Four quiet and secluded Russian Old Believer communities have been developed on the southern Kenai Peninsula.
Not to be confused with Ninilchik, founded by the Russian American Company for its pensioners in the mid-1800s, Russian Old Believers sought the freedom to worship opening in the way of the Old Rite Russian Orthodox (Staro-Obrachestvo) when they began making their way out of Russia in the early 1900s. They journeyed into China, then to South America, Oregon and Alaska, as well as other points around the globe.
The first Russian Old Believer community on the Kenai Peninsula was Nikolaevsk, located 10 miles east of Anchor Point, near the North Fork of the Anchor River. Established in 1968 by five families, with the financial support of the Tolstoy Foundation of New York, Nikolaevsk has grown to about 300 residents.
Beginning with 640 acres and tents for shelters, Nikolaevsk's founding families carved out their new home. The first naturalization of Nikolaevsk residents was held at the Anchor Point School in 1975, with a large crowd of well-wishers on hand.
Today, the community has a public school for students in kindergarten through 12th grade who come from the village and the neighboring area. There is a post office, small restaurant serving Russian food, lodging and the beautiful Church of Saint Nicholas. After years of depending on firefighting and emergency response from Anchor Point, villagers opened a new fire station in 2008.
Visitors to Nikolaevsk are encouraged to heed signs stressing the slow speed limit and to request permission before taking pictures.
Three additional Russian Old Believer villages are located east of Homer. Voznesenka is situated beyond the end of the paved East End Road, a distance of approximately 23 miles from Homer. Razdolna, located about 25 miles from Homer, can be reached by taking a gravel road that turns off East End Road. The homes in each of these villages spread across a rolling hillside overlooking the head of Kachemak Bay. Voznesenka School has students in kindergarten through 12th grade and Razdolna School has students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
Kachemak Selo is nestled between the bay's shoreline and a canyon, near the mouth of a stream. There is no public road to the village. Residents, as well as teachers at the preschool-12th grade school, travel by foot, four-wheeler or vehicles with four-wheel drive to reach this small settlement.
Russian is the first language spoken by many of the children, with English learned after they enter school. Clothing is of a colorful, traditional style, with men and boys wearing embroidered shirts and handwoven belts, and women and girls wearing ankle-length dresses.
After arriving on the Kenai Peninsula, many Russian Old Believers became commercial fishermen, building their own boats and spending long summer hours fishing Alaska's waters. Since then, others have opened their own businesses on the Kenai Peninsula and in other Alaska communities.
Privacy and preserving their lifestyle are important to Russian Old Believers. Keep that respectfully in mind when visiting one of their communities.