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Khanty-Mansi (Ostyako-Vogul) National Region: Encyclopedia Arctica 10: Soviet North, Geography and General
Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

Khanty-Mansi (Ostyako-Vogul) National Region

)Eugene Golomshtok)


The Khanty-Mansi (Ostyako-Vogul) National Region is situated on the
West Siberian plain along both sides of the lower courses of the Ob and
Irtysh rivers and covers an area of about 760,000 sq. km. between latitudes
58° and 66° North. It is bordered on the west by the Ural Mountains and on
the northeast and east by the Yamalo-Nenets National Region and the Krasnoi–
arsk Region. The Capital, Khanty-Malisisk (Ostisko-Vogulsk), is situated
on the right bank of the Irtysh River, 10 kilometers from its mouth. The
territory was organized as a National Region in December 1930.
The territory is uniform in relief, with small hills and large marshy
areas and numerous small lakes. The principal rivers are the Ob and its
right tributary the Irtysh, which, with their tributaries, play an important
part in the economy of the region and form the main arteries of transporta–
tion. The Ob River has six navigable tributaries from the right and five
from the left. Amont the large left tributaries of the Irtysh is the Konda
River (12,000 km.) which is navigable for 700 km. from its mouth.
From the mouth of the Irtysh northward, the Ob Valley forms a meadow
Composed of sand and mud deposits, 20 to 70 km. wide along its left bank,
its right bank is high. The Irtysh flows through a valley 7 to 25 km. wide.
Its left bank is [: ] low and its right bank is high, rising in places
almost 100 feet above the river level. Flowing through loose formations,

EA-U.S.S.R. Golomshtok: The Khanty-Mansi National Region

both rivers constantly out their right banks, depositing the loose
materials on the left sides and changing their courses as mcuh as 5 to 6
kilometers a year. In the summer, both rivers flood their banks for tens
of kilometers, at times covering as much as 60% of the marshy banks with
water for a considerable length of time. This affects the mowing of hay
or the period of free pasture for animals as well as the quality of the
grass itself, which is often covered by muc and algae.
The climate is cold and continental with comparatively warm summers
and strong frosts in the winters, increasing in continental character as
one moves eastward. The mean yearly temperature undergoes considerable
variations; thus, in Surgut in 1932, it was minus 0.4° and in 1933 minus
3.6° centigrade. The amount of atmospheric precipitation decreases toward
the north, with half of if occurring during the summer months. The snow
cover reaches its maximum during the month of March and varies from fifty cm.
in the north to eighty cm. in the south, and remains for an average period
of 198 days.
The major portion of the region is occupied by peat-marsh soils. The
river valleys are composed of dust-like sandy clays. North of the 63rd
parallel permafrost is encountered.
Forests, mostly of pine, cedar, fir, and birch, covers 21% of the area.
The river valleys are covered by various grasses suitable for grazing and
mowing, and there are as well a variety of wild berries.
The fauna is rich and plentiful. Commercially important are the
squirrel, hare, beaver, muskrat, ermind, fox, kolinsky, sable, arctic fox,
brown bear, wolf, badger, otter, wild reindeer, and elk. The birds include
a variety of geese and ducks, grouse, woodcock, field hen, etc. The most
important fish are the Siberian sturgeon, Ob herring, nelma, mo k sun,

EA-U.S.S.R. Golomshtok: The Khanty-Mansi National Region

taymen, carp, perch, pike, and salmon.
Wood, brown coal, lignite, and peat form the main sources of thermal
energy. There are quartzite sands, gold, and iron deposits.
The history of the indigenous inhabitants of the region, Ostyaks
(Khante) and the Voguls (Mansi) is not very well known. They are believed
to be the result of a mixture of an as yet unknown group which lived at
the lower Ob with the Ugrians, who came there from the steppes about the
second century A.D. Both the Ostyaks and Voguls are liguistically classi–
fied among the Ugrian subdivision of the Finnio linguistic family.
This territory, known in Russian annals as the Ugrian country, attracted
the interest of enterprising Novogorod merchants, who, from the eleventh
century on, tried to penetrate the fabulously rich fur country across the
Urals. A series of trading and military expeditions collected furs as a
part of their tribute, first to Novogorod and later to Moscow. Attempts
at uprisings resulted in a series of punitive expeditions. In the 16th
century and the beginning of the 17th century, some of the Ostyaks were
primarily fishermen for whom hunting was only a means of supplementing
their diet. Other Ostyaks and Voguls were primarily reindeer breeders and
hunters. They used their furs to obtain in trade: kettles, knives, axes,
and lead.
During the early stages of Russian colonization, representatives of
Moscow dealt with the local head men, enlarging their power and rewarding
them for their help in collecting tribute and in military expeditions
against as yet unconquered groups. By the middle of the 17th century,

