Save Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal, once a beauty of nature, met its match with the expanse of industrial growth in Russia and the state’s disregard for environmental degradation. Lake Baikal holds 80% of Russia’s fresh water supply and is 1/5 of the world’s freshwater. It is known for its crystal clear water and is the deepest lake in the world, which would make one consider the lake a high commodity, but unfortunately for Russia’s government it was not. This lake was hit the hardest when the Baikal-Amur Main Line (BAM) railway was to be built right alongside of it.

Lake Baikal

When industrial growth was on its purge throughout Russia, environmental protection was not being considered. There was a lot of oil and mineral exploration, large-scale lumbering, and military and prison populations all contributed to environmental degradation in this Siberian area. The once crystal-clear water was clouded by wastes dumped into the lake from the Baikal Pulp and Paper Plant and from the construction of the BAM. How important this lake was to the environment was left aside while industrial growth loomed on. Lake Baikal is home to 1200 animal species and 1000 species of plants, and industrial growth caused many of these to suffer.

"Ever since they built the chemical factory here, all the fish have been giving black caviar."

“Ever since they built the chemical factory here, all the fish have been giving black caviar.”

Luckily, the people in the area were aware of just how important Lake Baikal was, leading to citizens protesting the government, demanding protection of this precious lake. To address these concerns, the CPSU Central Committee and the USSR Council of Ministers created addition measures to protect the environment December 1, 1978. These measures were created in hopes of having the state better observe and supervise the status of the environment, the amount of pollution, and where the pollution is coming from. It called for the USSR State Committee on Hydrometeorology and the Environment to be responsible for watching the environment, regulating air use in cities, creating rules of how much emissions of pollutants can go into the atmosphere, and much more. This committee has the privilege of checking on these issues for any enterprise, construction, or organization, and can advise the state to suspend their operations if they deem it harmful to the environment.

While this resolution seems like it would address the problems in Lake Baikal and create more environmentally friendly industrial growth and actions, that doesn’t seem to be the case. One research biologist, V. Dezhkin, said that the ministries are prolonging the resolutions implementation as long as they can, which lets continued environmental degradation in the area continue. He includes in his letter that over 100 industrial enterprises along Lake Baikal’s shores have no purification systems, and every year millions of tons of waste are still dumped into the water, killing off plant and animal species.

Pollution in Lake Baikal continues to be a problem today.



“CPSU Central Committee and the USSR Council of Ministers, On Additional Measures to Intensify Conservation and Improve the Utilization of Natural Resources.” Pravda and Izvestiia. last modified January 6, 1979.

Ermolaev, V. “The Living Water of Baikal.” Pravda. last modified October 8, 1977.

Filipchenko, L. “Baikal Syndrome. Turbid Waste Water Continues to Pollute the Unique Lake.” The Current Digest of the Russian Press 41, no. 18 (1989): 28-29.

Geldern, James von. “Cleaning up Baikal.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. 

Image 1:

Image 2: I. P. Abramskii: Vragi i druz’ia v zerkale Krokodila, 1922-1972. Moscow: Pravda. 1972.

Image 3: “BPPM Waste Still Threatens Lake Baikal.” last modified October 20, 2014.

The Krushchev Slums

With the ever growing urban population in Russia during this time, housing was a big problem. Offered residencies varied depending on which part of Russia you were in, but overall a person’s housing space was small per person and not everyone had the luxury of not having to share space with others. An example of the types of living spaces for the urban population in 1965 was:

  • 31.6% lived in private individual homes
  • 55.6% lived in apartments
  • 6.4% sublet privately
  • 6.4% lived in hostels

But when it came to apartments, it wasn’t apartments like you’d consider us college students to live in. Many people living in apartments during this time were in places called “kommunal’nye kvartiry,” which meant that up to four families shared a kitchen and bathroom. To address the growing number of urban residents, Krushchev was more worried about building as many more residencies as possible versus worrying about the quality of the housing, which is why it is often called the slums.

"Maybe the apartment's not big, but it does have a telephone!"

“Maybe the apartment’s not big, but it does have a telephone!”

An interesting aspect of this housing program was that construction was focused on new areas in cities instead of rebuilding in the old part of the city where there are many buildings of little value. The chief architect for Moscow explained this reasoning by saying that the buildings in the old part of the city could still be used for a few more years, so rebuilding those areas would be a waste of resources and time considering that the new areas don’t have buildings that need to be taken down. Later on in the interview the chief architect also described the benefits of constructing housing in new areas of the city as an attempt to decentralize the congested city. By adding housing in other parts of the city, it spreads out the population to reduce its density in the old part of the city. To also tackle the large population density in Moscow, the government stopped any new industrial construction. This would hopefully aid in curbing the large influx of people into the city.

Courtyard of a new apartment

Courtyard of a new apartment

apartment construction

apartment construction


Siegelbaum, Lewis. “1961: The Khrushchev Slums.” Seventeen Moments of Soviet History, accessed November 1, 2014.

“Izvestia Interview: Moscow Redevelopment Plan Under Way.” The Current Digest of the Russian Press 10, no. 32 (1958): 7-8.

Image 1: “Kurits: Maybe the apartments not big…(1969).” I. P. Abramskii: Vragi i druz’ia v zerkale Krokodila, 1922-1972. Moscow: Pravda. 1972

Image 2: “Ogorodnikov: Courtyard of a New Apartment (1966).” I. P. Abramskii: Vragi i druz’ia v zerkale Krokodila, 1922-1972. Moscow: Pravda. 1972.

Image 3: “New Apartment Construction (1962).” Soviet Union, No. 148 (1962), p. 44.