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Russia's Valaam Island: A Place Of Pilgrimage And Impending Evictions

Russia's Valaam Island has been a destination for religious pilgrims for hundreds of years. A 14th-century monastery and the natural beauty of Lake Ladoga have attracted visitors including tsars and presidents. But in recent decades, the remote island has been at the center of legal disputes. The monastery and the rest of island's property were returned to the Orthodox Church in the postcommunist era, and officials are now using their authority to evict most long-term residents who are not connected with the church.

Construction workers relax outside Valaam Monastery.
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Construction workers relax outside Valaam Monastery.

Tourists arrive on Valaam Island every day to pray at the church of the 14th-century monastery.
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Tourists arrive on Valaam Island every day to pray at the church of the 14th-century monastery.

Volunteers chat as they work to repair the monastery walls. 
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Volunteers chat as they work to repair the monastery walls. 

A monk feeds calves with fresh milk on the monastery's farm.
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A monk feeds calves with fresh milk on the monastery's farm.

Visitors arrive on the island by speedboat.
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Visitors arrive on the island by speedboat.

Visitors eat smoked trout prepared by the local monks.
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Visitors eat smoked trout prepared by the local monks.

Children play piano on board a boat that has been converted into a hotel.
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Children play piano on board a boat that has been converted into a hotel.

Irina Smirnova is one of the private residents who has been told to leave her home by church authorities as they reclaim the island's property. Her apartment at the Winter Hotel has no electricity or running water.
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Irina Smirnova is one of the private residents who has been told to leave her home by church authorities as they reclaim the island's property. Her apartment at the Winter Hotel has no electricity or running water.

The Winter Hotel was badly damaged by a fire on May 1, 2016, the day observed as Orthodox Easter, forcing some residents to search for new homes. 
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The Winter Hotel was badly damaged by a fire on May 1, 2016, the day observed as Orthodox Easter, forcing some residents to search for new homes. 

Filip Muskevitch walks through the damaged hallway of the Winter Hotel.
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Filip Muskevitch walks through the damaged hallway of the Winter Hotel.

Muskevitch is another resident who faces eviction from his apartment. 
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Muskevitch is another resident who faces eviction from his apartment. 

Local parents gather to discuss how their children can receive an education after the island's school shut down. 
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Local parents gather to discuss how their children can receive an education after the island's school shut down. 

Aleksandr Kurdryavtsev writes for permission to home-school his daughter. 
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Aleksandr Kurdryavtsev writes for permission to home-school his daughter. 

A private yacht belonging to Patriach Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, is moored near the monastery.
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A private yacht belonging to Patriach Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, is moored near the monastery.

This villa is rumored to be a holiday getaway belonging to President Vladimir Putin.
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This villa is rumored to be a holiday getaway belonging to President Vladimir Putin.

Construction work is under way on a church on Oboronny Island, just south of Valaam.
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Construction work is under way on a church on Oboronny Island, just south of Valaam.

Construction on Oboronny Island
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Construction on Oboronny Island

A Baikal seal, also known as a nerpa, near Valaam Island
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A Baikal seal, also known as a nerpa, near Valaam Island

Students of the State Meteorological University at an observation station
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Students of the State Meteorological University at an observation station

Georgi Kokaya, a third-year ecology student from Georgia, at a scientific station of the State Meteorological University
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Georgi Kokaya, a third-year ecology student from Georgia, at a scientific station of the State Meteorological University

Valaam National Park employees Kirill Smyshnikov (left) and Elena Mikhaleva at the park's offices
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Valaam National Park employees Kirill Smyshnikov (left) and Elena Mikhaleva at the park's offices

Park employee Elena Mikhaleva and her daughter Anastasia live in a residential part of the park.
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Park employee Elena Mikhaleva and her daughter Anastasia live in a residential part of the park.

Locals dance at a social club. Days later, the building was transferred to the monastery, which repurposed it as a cafeteria.
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Locals dance at a social club. Days later, the building was transferred to the monastery, which repurposed it as a cafeteria.

Yelena plays violin for tourists and teaches music to the local monks. She moved to the island 31 years ago, but is also faced with eviction as the church reclaims its property.
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Yelena plays violin for tourists and teaches music to the local monks. She moved to the island 31 years ago, but is also faced with eviction as the church reclaims its property.

A Soviet-made Niva car drives toward the Valaam Monastery.
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A Soviet-made Niva car drives toward the Valaam Monastery.

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