The port city of Yakutsk, located on the western bank of the mighty Lena is the capital of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). It is the administrative, cultural, and educational center of a vast region of interior Russia. The city is home to the Northeast Federal University (formerly Yakutsk State University), theaters, museums, scientific institutes, and hospitals.
Transportation to Yakutsk from other parts of Russia is principally by air. The unpaved Lena Highway from the south passes along the opposite bank of the as yet unbridged Lena River. A railway is scheduled to be finished in 2013, and currently extends to a site 150 km from Yakutsk on the other side of the Lena River. The Lena Rive connects Yakutsk with the outlying regions of the republic.
Yakutsk was founded as a Russian fort in 1632 by the Cossack, Pyotr Beketov, an explorer and collector of tribute for the tsar. It figured prominently in the history of the Russian Far East and Alaska as a major stopping point of promyshlenniki, or fur traders. Over the centuries, political exiles were sent to live in the region and contributed to the diverse cultural life of the city. Soviet power was firmly established in Yakutsk in the early 1920’s after some conflict. During World War II, Fairbanks and Yakutsk were central points on the Lend-Lease Route in a program which ferried planes and other war material to the Russian front.
The Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), covers 1,198,150 sq miles, roughly twice the size of the State of Alaska, with a population of 949,280 inhabitants. It covers three time zones. It is home to numerous ethnic groups: Russians, Ukrainians, Sakha (Yakuts), Even, Evenki, Yukaghir, Dolgan, Chukchi. The Sakha people are culturally prominent in the City of Yakutsk. The official languages of the republic are Russian and Sakha.
The Sakha speak a Turkic language. They migrated into the area from Central Asia in the 13th century. The southern Sakha are skilled horse and cattle breeders, metalsmiths, and potters, while northern groups are reindeer herders. The area was officially converted to Christianity in the 19th century. St. Innocent of Alaska spent time as Archbishop of Yakutsk. Elements of shamanistic beliefs remain. The Ysyakh, or traditional ceremony of greeting the sun at summer solstice, is a national holiday.
The Sakha (Yakutia) Republic holds much of Russia’s resources of gold, diamonds, oil and gas. Most of the economic activity of the republic is centered around these resources: including diamond-cutting, jewelry making, oil refining and transportation, as well as agriculture and food industries.