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Networking in a cold climate

School offers a way out of a former 'refuge' for Stalin's victims, reports Christopher Jones.

There is no escape for any of the staff at the only school in a Siberian village whose first settlers were victims of Stalin's purges.

They are held captive, not by any repressive regime, but by the remoteness of their location. No one who works at Sibirskiy school can consider commuting in for a day's teaching and then back to the comforts of the town.

When Lyubove and her husband first arrived in the village, they were allocated half of a brick-built house, right next to her headteacher's house, with a fenced strip of land at the back.

Evgeny, a crafts and technology teacher and his wife Nina, who teaches primary-aged children, built their own house. But now they have three children it's getting overcrowded.

Sibirskiy was founded in 1934, as a refuge for "the repressed"; that is, released prisoners who were allowed to settle with their families and open up new areas, but not to return to their homelands. The land is waterlogged sand, and frozen solid in winter. In fact, transport overland in winter is easier - several families have snowmobiles and they travel fast across the frozen marshland.

Every villager aims to be self-sufficient. Even the school has a field for crops which the children grow, and which are used for meals throughout the year. When living space is found for new teachers land is included for growing vegetables - self-sufficiency is as necessary as preparing the next day's teaching as Sibirskiy has no shop.

The school is the only substantial brick-built building. It stands at the edge of the village, separated by a narrow field from a lake. It has four primary years from six to nine, then Sredniya (middle) school from 10 to 17. There are about 140 pupils.

It aims to cover all general subjects. Textbooks are old, but last year 13 personal computers were provided by the regional administration. Lathes and metalwork tools and some equipment for studying electrical sciences are also available.

School term ends in late May, except for those who have to sit exams. As many as 60 pent cent of pupils go on to higher education, which means leaving home for the whole term. Only 15 per cent of these eventually come back to live in the village.

There are older ethnic groups in this area. The children of the Xanti tribespeople, who roam the vast wild marshlands of Siberia with herds of reindeer, are collected by helicopter for each term, going to the special town schools and living in hostels.

However, in many of the Russian "repression" villages there is still no school. Some children come to Sibirskiy from other isolated villages to live with relatives - it is the only way to get schooling.

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