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One Man's Airport On Lake Baikal

Through the summer days of the Soviet era, Vladimir Prokopyev was a busy man. On a pristine island in Lake Baikal, the airport manager watched over the arrival of three or sometimes four flights every day. Then it all stopped. While Vladimir carried on with his tasks, the U.S.S.R. collapsed. In the hard new realities of the free market, support for the air service disappeared and the planes stopped coming. But Vladimir, now 86, is a man of duty. He had an airport to maintain and, for the past 20 years, ever hopeful that scheduled flights would return, that’s exactly what he’s done. (Photos by RFE/RL's Petr Shelomovskiy)


The main building of Khuzhir Airport, on Olkhon Island. The left half is the passenger waiting area, the right is reserved for Prokopyev's living quarters.
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The main building of Khuzhir Airport, on Olkhon Island. The left half is the passenger waiting area, the right is reserved for Prokopyev's living quarters.

Prokopyev unlocking the “official” half of the airport building. The former pilot was tasked with managing the airport after he retired from flying. When the airport ended its operations back in the mid-'90s, his job was downgraded to night watchman.
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Prokopyev unlocking the “official” half of the airport building. The former pilot was tasked with managing the airport after he retired from flying. When the airport ended its operations back in the mid-'90s, his job was downgraded to night watchman.

The airport’s radio, preserved in perfect working order. Photographer Petr Shelomovskiy says Prokopyev's dedication to his work is typical for a man who came of age in the Soviet era. “He was proud to do his job, and be a part of something. His biggest dream is that this airport will one day work again.”
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The airport’s radio, preserved in perfect working order. Photographer Petr Shelomovskiy says Prokopyev's dedication to his work is typical for a man who came of age in the Soviet era. “He was proud to do his job, and be a part of something. His biggest dream is that this airport will one day work again.”

Vladimir (center front) with airfield staff in his piloting days. In the background is one of the Soviet AN-2 biplanes that serviced Prokopyev's airport. He finished his career flying the Tupolev TU-104, one of the world's first passenger jets.
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Vladimir (center front) with airfield staff in his piloting days. In the background is one of the Soviet AN-2 biplanes that serviced Prokopyev's airport. He finished his career flying the Tupolev TU-104, one of the world's first passenger jets.

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