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Map Mystery: Russia's Largest Island Vanishes After North Korean Missile Test

Now you don't see it, now you do.
Now you don't see it, now you do.

MOSCOW -- Someone swiped Sakhalin.

The 76,000-square-kilometer Sakhalin Island disappeared from Russia's Pacific coast on the online Yandex.Maps service overnight on August 28-29, around the time of what some say was one of North Korea's most provocative missile tests to date.

The mysterious glitch was spotted after Pyongyang fired a ballistic missile over Japan’s northern Hokkaido island, which lies just south of Sakhalin, and into the sea.

Russian search-and-Internet-resource giant Yandex blamed a bug during the service's daily update of its online map for the problem.

“Today during the latest update there was a technical failure, a result of which was that Sakhalin did not appear at some scales," RBK and other media quoted Yandex's press service as saying on August 29. "We have already corrected this, and soon Sakhalin will return to both the mobile and web version of the service."

The island remained visible from the maximum zoom-out height but was invisible at a distance of between 200 and 1,000 kilometers.

Sakhalin has since returned.

The glitch produced sarcastic commentary online, including from Nikita Likhachyov, the editor of T-Journal, a new media site:

"North Korea fires a rocket.

-- In Japan they have time to warn the population to hide in bomb shelters.

-- In Russia Sakhalin disappears from the map."

The glitch has invited (unconfirmed) speculation that the authorities use GPS scrambling in the area for security reasons.

GPS services have in the past encountered mysterious problems in Russia. Last year, drivers including Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov suggested that GPS navigators appeared to behave highly erratically near the Kremlin, sometimes indicating users are not near Red Square but actually miles away at the airport.

Japanese authorities warned residents to take cover as the North Korean missile overflew its territory and called the launch "reckless" and "an unprecedented, serious and important threat."

British Prime Minister Theresa May called it a "reckless provocation."

Russia wrested Sakhalin from Japan in the waning days of World War II following nearly a century of competing claims to the mountainous, lightly settled island, which sits on sizable oil and gas deposits.

The Russian government last year announced a scheme to hand out small plots of land in the country's lightly populated Far East, including Sakhalin, to Russians who put their hectare to use.

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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