Sakhalin island, just north of Japan and off the east coast of Russia, has led to many bitter disputes between the two countries. The island is today part of Russia, and is Russia’s largest island.
I visited the island last year, and have added several images to the photo gallery.
Sakhalin has been settled since the stone age. Today there are three main groups of indigenous people here; Ainu to the south, the Oroks in the central region, and the Nivkhs to the north.
The island has been invaded by both the Mongols and the Chinese before the first Japanese settlement was established in 1679. It was later explored by both the Japanese and the Europeans as well as the Russians, who regarded it as a peninsula.
Japan became alarmed by the foreign interest, and proclaimed the entire island as its own territory in 1807. They repeated the proclamation of sovereignty in 1845, and included the Kuril islands as well. Continued disputes between Japan and Russia led to the Treaty of Shimoda in 1855, where it was agreed that both nations could inhabit the island. Without a clear boundary the Russians settled in the north, and Japanese in the south. In 1905 a new treaty established the boundary to be at 50th parallel north.
Then in 1945, according to the Yalta Conference agreements, the entire island was taken over by the Soviet Union. But the Japanese didn’t want to leave voluntarily. The fightings lasted until 25 August 1945 when the Soviets occupied the capital. Most of the Japanese were evacuated during the following years. Today only a few of the 450.000 Japanese who lived here remain, while tens of thousands of Sakhalin Koreans has remained.
Sakhalin and the four neighbouring islands are still disputed, and no final peace treaty has been signed.
Sakhalin is separated from the mainland by the Strait of Tartary, which is only 4–20 m deep, and 7.3 km wide at the narrowest point. Nearly two-thirds of Sakhalin is mountainous, and much of the interior is covered by coniferous forests. Mount Lopatin (1,609 m) is the island’s highest mountain.
The capital today is Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, which has a population of about 175.000. A large minority of these are Korean, typically referred to as Sakhalin Koreans, who were forcibly brought here by the Japanese during World War II to work in the coal mines.
The islands total population today are about 600.000, most of which lives in the southern half of the island, centered mainly around Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and two ports, Kholmsk and Korsakov (which has a population of about 40,000 each).
Due to the proximity to the Sea of Okhotsk Sakhalin has a cold and humid climate, with snowy winters and cool summers.
The island has a rich wildlife, with bears roaming the dense forests and numerous whales just off the coast. Salmon fishing is a popular activity in the many large rivers.
Recently Sakhalin has seen a booming oil and gas industry. Some large oil and gas fields have been discovered and are under development off the northeast coast of the island. The economy is getting very dependent of this industry, which account for approximately 80% of the island’s industrial output.