The Tuva Republic, in the far south of Siberia on the border with Mongolia, is a remote and inaccessible land of mountains, forest and steppe, inhabited by wolves, bears and snow leopards. Shamanism is the local religious form and the people, many of whom still live in yurts, have a deeply ingrained, spiritual respect for the natural world in which they live.
On Stalin's orders, Tuva was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1944, and a brutal program of modernisation began. The republic's 32 Buddhist temples were destroyed, lamas and Animist shamans persecuted, and – despite resistance from the mostly nomadic people – farming was collectivized and factories were built.
Since the Soviet Union collapsed 20 years ago, there has been a return to traditional nomadic patterns of life, with Shamanism and Buddhism flourishing once more. But alcoholism and unemployment are rampant and many villages are now populated by drunken, aggressive men with nothing to do but drink. Tuva is rich in minerals, including coal, iron ore, gold and cobalt and the mining industry offers hope of economic development but as elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, industry also brings pollution and unnatural urbanisation.
Justin Jin was commissioned by Oxfam to photograph in Tuva Republic for an exhibition marking 20 years since the fall of the Soviet Union.