The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Sakhalin (), also Saghalien, Kuye (), or Karafuto (Japanese: ) is a large elongated island in the North Pacific, lying between 45° 50' and 54° 24' N, in Far East, Russia. The capital of Sakhalin Oblast is Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (Russian: Южно-Сахалинск, Japanese: Toyohara 豊原).

The European names derived from misinterpretation of a Manchu name sahaliyan ula angga hada (peak of the mouth of Amur River). Sahaliyan means black in Manchu and refers to Amur River (sahaliyan ula). Its Ainu name, Karafuto (樺太) or Krafto, was restored to the island by the Japanese during their possession of its southern part (1905-1945).



Sakhalin was inhabited in the Neolithic Stone Age. Flint implements, like those found in Siberia, have been found at Dui and Kusunai in great numbers, as well as polished stone hatchets, like European examples, primitive pottery with decorations like those of the Olonets, and stone weights for nets. Afterwards a population to whom bronze was known left traces in earthen walls and kitchen-middens on the Aniva Bay .

The indigenous people of Sakhalin are the Xianbei and Xiazhe tribes, who had an way of life based on fishing. The Chinese in the Ming dynasty knew the island as Kuyi (Chinese: 苦夷; pinyin: Kǔyí), and later as Kuye (Chinese: 庫頁; pinyin: Kùyè). According to the Book of Shengmu (Chinese: 聖武記; pinyin: Shèngwǔjì), the Ming sent 400 troops to Sakhalin in 1616, but later withdrew as it was considered there was no threat to Chinese control of the island. A Ming boundary stone still exists on the island.

The Qing Empire also claimed sovereignty over the island and Sakhalin was under formal Chinese rule from the Jin Dynasty onwards. However, as the Chinese governments did not have a military presence on the island, people from both Japan and Russia attempted to colonise the island. The Japanese settlement of Ootomari was established in 1679. The 1686 Nerchinsk Treaty reaffirmed Sakhalin as Chinese territory. Nevertheless Russia started occupying the island, with an army made up of convicts, from the 18th century onwards.

Sakhalin became known to Europeans from the travels of Ivan Moskvitin and Martin Gerritz de Vries in the 17th century, and still better from those of Jean-François de La Pérouse (1787) and Ivan Krusenstern (1805). Both, however, regarded it as a peninsula, and were unaware of the existence of the Mamiya Strait or Strait of Tartary, which was discovered in 1809 by Mamiya Rinzo .

Japan unilaterally proclaimed sovereignty over the whole island in 1845. However, the Russian navigator Gennady Nevelskoy in 1849 definitively recorded the existence and navigability of this strait and — in defiance of Qing claim — Russian settlers established coal mines, administration facilities, schools, prisons, churches on the island. The Xiazhes were killed or forced to move to the Asian mainland.

In 1855, Russia and Japan signed the Treaty of Shimoda, which declared that both nationals could inhabit the island: Russians in the north, and Japanese in the south, without a clear boundary between. Russia also agreed to dismantle its military base at Ootomari. Following the Opium War, Russia forced the Qing to sign the unequal Treaty of Aigun and Convention of Peking, under which China lost all territories north of Heilongjiang (Amur) and east of Ussuri, including Sakhalin, to Russia. A Czarist penal colony was established in 1857, but the southern part of the island was held by the Japanese until the 1875 Treaty of Saint Petersburg, when they ceded it to Russia in exchange for the Kuril islands. After the Russo-Japanese war, Russia and Japan signed the Treaty of Portsmouth of 1905, which resulted in the southern part of the island below 50° N reverting to Japan; the Russians retained the other three-fifths of the area.

In August 1945, the USSR took over the control of Sakhalin. Since January 2, 1947, the Sakhalin Region, in its present form, was officially defined and integrated as a part of the Russian Federation.

No final peace treaty has been signed, and the status of the neighbouring Kuril Islands remain disputed. Japan renounced its claims of sovereignty over southern Sakhalin in the Treaty of San Francisco (1952), but did not approve Russian sovereignty over it. From Japan's official position, Sakhalin's attribution is not determined yet.

In 1983, a South Korean civilian airliner flew over Sakhalin and was shot down by the Soviets (see Korean Air Flight KAL-007).

On May 28, 1995, an earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale occurred, killing 2,000 people of the town of Neftegorsk.


Sakhalin is separated from the mainland by the narrow and shallow Mamiya Strait or Strait of Tartary, which often freezes in winter in its narrower part, and from Hokkaido (Japan) by the Soya Strait or Strait of La Pérouse. Sakhalin is the largest island of the Russian Federation, being 948 km (589 miles) long, and 25 to 170 km (16 to 105 miles) wide, with an area of 78,000 km² (30,100 mi²).

Its orography and geological structure are imperfectly known. Two parallel ranges of mountains traverse it from north to south, reaching 600–1500 m (2000–5000 ft). The Western Sakhalin Mountains peak in Mt. Ichara , 1481 m (4860 ft), while the Eastern Sakhalin Mountains's highest peak is Mt. Lopatin 1609 m (5279 ft) is also the island's highest mountain. Tym-Poronaiskaya Valley separates the two ranges. Susuanaisky and Tonino-Anivsky ranges traverse the island in the south, while Northern-Sakhalin plain occupy most of its north.

