CNN PRODUCER NOTE The stunning, isolated, Kamchatka peninsula in northeast Russia was the setting for many idyllic childhood memories for iReporter Antonina Reshef, now based in Tel Aviv. After World War II, the area was declared a military zone and closed to Russians until 1989, while foreigners could only go in after 1990. "I always wanted to check -- what happened to my childhood playground after 21 years? Is it still the same place?" she said. The visit to one of the places of her youth is part of an ongoing project by Reshef, who aims to return to several of her childhood haunts and photograph them. She hopes the beautiful peninsula, from which many residents are migrating to mainland Russia, is discovered by the outside world and that tourism can flourish. Her second image was featured as CNN's Travel Photo of the Day for May 16, 2013.
- sarahbrowngb, CNN iReport producer
I did this project about the Kamchatka peninsula because I grew up in this area. For 2 years I lived in Kurili Island and 3 years in Vladivostok. All my childhood spent in places like this – the god forsaken part of Russia in the USSR period. I always wanted to check what happened to my childhood playground after 21 years. Is it still same place? people and life style? I figured the Best way to find out is to go back in person. After World War II, Kamchatka was declared a military zone and remained closed to Russians until 1989 and to foreigners until 1990. It has been declared an UNESCO site for preservation of nature and culture. It is still very hard to travel in this region without russian language or a russian speaking guide. I rode 660 km north from capital city into an amazing nature landscape of volcanoes engulfing abandoned villages, hunting huts and shacks, fishermen, nickel miners, lumberjacks but mostly people without dreams or hopes for a future. These people stayed alone while a vast majority of the population is migrating into the mainland. They don't speak to strangers and rarely smile, in a sense they're just trying to survive.
I was so moved by this place that It is important for me personally to help developing this area and attract tourism, give the local people the financial means to survive, develop themselves, their heritage and preserve this wonderful place instead of falling to poaching and alcoholism because the russian government has long forgotten about this corner of the world. I want to come back there and continue explore this region and hopefully publish a book about this region and its people.