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CNN Today

As Population Shrinks, Tiny Russian Villages Fade Into Countryside

Aired October 18, 2000 - 1:55 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Finally today, even with this morning's news of volatile markets and rising inflation, the U.S. economy is still in pretty good shape. But Russia's situation, however, as you probably know, is somewhat bleaker. And nowhere is the trouble more evident than in the tiny villages that dot the countryside.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Some of those communities are dying altogether, as CNN's Steve Harrigan reports from 500 miles outside Moscow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEVE HARRIGAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Russian village of Lebyazha, 500 miles south of Moscow, doesn't get many visitors. There used to be a schoolhouse, a store, electricity; 300 families all worked at the collective farm. Today, there is just one woman left: 70-year-old Irina Vizovkina.

IRINA VIZOVKINA (through translator): Your grannies would probably fall over if they tried to carry this bucket.

HARRIGAN: And her husband, 71-year-old Vitaly.

VITALY VIZOVKINA (through translator): Weeks go by where you see no one, especially in the winter. There's no electricity, no jobs for young people. That's why everyone's left.

HARRIGAN: Alcoholism and poverty combined to shrink Russia's population by more than 3 million during the Yeltsin era. In some rural areas, deaths outnumber births by 4-1. That means entire villages are disappearing, like neighboring Vershina (ph), with a population of zero. The Vizovkinas know their fate will be the same.

I. VIZOVKINA (through translator): After us, there will be emptiness.

HARRIGAN: With the nearest neighbors a day's drive away, no commerce and no light, the wolves are at the door.

V. VIZOVKINA (through translator): They've eaten all of my goats, 26 goats grazing around the house. HARRIGAN: The only time it gets lonely, Vitaly says, is on holidays when there is no one to drink with. The lack of company does not bother Irina.

I. VIZOVKINA (through translator): Why do I need women friends? I go out in the woods, see a fox cub and talk to it. I can talk to a crow sitting on a tree. I can talk to a moose when I see it.

HARRIGAN (on camera): The biggest worry for Irina Vizovkina is that no one will be left to take care of the graves.

(voice-over): Vizovkinas who fought in World War I and World War II, whose village and history will soon perish as well.

Steve Harrigan, CNN, Lebyazha, Russia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: That was a good one, Steve.

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