Crystalline rocks crop out at several capes; Cretaceous limestones, containing an abundant and specific fauna of gigantic ammonites, occur at Dui on the west coast, and Tertiary conglomerates, sandstones, marls and clays, folded by subsequent upheavals, in many parts of the island. The clays, which contain layers of good coal and an abundant fossil vegetation, show that during the Miocene period Sakhalin formed part of a continent which comprised north Asia, Alaska and Japan, and enjoyed a comparatively warm climate. The Pliocene deposits contain a mollusc fauna more arctic than that which exists at the present time, indicating probably that the connection between the Pacific and Arctic Oceans was broader than it is now.

Main rivers: the Tym , 400 km (250 miles) long and navigable by rafts and light boats for 80 km (50 miles), flows north and north-east with numerous rapids and shallows, and enters the Sea of Okhotsk. The Poronai flows south-south-east to the Gulf of Patience or Shichiro Bay , on the south-east coast. Three other small streams enter the wide semicircular Gulf of Aniva or Higashifushimi Bay at the southern extremity of the island.


At the beginning of the 20th century, some 32,000 Russians (of whom over 22,150 were convicts) inhabited Sakhalin along with several thousand native inhabitants. The island's population has grown to 673,100 today, 83% of whom are ethnic Russians. The native inhabitants consist of some 2000 Nivkhs, 1300 Ainus, 750 Orochons, 200 Evenks and some Yakuts. The Nivkhs in the north support themselves by fishing and hunting. The Ainus inhabit the south part of the island.

The capital of Sakhalin is Yuzhno Sakhalinsk (Japanese: Toyohara (豊原)), a city of about 200,000 which has a large Korean minority who immigrated to the island by their free will or were brought for compulsory service during World War II, to work in the coal mines.

The 400,000 Japanese inhabitants of Sakhalin were deported following the conquest of the southern portion of the island by the Soviet Union in 1945 at the end of World War II.


Owing to the influence of the raw, foggy Sea of Okhotsk, the climate is very cold. At Dui the average yearly temperature is only 0.5 °C (January -15.9 °C; July 16.1 °C), 1.7 °C at Kusunai and 3.1 °C at Aniva (January, −12.5 °C; July, 15.7 °C). At Alexandrovsk near Dui the annual range is from 27 °C in July to −39 °C in January, while at Rykovsk in the interior the minimum is −45 °C. The rainfall averages 570 mm. Thick clouds for the most part shut out the sun; while the cold current from the Sea of Okhotsk, aided by north-east winds, brings immense ice-floes to the east coast in summer.

Flora and fauna

The whole of the island is covered with dense forests, mostly coniferous. The Jezo spruce (Picea jezoensis), the Sakhalin fir (Abies sachalinsis) and the Daurian larch (Larix gmelinii) are the chief trees; on the upper parts of the mountains are the Siberian dwarf pine (Pinus pumila) and the Kurile bamboo (Arundinaria kurilei). Birches, both Siberian silver birch (Betula platyphylla) and Erman's birch (B. ermanii), poplar, elm, Bird cherry (Prunus padus), Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata) and several willows are mixed with the conifers; while farther south the maple, rowan and oak, as also the Japanese Panax ricinifolium, the Amur cork tree (Phellodendron amurense), the Spindle (Euonymus macropterus) and the vine (Vitis thunbergii) make their appearance. The underwoods abound in berry-bearing plants (e.g. cloudberry, cranberry, crowberry, red whortleberry), Red-berried elder (Sambucus racemosa), wild raspberry and Spiraea.

Bears, foxes, otters and sables are numerous, as also the reindeer in the north, and the musk deer, hares, squirrels, rats and mice everywhere. The bird fauna is mostly the common east Siberian, but there are some endemic or near-endemic breeding species, notably the endangered Spotted Greenshank (Tringa guttifer) and the Sakhalin Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus borealoides). The rivers swarm with fish, especially species of salmon (Oncorhynchus). Numerous whales visit the sea-coast. Sea-lions, seals and dolphins are a source of profit.


A little coal is mined and some rye, wheat, oats, barley and vegetables are grown, although the growing season averages less than 100 days. Fishing is actively prosecuted.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Sakhalin has experienced an oil boom with extensive petroleum exploration and mining by most large oil multinationals. The oil and natural gas reserves contain an estimated 14 billion barrels (2.2 km³) of oil and 96 trillion cubic feet (2,700 km³) of gas. In 1996 the Sakhalin-I project, managed by Exxon Neftgas Limited (ENL), completed a production-sharing agreement between the Sakhalin-I consortium, the Russian Federation, and the Sakhalin government. Russia is in the process of building a 136 mile (219 km) pipeline across the Tatar Strait from Sakhalin Island to De-Kastri on the Russian mainland. From De-Kastri it will be loaded onto tankers for transport to East Asian markets.

In 2003, the island was the second largest recipient of foreign investment in Russia after Moscow. Unemployment in 2002 is only 2%.

The idea of building a fixed link between Sakhalin and the mainland was first mooted in the 1930s. In the 1940s, an abortive attempt was made to link the island to the mainland via a 10 km long undersea tunnel. The workers supposedly made it almost to the half-way point before the project was abandoned under Nikita Khrushchev. In 2000, the Russian government revived the idea, adding a suggestion that a 40 km long bridge could be constructed between Sakhalin and the Japanese island of Hokkaido, providing Japan with a direct connection to the Euro-Asian railway network. It was claimed that construction work could begin as early as 2001. The idea was received sceptically by the Japanese government and appears to have been shelved, probably permanently, after the cost was estimated at as much as US$50 billion.

See also: Russian Far East, Bronislaw Pilsudski

External links and references

  • The Sakhalin Times, a weekly English newspaper published in Yuzhno Sakhalinsk
  • C. H. Hawes, In the Uttermost East (London, 1903). (P. A. K.; J. T. BE.)

Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04