Russia's Monotowns

The project documents single-industry towns, known in Russia as monotowns, which are wholly dependent on sometimes dying factories. With Russia becoming a member of the World Trade Organization in 2012 the future of the monotowns, and the millions of people who live in them, became even more uncertain, as trade rules in the WTO prohibit some state subsidies. Russia’s 330 monotowns open a window on a range of important social and economic issues in Russia today, making them a worthwhile focus for journalistic investigation and photographic documentation.

Journalist Anna Nemtsova and photographer Brendan Hoffman travel to Baikalsk, Tolyatti, Pikalyovo and Berezniki to cover industry and social news. These are the archetypical Russian industrial rust-belt cities—blighted, polluted, and beset by social problems. While Moscow is pumping billions of dollars into the tiny city of Sochi before the Olympics, we describe life in vulnerable cities dependent on pulp, cement, potash, automobile and other industries.

The problems of monotowns are as deep as the problems of Putin’s Russia. Only about 20 percent of the Russian economy consists of small businesses, which could create alternative employment in monotowns.

On the whole, accession to the WTO is a positive development for the Russian economy. However, the challenges in balancing the Russian economy are great, and the monotown problem greatly complicates efforts to raise living standards while streamlining the federal budget. These industrial remnants serve to illustrate the enormous and growing wealth gap between Moscow and the rest of Russian society.

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