Introducing Sakhalin Island
Fought for, lost, won, debated over, called 'hell' by a literary great, sought after by oil-eyed businessfolk - Sakhalin is the 948km-long heart of the Sakhalinskaya Oblast (Sakhalin Region) which includes 59 islands, including Moneron Island and the disputed Kuril Islands. By map, the area looks pretty darn Japanese but since WWII, the region has been all Russian.
Most visitors - and there are many - are here on business, with rigs off Sakhalin's northern shores pulling millions of dollars of crude oil. Travellers will find getting far very difficult (and costly) - but if they do, there's great natural beauty (three-quarters of Sakhalin is wild terrain of forests and mountains, islands of seals, bears wandering around 1500m mountain tops, clear rivers to fish, slopes to ski). March to June can be wet and grey, mid-September and October brings on foliage.
Beyond that, Sakhalin is a bit of an enigma. It's seven time zones from Moscow, but some locals like to claim about 95% of all revenue goes to the capital. Even gas plucked from its reserves goes to Komsomolsk and Khabarovsk by pipeline, and is then sold back to the island at inflated prices. Russian transplants from Moscow and St Petersburg complain that life is harder and more costly than back home.
It has the makings of a liberalised port on the Asian front. A glimpse of a 1930s photo shows members of the komsomol of different races side by side, and today lunching Russians walk the pavements with Korean Russians (who constitute 10% of the population, most descendants of force labourers - aka 'slaves' - brought by the Japanese during WWII). Yet the booming island has a flair for ultraconservative, pro-Russian politics. A 2004 survey showed the island had a 60% support rating for Stalin!
Sakhalin Island destination guides
Russia's Ring of Fire
Experience the wonder of the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Kuril Islands, along the Pacific’s ‘Ring of Fire’