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Russian adventurers honor history during Dillingham visit

Allison Mollenkamp

A group of Russian adventurers plans to retrace the route taken by a historic explorer in the age of Russian America.

An expedition of Russian adventurers arrived in Dillingham Tuesday for their trip to retrace a route taken by historic Russian explorers. KDLG’s Allison Mollenkamp caught up with them at a reception held Tuesday night and the next morning when they put up a monument to Russian and American leaders in the area….

The Russian visitors were greeted in Dillingham by that most American of rituals, a potluck dinner. It was a packed house, with more than thirty Dillingham residents coming to meet the expedition of 12 Russians and one American. Dillingham Mayor Alice Ruby highlighted the historical significance of the visit happening this year.

“We’re especially honored that in this year when we commemorate the sale of Alaska from Russia to the U.S. that you’ve chosen Bristol Bay for your 2017 expedition.”

Credit Allison Mollenkamp
Alice Ruby and Robin Samuelson greet Dr. Mikahil Malakhov and his team.

The expedition is led by Dr. Mikhail Malakhov, an explorer and physician. He led one other expedition to Bristol Bay six years ago. Overall this is his tenth trip to Alaska to retrace the routes taken by Russian explorers in the age of Russian America. He says planning the trips takes months.

“Yeah, I am reading quite a lot. Archives and books of professional historical people and actually it’s usually it takes many months to prepare any type of expedition.”

That research will allow Malakhov and his team to follow the exact route taken by Ivan Yakovlevich Vasiliev in 1830. Tim Troll has helped Malakhov organize logistics while the team is in Dillingham. He explained this year’s trip up the Wood River, through the lakes to the Kuskokwim.

“They’ll be taking off, I think probably from Snag Point, and putting their kayaks together and starting their paddle up the Wood River. Then it will take them at least three weeks to get to Aniak. So it’s a long, long… It’s a long trip and a lot of it is upriver and over the tundra.”

A trip that long requires lots of supplies. Malakhov’s younger son, Alexi Malahov told the crowd what the group will eat.

“We will catch some fish, but also in our food stuff, we have canned meat, canned chicken, and rice, noodles, and also use some different kinds of like, pilot bread yes and different delicious stuff like Nutella.”

The next morning, however they simply brought a picnic of leftovers from the reception. With the help of a few locals and their set net skiffs, they went across the bay to Nushagak to erect a monument to Fedor Kolmakov and John W. Clark.

There was a similar monument to Kolmakov at the Russian trading post and orthodox church at Nushagak in the nineteenth century. Local artist Pat Walsh designed the new one. Reverends Michael Nicolai and John Nicori blessed the monument before it was taken across the bay.

Credit Allison Mollenkamp
Members of the Russian expedition and Dillingham locals work to erect the monument at Nushagak.

This new monument also honors John W. Clark. At Tuesday night’s reception, Robin Samuelsen, member chief of the Curyung Tribal Council, explained Clark’s significance.

“My great great grandfather, was John W. Clark, who ran the commercial trading company over in Nushagak. And John was the starter of the fishery here in Bristol Bay.”

Clark worked closely with the Russians in Bristol Bay then. Malakhov hopes his trips can foster similar people to people collaboration.

“Doesn’t matter what’s going there on the political level, yeah. But between people, our relations is getting much more open and we are glad to be here again.”

During their time in Dillingham the Russian adventurers worked to create positive relationships with their American neighbors. However, that time had to draw to a close Thursday night as they launched from Snag Point.

Credit Allison Mollenkamp

Ivan Korobov is the youngest member of the group at just fourteen. As the other members of the group finished last minute packing, he was already ready, standing by his kayak in the water. He says he’s excited for the trip.

“It’s quite cool. I think it will be very difficult and we’ll, I hope we’ll not have a lot of problems, but I think it will be very cool and very fascinating, you know.”

Despite the difficulty of the trip, he appreciates the beauty of Alaska.

“Here is very peaceful and a lot of good places, very good fish that here is everywhere and we’ll always see this here.”

He’s not alone in his love of Alaskan salmon. Dr. Malakhov enjoys it too.

“Believe me, this is delicious. You can’t find such salmon, smoked salmon in middle part of Russia. Probably far east, but we live in middle part of Russia. Thank you very much Alaska for nice salmon.”

Credit Allison Mollenkamp
The Russian expedition departs up the Wood River.

Contact the author at allison@kdlg.org or (907) 842-5281.