Southern Russia has been recently identified by NASA’s GRACE project as one of the “hot-spots” of desertification worldwide, the root of this problem can be found in the irrigation of the croplands of the area. Water demand intensified by droughts is draining Volga river with relevant consequences on the Caspian sea.

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What is undergoing now at the mouth of Volga mirrors what doomed the Aral sea in the second half of the past century. Caspian sea is much bigger than Aral and, although it will take thousands of years to drain, this phenomenon will add to the already critical situation of the area.

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The history of land development in the area is dramatically related with the political history of Russia. In the nineteen-fifties, Soviet central government decided to capitalise on the grazing opportunities in the black lands of Kalmykia, one of the least known and poorest Russian republics located in the southern region of the country. More than a million new merino sheep were introduced inside the delicate dry-area. 

Sadly the fragile topsoil and insufficient grass availability couldn’t survive the sharp sheep hooves grazing the area. In 1993 Chernye Zemli (Black lands) were officially recognised by UN as an environmental disaster area.

Kalmykia became Europe’s first man-made desert. 

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The photos of this project are the result of a collaboration between me and the portrait photographer Daria Klimasheva