EA-U.S.S.R. Golomshtok: The Khanty-Mansi National Region

however, the local head men were no longer needed and the Tzarist govern–
ment removed their special privileges, reducing them to the status of
police agents. Collection of tribute was accompanied by graft and open
robbery of the population, with gradually increasing official indebtedness.
Over and above the normal tribute [: ] of 5 to 10 sable skins, and
additional tribute was paid for "the person of the Tear," and for the chief
"voevoda" (military administrator) and his assistants. Early in the 18th
Century, seven-year-old Ostyak boys and girls were bought for 25 kopecks
each and registered as lifelong slaves.
Christianization by force (under penalty of death) according to the
order of Peter the Great opened possibilities for now exploitation. From
1820-1835 all trade in the Berezov region was in the hands of the priest
Ergunov, who sold vodka to the natives and bought furs for a quarter of
their value.
The reaction of the oppressed population was expressed by refusal to
pay the tribute, running away deep into the taiga and tundra, occasional
murders of officials, plundering of vodka warehouses, and organized uprisings.
In 1607 the revolting natives surrounded the town of Berezov and for
two months cut it off from the outside world, but they were later defeated.
Such uprisings continued intermittently and culminated in 1712-1722 in a
revolt against the missionaries which was cruelly crushed by the government.
Russian industrial capital penstrated into this territory, rich in
fish and furs, and took possession of the best fishing places. Too poor
to have good fishing implements, the natives rented their fishing rights
to the Russians and became hired workers, paid in goods. The illiterate
natives never knew the dates of contract expiration and continued to be in
a state of perpetual indebtedness to the merchants.

EA-U.S.S.R. Golomshtok: The Khanty-Mansi National Region

From 1911-1914 more than 10,000 tons of fish were caught, and nearly
90% of it was shipped into Russian in a crudely salted form which spoiled
the principal qualities of the product. The ruthless methods of fishing
and hunting depleted the natural resources of the region. Sable and beaver,
killed in tens of thousands yearly, were almost exterminated.
Animal breeding and agriculture were engaged in only by the Russian
settlers who arrived early in the 18th and 19th centuries from central Russia.
Later with the development of shipping on the Ob, and the necessity of pro–
viding fuel wood, lumber villages sprang up on the shores of the Ob.
Economic exploitation and pressure on the part of Russian emigrants
resulted in the decline of the native population. During one 90-year period
in the Berezov region the Ostyak population decreased by 10% and the Voguls
by 24%.
The October Revolution resulted in the establishment of the Ostyako–
Vogul National Region with 6 administrative districts (Kondin, Samara,
Surgut, Lariyak, Berezov, and Shuyshkar), comprising 28 National soviets
in which some measure of self government was achieved.
Population figures for the Khanty-Mansi Region vary. According to
one source, the Ostyaks at present constitute 18.8% and the Voguls 7.2%
of a total population of about 82,000, the remainder being Russians and
some other native Siberian groups. Another source gives a total population
for the region of nearly 85,000 in 1935; and the Large Soviet Encyclopedia
gives a total population for the region of 102,200.
Ostyaks live throughout the region, the bulk of them in the Berezov
(5,052), Surgut (2,698), and Kondin (110) districts. Others, together with

EA-U.S.S.R. Golomshtok: The Khanty-Mansi National Region

Voguls (up to 866 families), live in the basin of the Kypina and Malaya
Soava rivers. The major part of the Voguls live in the Berezov district
(3,424), in the Kondin district (2,380), and in the basin of the middle
Konda river. The Russian population lives primarily along the low shores
of the Ob, Irtysh, and Konda rivers.
The Ostyaks and Voguls of the Kondin region, as well as the Ob and
Irtysh Ostyaks lead a sedentary life, while the rest are semisedentary.
Only 3.2% of the total population of the region is fully nomadic and this
number is decreasing.
Some ideas of the growth of the population can be seen from the
following figures:
1926 13,331 Ostyaks 5,252 Voguls 870 Samoyeds
1936 14,341 " 5,644 " 910 "
For three years (1933-1936) the birth rate increased 13.8% and
mortality dropped from 35.6 per 1,000 to 21.8 per 1,000.
Occupation & Industry
Nearly one-third of the territory of the region is occupied by water.
Fish are abundant, and fishing is the basic industry. Carp constitute 49%
of the catch, with pike (23%), and salmon (17%), and others providing the
valance. The amount of salmon increases toward the north and the amount
of carp decreases.
In Samarovo a large, complex fish-processing and canning factory has
been built. It has various departments, taking care of fresh fish, salting,
and finally, canning. The factory makes its won cans, barrels, and boxes,
and has its own lumber mills, repair shops, and transportation facilities.

