The village of Vzvad is located on the shores of Lake Ilmen in the northwestern Novgorod region. First mentions of the settlement date back to the 13th century when it was a favorite hunting and fishing place of Novgorod princes. Local fishermen preserve the traditions of their forefathers – their spirit mostly unaffected by the spoils of modern civilization.
This article is from the archives of our partner Zapovednik.
It has been raining since morning, and the boat is being tossed about on the small waves. Nikolai looks like a wealthy American traveling the world in his retirement: short gray hair, white teeth, measured movements. Only his uneven tan betrays his fisherman profession. One of the workers in his brigade scoops water out of the lake and puts a kettle on a gas burner. Fishing on Lake Ilmen is an unhurried business.
In Vzvad, they fish just as they did several hundred years ago, except recently the locals have exchanged their wooden boats for metal ones. At the beginning of the last century, valuable types of fish could be caught here, but there are none left – not since the construction of the Volkhov Hydroelectric Station. Nevertheless, the main enemy of the fishermen is not low-value catches, but the local bureaucracy. Because the chief inspector is a lawyer and his knowledge of fishing is strictly legal, the fishermen have become accustomed to paying fines. Nicholai laughs as he recounts a dream he had of rushing to save the logbook from a sinking ship for his report.
Locals store their catches in a wooden barn, which stands on the shore of Vzvad. This factory is called “The Red Fisherman,” and nearly went bankrupt in the 1990s. Nikolai recalls what it was like to live in those times: “Fisherman would catch large fish, cut them up and sell them somewhere or other in town in order to buy bread. If you gave them to the fish factory, what would you receive? Peanuts. But we survived – the lake fed us.” Then businessmen arrived in the village and promised to fix everything. The fishermen believed them and chose one of them as chairman of the “kolkhoz” – a Soviet collective farm. But, when wage arrears began to accumulate, they gathered in the square and kicked out the new leadership.
Seven years ago “The Red Fisherman” stopped being a kolkhoz, and the bureaucrats nominated Sergei, who has a fishing business in Astrakhan, as the next factory director. There was one condition: the settlement’s way of life had to remain unchanged. Initially the locals considered him an accidentally appointed stranger. “He doesn’t even have a house in Vzvad,” they said. But, with time, Sergei managed to win them over, having organized the sale of fish.
When the factory was a kolkhoz, those who sold fish were themselves fishermen. If they didn’t sell their entire catch, it was financially impossible to go out onto the lake again. After the new director bought refrigerators and negotiated with shops and markets, the fishermen were free to catch as many fish as they could.
Sergei believes that so long as the fishermen aren’t cheated and the trade is passed down through generations, the village of Vzvad will survive. In Nikolai’s family, all the men are fishermen apart from his grandson. But he is against everyone following in his footsteps: fishing is a dangerous business with only seasonal income. He says that he wants to quit fishing, and dreams of sitting on the shore, but he cannot see how his job will ever end.