Maaväci, «people of the land», is one of the names of vaddjalain or vod’, the nationality that inhabited the land between lake Chudskoe and the Finnish Gulf in the territory of modern Russia. It is one of the oldest indigenous peoples of Russia, but consists of only fifteen old men and women currently living in two small villages in the district of Ust-Luga. During World War II, vod’ were departed from their own land to Finland. After one year in this country they were allowed to come back, but since that moment they have had to live in far-flung districts of Russia instead of Ust-Luga. They came back to their villages only after the death of Stalin, due to the fact that they were previously forced to keep their origin and language a secret because many considered them «public enemies».

Despite these challenges, vod’ managed to save their culture, and at the beginning of the 21st century they started to speak about their experiences, take part in linguistic investigations and communicate with ethnographers. A big federal port was scheduled to appear one kilometer from their homes, and thus many illegal forest coupes sprung up around the village. The only way to stop this situation was to make it public. Activists organised two museums of vaddja culture, one after another. These contained, old vaddja houseware items and albums with early 20th century photographs of their long-dead mothers, fathers, grandparents and other relatives, but both museums were burned by strangers after the village started to complain and ask for help. At the moment of creation of this project, these people are still afraid to state their nationality, because they are sure the government will change and they could be deported again.

In these portraits vaddja people pose on white backgrounds, as their parents did in the original portraits destroyed by the fire, but now surrounded by a contemporary background. In their hands are housewares left by their parents: special vaddja fishing and agricultural equipment, mittens with unique patterns, portraits of their mothers and fathers- reminders of belonging. The port is growing, and the entire village may soon be sent to another district, away from their land.

2010