A phone booth, that rarely works, is about the only sign of modern life to be found in Ust Anzas, a remote village in Siberia’s Kemerovo Oblast.
The Shor, an ethnic Turkic minority, live in isolation here, nestled amid the Abakan Range mountains and seemingly endless forests along the shores of the Mras-Su River.
Cut off from roads, central heating, and with nearly no electricity, let alone the Internet, the Shor in Ust Anzas live off the land much like their ancestors have for centuries.
Ust Anzas is one of dozens of villages in the region of Gornaya Shoria that the estimated 15,000 Shor call home.
They cling to their traditional way of life, handcuffed by restrictions imposed by Moscow on hunting and fishing after much of their homeland was designated a national park in 1989.
Despite efforts to revive their endangered language since the collapse of the Soviet Union, not more than 5,000 Shor can actually speak their native tongue today.
“When I visit my parents and say something in Russian, they get angry and yell: ‘Why are you speaking Russian? Speak Shor!'” says Natalya Moiseyeva, who, born and raised in Ust Anzas, returned there after retiring.
Like others, Moiseyeva claims many of today’s generation show little interest in their language. “While we knew the language well, our kids are barely able to speak it. And they teach Shor language at the boarding school,” Moiseyeva explains.
“There was only Russian when I went to school. The school in Ust Anzas was closed in the mid-1990s. Since then, kids from Ust Anzas have been living and studying at the boarding school in Tashtagol. My grandson is 12 and only knows a few words in Shor: knife — pichak, bread — kalash, water — suu.”
Tatyana Torchakova works in Ust Anzas at the local post office, which doubles as a shop selling groceries and sundries. “I rarely speak with my husband in Shor. Usually only when we want to hide something from our daughter,” she says before suggesting that the language is nevertheless becoming more widespread.
“Before, it was a bit strange to go into a store in [the administrative center of] Tashtagol and speak in Shor. But now you meet a friend and start speaking in Shor as if it’s normal. More people are talking about the rebirth of the language. People have simply stopped being afraid to speak it.”
Read more: Radio Free Europe