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Vladimirovka (Yuzhno's first of three names) was basically a hamlet of convicts when the Japanese renamed it Toiohara and developed it into a thriving township. After WWII, the USSR Russified the new centre (main Russian communities were further north), renaming it Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (Southern Sakhalin).

In 1990 the city achieved international fame as the site of the 'Sakhalin experiment, ' when new governor, Muscovite Valentin Fyodorov, vowed to create capitalism on the island. He privatised retail trade and transformed the communist HQ into a business centre, but most people soon found themselves poorer. Fyodorov high- tailed it back to Moscow in 1993.

The demise of the Soviet Union and the influx of thousands of expat oil-industry people and their entourages have achieved what Fyodorov couldn't. New businesses are opening up all the time and there are several shiny new joint-venture buildings in the town.