EA-U.S.S.R. Golomshtok: The Khanty-Mansi National Region

Its production grew from 751,600 rubles in 1933 to 1,500,000 rubles in
1936. Seven other canning factories are now in operation. The factories
of this region process the second largest amount of fish in any district
of the U.S.S.R.; 2,500 persons are engaged in the industry, with an
annual production of 5,000,000 cans.
While only a small fraction of the rich lumber resources, estimated to
be about 1,116 million cubic meters, was used prior to the revolution, there
has been an increase in lumbering since the revolution. In 1936, 1/4 million
cubic meters were removed. This increase was facilitiated by the construction
of several sawmills after 1917, and it is hoped that the theoretical output
of 7.3 million cubic meters annually can be reached in the near future.
Hunting is also important, and the hunting territory occupies an area
of 56 million acres. Squirrel, ermine, fox, sable, and muskrat (with muskrat
being the most important) are hunted for their valuable furs. Conservation
measures have been undertaken by the government. A state breeding and experi–
mental farm for sable has been established, and eight thousand acres on the
upper part of the Malaya Soava and Konda rivershave also been set aside as
a natural preserve for fur-bearing animals. Various types of sable are
crossed in order to obtain the best fur-bearing variety. These measures
have led to an increase in the quantity of fur obtained.
Many berries are processed at a jam-and-preserve factory in the town
of Nakhrachakh in the Nonda area. There are also three brick factories,
five wood-working factories, eight barrel factories, and several pottery,
shoe, and clothing factories.
The Mineral resources of the area include deposits of rock crystal
in the Sura-Iz, Neirok, and Khusvoika mountains, producing 35% of the total
output of this mineral in the U.S.S.R.

EA-U.S.S.R. Golomshtok: The Khanty-Mansi National Region

There has been a growth of agriculture and by 1937 an area of about
25,000 acres was reported to be under cultivation, mostly concentrated in
the two southern regions. More than half the acreage is taken up by grain
and the rest by potatoes, vegetables, flax, and other plants which are for
industrial use. The increase of mechanization and the use of modern agri–
cultural implements enables this area to be self-sufficient in produce,
and to supply the neighboring Yamalo-Nenets region with potatoes and
vegetables. In 1936, livestock in the regions numbered 104,000 reindeer,
21,400 horses, 34,300 cattle, and 18,000 sheep and goats. In 1936 the
total industrial output reached the sum of 1,067,800 rubles.
Education and Health
The Soviet government's policy included plans to raise the material and
social standard of living amont the minorities. In accordance with this a
network of schools, totaling 168 schools, was established both for the Russian
and the native populations and the number of pupils has increased 65 times
since the revolution. By 1936 there were 60 native schools with 1,773 students,
and 10 of these have boarding facilities for the students. Fifty-seven per
cent of the Ostyak and 65% of the Vogul children go to school. In the native
schools all basic textbooks for the first two years, as well as some litera–
ture and newspapers, are published in the Ostyak and Vogul languages in
specially designed alphabets. Libraries, motion picture theaters, reading
rooms, hospitals, and kindergartens were organized. By 1935 there were 18
hospitals, 63 clinics and maternity stations, and 10 medical stations in
this area. A tubercular dispensary with X-ray equipment was built in
Khanty-Mansisk, and in Semarovo there are two dental clinics. In the medical

EA-U.S.S.R. Golomshtok: The Khanty-Mansi National Region

school of Khanty-Mansisk there are 47 native medical students. Other
cultural activities include work in 25 native clubs, a floating cultural
base, and 25 traveling movies.

1. Berg, L.S. The Geographical Zones of the Soviet Union. Moscow, 1947.

2. Kartzov, V.G. The Short History of the Peoples of North-Western
Moscow, 1937.

3. Shumkov, V.I. Short History of Colonization of Siberia. In 17th to
Beginning of the 18th Centuries. Academy of Sciences, 1946.

4. Tarasenkov, G. "The Ostiako Vogul National Region." Soviet Arctic No.9
1938, pp.43-61.

5. Lamont, C. Peoples of the Soviet Union. New York, 1945.

6. Large Soviet Encyclopedia

7. Encyclopedic Dictionary of Brokhaus and Efron.

Eugene A. Golomshtok
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