology

Mineralogical Museum
Operated by Irkutsk Technical University and benefited by the enthusiasm of university students and instructors, the museum is ranked as one of the best five mineralogical collections in Russia. Here, we can see 1500 kinds of the minerals and gems that the Irkutsk Oblast is rich in. 

Baikal Ecological Center
This ecological organization provides multiple seminars, classes, trainings, and teaches games and crafts. There are also many items and devices (bicycle, bins, etc) to demonstrate ecological issues. The center has friendly enthusiasts of lake Baikal preservation helped by a number of Russian and international volunteers. You can explore their website before you go.  

Baikal Limnological Museum
This museum houses a large collection of Baikal's flora and fauna and offers exhibits that illustrate how the lake was formed and how its unique water cycles operate.

*Note that all events are open to all SRAS Irkutsk-based students. All events as listed here are included within the cost and as part of the curriculum for SRAS' Russia and Environment Program. Those events marked with an astrisk will be available to all other students (on internships or RSL programs), but for a small extra fee.  

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