Yuganskiy Khanty Protected Area

Andrew Wiget

The following is an update on the status of the project to develop a protected area for the Yuganskiy Khanty on the territory of their traditional land-use. What follows is a summary of the most recent developments.


In November 1998, the head of the Yuganskiy Khanty community, Vladimir Kogonchin was summoned to Khanty-Mansisysk by Okrug Governor Filipenko, because Filipenko had received many letters of protest from abraod concerning oil development on the Yugan. Kogonchin went to Khanty-Mansiysk, but by the time he arrived there, Filipenko had gone to Moscow, so he met with two of his deputies. On December 11, 1998 the Surgut Region commission to look into establishing a protected area on the Yugan was finally convened, after a delay of over a year. Three of Filipenko's deputies -- the Chairman of the Committee on Oil and Gas, the Chairman of the Northern Fund, and Dalinger, Chairman of the Ecological Fund--came to the Surgut commission meeting. There they were joined by Sarychev (Head Administrator of Surgut Region), Cherkashin (Deputy Region Administirator for Nationalities), all the Administration Committee heads, and Pavel Oftchinnikov (Yugan Zapovednik Director). Kogonchin was the only Khant present.

The administration presented the following arguments against the Biosphere Reserve were:

A) The Biosphere Reserve is being imposed on us by "outsiders" (though in fact the initiative to protect the Yugan goes back to the Khanty community's 1989 petition to establish a green zone", and "imposition" can hardly describe the process, since the administration holds all the cards)

B) There is oil there. (Of course, that's why it need protection!)

C) Sarychev implicitly opposed the idea of Khanty self-government on any lands holding oil.

D) Pavel Oftchinnikov told them that there is no such thing as biosphere reserve in the law. For his own interests, Oftchinnikov very unprofessionally misrepresented Russian law, which clearly provides for Biosphere Reserves (Russia already has several!) and violently opposed the idea of a Biosphere Reserve.


The Commission decided to create a "regional nationality park." The Okrug representatives pointed out that just such a park had been created around Lake Numto--a Khanty and Nenets sacred place-- in Beloyarsk region (but they didn't mention that the same okrug administration has also issued oil licenses on the territory of that park.). There was no mention of the "territory of Khanty living" in the creation of this Nationality park. The regional administration promised not to drill on the territory of the natural park for five years (which is less a concesion than it sounds, since lack of infrastructure and depressed oil prices effectively preclude oil development there in the very near future, with or without administration approval, though in any case, this "promise" no real protection against oil development). The administration of the park would be the sole responsibility of a newly-formed committee within the regional administration. Formed along the same lines as the present commission, the new committee would have no effective Khanty representation for the management of their land.

The raion administration has set aside money in next year's budget to establish boundaries for the natural park. This work was given to Sivkov, the head of the Raion Ecology Committee, who for twenty years worked for the oil companies and who knows nothing about the Yugan or the Khanty.


On 18 December 1998, there was a joint meeting of administration officials, led by the head of the local administration, Sarychev, A.V., and representtives of ECOJURIS, a Russian legal NGO, based in Moscow, which serves as the legal representative for Kogonchin's community. The Head of Adminisitration reported that the Commission on OOPT (Specially-Protected territory) came to the conclusion that it was necessary to put the question to the Raion Ecological Foundation about the finances to underake scientific studies on the question of establishing OOPT. The question about the status and form of a newly-established territory, as well as work on the regulations about it, will be made only after completing research work. This is, of course, a specious arguement, since our scientific work for the last six years on Yugan does provide all the data needed.

Representatives of ECOJURIS Institute and the network of ecological lawyers introduced to the head of administration the following main principles which should be followed undeviatingly in establishing OOPT irrespective of its legal status, worked out together by the lawyers of the ECOJURIS and the Yaoun Yakh Community Chairman, V. S. Kogonchin.

--Exclusion of oil exploration and development (except in already licensed territories) within the limits of all water objects located on rodovoye ugodiye, as well as the protected zones of these objects.

--Exclusion of oil exploration and development in the places of living and breeding of sable, moose and other kinds of animals which are the objects of traditional Khanty hunting.

--Exclusion of oil exploration and development in the places of growing and gathering of plants which are part of traditional land use.

--Provide ecological safety for any economic development activity, including any possible oil exploration and development (outside the limis of rodovoye ugodiye) for establishing OOPT.

--Real guarantees of participation of representatives of Khanty community in the ecological control for any kind of economic activity on all the territory of the OOPT (public ecological control).

--The participation of the community Yaoun Yakh as an organ of local self-government of the native people of the north in the management and establishment of OOPT.

--Incorporation into the regulations establishing the OOPT the right of Khanty traditional land use on their rodovoye ugodiye.

The representatives of ECOJURIS Institute also gave to the Head of Surgut Region Administration copy of the letter written by ECOJURIS to the Governor of KMAO (Letter No. 126, 16 December 1998) concerning the necessity to engage the broad public into the decision to establish OOPT.

Positive result of the meeting was the joint decision of its particpants about engaging the public (in the face of the Institute of ECOJURIS) and representatives of Khanty Community Yaoun Yakh and other native peoples of KMAO into the process of working out the regulations of establishing OOPT on the lands of rodovoye ugodiye of Surgut Raion. The head of local administration, Sarychev, A.V., suggested that representatives of ECOJURIS Institute should work out variants of regulations about the specially-protected territory and present for familiarization exisiting regulations of other existing OOPT of other regions. According to Sarychev's decision, the final decision about the status and form of a newly-established OOPT will be made after accomplishing the scientific research and the analysis of the variants proposed by the public and regulations about OOPT.


Thanks to public pressure, both internally within Russia and from abroad, some progress has been made, most notably a common agreement on the need to establish a protected territory on the Yugan.

However, there is no agreement between the region and okrug administrations on the one hand, and the Khanty community, Yaoun Yakh on the other hand, concerning the basic principles upon which this protected area should be established: its purposes, legal form, boundary definition, or management. Neither is there any clear timetable or process for planning and development. All of this still needs to be worked out. The proclaimed need for further research is certainly a diverting tactic, and one guaranteed to provide results favorable to the administration's minimalist position; by giving this work to Sivkov, Sarychev has put the fox in charge of guarding the chickens, and we all know how that ended up.

Finally, let me express to you the thanks of Volodya Kogonchin, who specifically asked us to communicate to you his appreciation and gratitude for your letters of protest and support, without which this process would not have moved along. We will keep you all apprised of further developments as they come in.