The Tree of Life

Local communities have been facing high unemployment after industrial plant shutdowns in the area.

Project geography

Velikaya Guba village, Medvezhyegorsky District, Republic of Karelia (Northern European Russia). Located 270 km from the capital of the republic, town of Petrozavodsk, and 1,276 km from Moscow. First mentioned in 1583; population – 1,035 people.

Project Lead
Natalya Vilk

Project lead

Project Description

Local communities have been facing high unemployment after industrial plant shutdowns in the area. There has been a dramatic population decline; villages stand empty while rural schools, hospitals, and cultural institutions are closing their doors. New forms of business in quarry development and trout breeding have disrupted the unique ecosystem of the Zaonezhye area, famous for its healing springs and scenic natural landscapes.

The area is still inhabited by an indigenous ethnic group with distinctive traditions and a rich culture. There are 46 historical settlements dating back over 500 years and 125 architectural monuments. However, the tradition-bearers and practitioners are not involved in more formal cultural processes. The 2017 project aimed to engage local communities in the preservation of traditional cultural heritage and help them master new skills, necessary for the development of local tourism.

Results of the first phase of the project include the opening of a traditional tea-room in the village, a new public space offering local cuisine, and a sewing workshop, which permanently employs 8 local residents. Other initiatives, such as workshops in heritage crafts and traditional stove setting, have taken place for the local community to participate in. A traditional Zaonezhye dwelling with old stoves was restored and several recreational routes were developed to attract tourists. A series of ethnocultural events and activities running throughout the year has brought 2,400 visitors, including patients of a local psycho-neurological care home. The project has contributed to awareness and a renewed interest in the traditional culture of Zaonezhye and its regional dialects amongst the local community. Increased activity has brought new opportunities for employment and additional income through sales of crafts, spreading out to neighbouring villages.

Objectives of the next phase

The success of the first phase has established the necessary conditions for a sustainable partnership between the government authorities, public institutions, and local communities. The long-term goal of the project is to create an integrated tourism package for the Zaonezhye area, based on its cultural and natural heritage.

The next phase will focus on devising a strategy for the social and cultural development of the area, identifying prospective cultural, historical, and natural sites and designing programmes for their preservation, use, and promotion in partnership with the local community. Work on expanding the tourist offer — hiking and eco-trails, walking and cycle routes — will continue, covering neighbouring areas. The project team will pilot new mechanisms for building capacity and supporting local initiatives. Plans are underway to establish visitor centres in several villages based at local community clubs. These will become activity hubs, providing facilities and training in socio-cultural project planning and the foundations of tourism management to local residents.


Project team

Project lead
Natalya Vilk