Karelia is a region to the north of St Petersburg in Russia. It covers 172,400 km2 and has a staggering 60,000 lakes.
Since 1991 St Gregory’s Foundation has worked in Kondopoga and surrounding villages to create employment, feed the hungry, and provide positive activities for local children. Our partners in this have been the extraordinary members of the Kondopoga parish and their friends and contacts in the area.
Kondopoga is something of an administrative centre with a population of around 32,000. This population is falling as people head to larger towns looking for work. The main employer in Kondopoga is a large paper mill, but in recent years modernisation at the plant has led to the loss of many jobs. The situation in the villages is often even more difficult with little or no employment, no public transport and shrinking populations. The climate too makes life hard, with temperatures going as low as -40 degrees C on occasion, long winters and little daylight in the winter months.
In Karelia, Christianity was all but wiped out in the 1930s when all the priests except one were killed. In Kondopoga the wooden church of the Dormition, dating back to the fifteenth century survived but many churches and chapels were burned. Kondopoga parish are reviving the traditions. An architect and builders belonging to their parish have built at least 20 churches and chapels in towns and villages in the region.
The Church is often the centre of town or village social life, and in the Kondopoga and Novinka parishes it is the centre of charitable life too. We are proud to work in such rural locations as Girvas, Novinka and Munozero villages via our local partners in these two parishes. All of them buck the trend of decline with an active core of local people who keep a wonderful community spirit alive.
In the UK we work with a very active group of volunteers from Chester who visited Kondopoga and Novinka several times. In 2007 these supporters set up a link between the Chester cathedral and Kondopoga Parish. Since then our volunteers in Chester help provide vital support to our programmes in Karelia.
Last year we:
- Reached fed 35 children and teenagers from the poorest families through the school summer holidays
- Hosted members of the Kondopoga parish and showed them charitable projects in the UK. They have since set up a food bank in Kondopoga.
The parish also has an icon workshop, where they paint icons and teach others the ancient art. You can see three large icons painted in Kongopoga in Chester Cathedral. There are many more smaller icons from the workshop in private hands in this country.