Sámi and Finnish people West of the Kola Peninsula

Nina Meschtyb’s reconnaissance field trip Jona and Jonskaya, February 2012

My departure was sudden, as well as the place where I decided to go. The destination of my first trip for the ORHELIA project was a little village west of the Kola Peninsula – Jona (Ёна). When we think of Russian Sámi, everybody has the village of Lovozero as an association. But there are also Sámi in other places of Russia! Together with Florian we decided that this place Jona should be interesting to visit for the purpose of our study. It is a pleasure to look back and see that we were not mistaken. This village has a rich and little known history and of course people remember it, they live with this memory and retell it in their own way.

Jonskaia. A Russian mining village close to the Finnish border in the Sámi area.

I departed on the 15th February from Rovaniemi with a small minivan (7 people). My bus neighbours were from Kirovsk. They traveled to Finland for some shopping and “fresh air” – «проветриться», прогуляться. At present time, for the inhabitants of the Kola Peninsula to do a trip to Finland is not difficult – a visa for shopping is obtained quickly and without any problems. Travel companions were nice and talkative. They talked a lot about the features of contemporary life in their region and particular in Kirovsk. Like many other Russians, they had not heard anything about the village where I was going to, and they were even a little bit worried about me as far as we were not yet there when the night already was in full swing.

Finally, we got to the crossroad to Kovdor from the main highway where I was going to be picked up by a private car to be brought to Jona. I went into the night, the road was dark and I was totally happy to find out that the car was still waiting for me.

The night road quickly brought me through the KPP (checkpoint). Jonskaja, Jona, Kovdor and the other settlements on that road west of the main highway are in the Russian border zone, and all visitors are registered and asked for their destination at checkpoints. Foreigners need a special permit by the border guards to visit such places.


Jonskaya about (2,5 thousand peoples nowadays) and Jona (about 500 peoples) are located about 7 from each other. From here it is very close to the Finnish border – a little over 30 km. It seems that my night interlocutors from the big village (Jonskaya) have only a vague idea what is going on in the small village (Jona) that is placed just near by. They just know that it is an “aboriginal” village. Jonskaya: some people do not know the difference between this and the neighbouring Sámi village

About about their own settlement Jonskaya, they told that the population was cut by half during the last 20 years – people leave because their is no place to work, and no perspective to get a job. «Kovdorsky mining and processing integrated works» – the only enterprise where the most people work barely makes ends meet.

Jona – a village of Sámi and Finnish people in Russia

The village is located at the mouth of the River Jona, where it flows into Kohozero. The population of the village is nationally mixed Finnish, Sámi, Russian and other population.

There are several theories about the appearance of the name of the village: a) in the name of a Finnish elder – Jona, Joni; b) from Sámi language “jon”, which means lingonberry or cowberry, or from Sámi Jon – big river. Peoples freely interpret it in the way what sounds better, closer to them. Sámi support the version of jon – lingonberry.


Jona is registered from the end of 19th century as a Finnish village, but from the very beginning its population was very mixed. For example , it is known from archives that in 1857 in Jona willfully settled Essa Sotkojärvi (Isaac Matveevich). He was married with a Sámi  woman – Sergina Feodosia, and they had children: Anton – Antti, Chariton- Artur, Sarah – Saara, Alexander – Sandra, Isaac – Essa, Ivan – Jussi, Katherine – Kaisa. … Among the ancestors of many local residents of Jona there are both – Finns and Sámi. I was told that often the boys in the family were registered as Finns and the girls as Sámi. I would like to learn more about peculiarity of this situation during my future work in this village.

My first encounters with the people from Jona. I was welcomed so warmly!

“Jonskiy president”

My main interview partner during this trip was Tatjana Fedorovna Tsmikailo – “Jonskiy president”.  She is the leader of the Sámi association of Kovdor region and the leader of the obshina “Jona”. She was born in Jona.  Her mother was Skolt Sámi (Notozerskie Sámi) and her father Akkala Sámi (Babinskie Sámi). During the soviet time many Sámi villages were resettled but people still mention from what village (pogost) is their ancestors were, so there is still a sense of belonging to these former communities or places for the people.

Several well-known ethnographers and folklorists, such as Kert G.M., Leif Rantala, T. Lukyanchenko and others have worked in Jona in the past (likely the same like in other Sámi villages). Their informants were the parents and grandparents of the people I met there. Perhaps the interest from the outsiders to some extent awakened their own interest to the family history of my current interlocutors.

According to the recollections of her mother (Sergina – maiden name Osipova Maria Prokopievna) Tatiana Federovna made a plan of the village of Babinsky Sámi, restored the names of the inhabitants of the  Babinsky “pogost” (village), so did some regional studies and history work herself.

3 women – 3 generations

When I arrived to Jona, I was invited to the home of Tatyana’s daughter – Marina. That evening we spend together -Tatyana, Tatyana’s daughter Marina and granddaughter Karina. Karina is an 18years old girl and she is really fond of her family’s history.

The family of Serginy near their old place in the forest

She created a genealogical tree of her family, and tried to describe the life of her ancestors. Her work won an award at the regional competition among school children’s works. It is interesting that she got an invitation from several faculties of humanities of different universities to start studying, but nowadays she chose for herself the faculty of oil and gaz.

The past lives today. Presidential elections

Tatyana Fedorovna told me an interesting story: Her father was a convinced communist. He died in the forest during a discussion with his companion about communist party policy and the problems of the big families. His wife (Tatyana’s mother) at the times of elections always used to say: “Our daddy died, we have to support him and give our voices for the communist party”.  Nowadays when Tatyana’s mother died her children said half seriously, half in jest: “should we support now our mother on the president election and give our voices for her memory to the communist party?”.

Local library and historical archive

At the Jona library I get acquainted with librarian Olga Alexandrovna. She has a salary only for half-time work there. She collects old photos from the family albums of the villagers and scans them. She is the leader of an association called “The friends of Finland” and is interested in developing intercultural connections with Finland. Her work for preserving stories of the Finnish population in the village is amazing. After several hours of talk with her I felt like I am getting a friend. That evening was long – we end up at 4 o’clock on the morning – just couple of hours before my way back would start. This woman told me about the fellow villagers, relatives, about what they had endured in the years prior and during world war two. While telling such stories, tears were rolling down face. It looks as if she was retelling her own stories; I saw that those events really touched her and went through her life.

My way back

The trip was short, intense and interesting. People, weather, travel – everything was wonderful. One “but” slightly marred the trip – I myself, or rather to say – my state of health. I caught a cold, after two days of fighting with it denied my throat. And doing anthropological fieldwork without a voice is indeed a challenge. Then my ear got inflamed, and listening to people’s stories without healthy ears is hardly possible. I had to go back to Finland to cure these health problems. I will go back there soon. This was just the start.

P.S. A telephone call

Just now I shortly called to Tatyana Fyodorovna. After a few days we’re going to meet at the event on the 75th anniversary of the late Sámi writer – Iraida Vinogradova, where many Sámi intellectuals and elders are planning to take part. During the conversation Tatyana jokingly asked: “Maybe Jona was not an interesting place for you?” I was very surprised about this, because I thought right the opposite way. I wondered: “Why?”, and she answered, half in jest:” Because we have no reindeer in our village, like we are not real Sámi and then she added: ”Several days ago we got 34 reindeer, so now we are not ashamed to bring guests”.   This notion once again raises my interest to this village. What does identity mean here, how was it supported and transmitted through generations, here where history, nationality, land use were so much intertwined? I’m looking forward to find out more.

Nina Meschtyb, ORHELIA