KHANTS or Ostyaks

Their self-appellations are hanty and kantyk; Russians have called them Ostyaki. The first mention of the Khants, under the name of Ostyaki, was in 1572. The self-appellation was officially introduced in the Soviet Union from the 1930s.


The Khants live dispersed in Northwest Siberia, on the river Ob and its tributaries. Administratively the territory belongs to the Khanty-Mansi (until 1949 Ostyak-Vogul, administrative centre Khanty-Mansijsk) and Yamal Nenets Autonomous Districts of the Tyumen Province; the area on the rivers Konda and Irtysh belongs to the Tomsk Province.


Year Total population Knowledge of the native language In the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District
1840 16,247    
1868 17,149    
1897 19,663 98%  
1911 18,591    
1926 22,170 84% 11,300 (51%)
1939 18,500    
1959 19,410 77% 11,400 (59%)
1970 21,138 68,9% 12,200 (58%)
1979 20,934 67,8% 11,200 (53%)
1989 22,521 60,5% 11,900 (53%)


The Khants have probably never been a numerous people, having remained stable at around 20,000 people. Great decreases in numbers occurred in 1926-1939 and 1970-1979. The first decrease was a result of the Stalinist repression, as large numbers of adult men were killed in the 1930s. Since the 1970s the number of Khant speaking their native language has decreased due to the Russification.

Turning Points in the History of the Khants

13th c the Khants become tributaries to Novgorod;

14th c military expeditions to Khant territories begin;

16th c conversion of the Khants to Russian Orthodoxy begins;

19th c the Khants are economically subjugated with the help of a combined system of debts and liquor by the Russian merchants and officials; Russian colonists grab the best lands for themselves; quick extinction of the Khant people is predicted quite consciously, thus forming the public opinion that it is an inescapable process;

1930 formation of the Khanty-Mansi National District;

1930s open Russification of the Khants. In the name of collectivisation, the most prosperous Khants and shamans are annihilated, the sacred groves of worship and the graves are desecrated and an attempt is made to eliminate all ethnic customs. The Khant children are forced into boarding schools. The rebellion of the people, known as the Kazym revolt (1933), is crushed by the army, the more distant villages are bombed by the air forces;

1960s oil and gas storage facilities are built in the Khant settlement areas.

Danger Signs

The Khants have become an insignificant minority in their own historical settlement areas: 9.2% in 1959, 1.8% in 1989. The Khants have been forced to leave the quickly expanding industrial areas. The environment is on the verge of catastrophe.

In the 1960s, the natives were forced against their will from their scattered settlements into large villages, which meant the change from a nomadic life-style to a resident one. That kind of policy is not compatible with the traditional management of the Arctic regions. In May 1991 the assembly of delegates of the Nordic, Siberian and Far Eastern small peoples protested to the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union against the decision to start the exploitation of the oil deposits at Tyanovsk in the Khanty-Mansi AD. In response 35 Khant families (211 persons) were deported from their homes. The most open-minded of the Khant intellectuals are work towards the formation of autonomous national regions at the rivers Kazym and Sosva, where the exploitation of oil and gas deposits would be banned.

ENDANGERED URALIC PEOPLES Uralic Peoples of Siberia and Russian Northern Europe Khanty