A consortium of nine UNS institutions1 organised by Griffith University's Australian Centre of the Asian Spatial Information and Analysis Network (ACASIAN) and The University of Melbourne's Centre for Russian and Euro-Asian Studies (CRE-AS), obtained a 1994 Mechanism C grant of $130,000 to begin work on establishing the Spatial Information Infrastructure for Russian and Central Euro-Asian Studies in Australia (SIIRCEASA) Project. An additional Research Infrastructure (Equipment and Facilities) Grant of $100,000 was awarded for 1995. That SIIRCEASA funding has been used to support work on the Russian Federation and Former Soviet Republics (RFFSR) GIS Project.

Due to previous contacts and arrangements by the Director, ACASIAN, with the Academician Alexander Liouty, Head, Laboratory of Cartography, Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of Sciences (IGRAS), spatial data acquisition actually began in 1993, and work on vectorising materials sent from Moscow commenced at ACASIAN in very early 1994.

At the time of the last Soviet census in 1989, there were a total of 120 oblast and krai in the Russian Federation and other Republics. Those units, which could be regarded as being in some respects the equivalents the Provinces of China, if not of the States of Australia, are the only ones that are normally depicted on maps, or even multi-sheet map series covering the entire former country. Particularly in the eastern part of the Russian Federation, oblast or krai are enormous, but even in the west they are too large and heterogenous for usefully detailed analyses of available census materials.

The next lowest level of administrative units throughout the former Soviet Union, for which digitised 1989 census data were obtained from IGRAS, consist of 3,193 rayon - 'regions', 2,190 gorsoviet - 'municipalities', and 628 rayoni v gorodakh - 'regions inside cities'. There are also 4,026 poselki gorodskovo tipa - 'rural towns'.

Spatial information for those census units is not readily available, at least in its entirety for the entire former Soviet Union, and had to be obtained from the Ministry of Geodesy and Surveying which controls the large scale, and highly classified, source materials. Up to 400 of their 1:50,000 sheets had to be used to generalise the necessary boundary data to 1:1m scale in order to draw it onto copies of each sheet of an accurate 1:1m map set.

The Laboratory of Cartography, IGRAS, then prepared tracings on mylar sheets that contained all and only the administrative units and settlements contained in the digitised 1989 census files. The tracings were then sent by international air courier to ACASIAN for vectorising.

By the end of 1995, boundary data for all of the 167 1:1m map sheets had been obtained by ACASIAN, and by mid 1996 all of that data had been vectorised, edge matched, and fitted to the Digital Chart of the World coastlines. By the end of 1996, the Russian Federation data had all been brought into MGE, MapInfo, and ARC/INFO, and work had begun on bringing data for the remaining former Soviet Republics into those GIS environments.

In early 1997, spatial data precisely matching the last Soviet Census in 1989 will have been processed into GIS databases covering The Russian Federation, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belorus, Ukraine, Moldavia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.

Meanwhile, work was begun in Moscow to produce digital copies of earlier census materials for the same rayon and gorsoviet levels. By the end of 1996, the 1979 returns had been processed and work was well advanced on the 1959 returns. The Laboratory of Cartography had also begun preparation of boundary maps matching the 1959 census materials, which ACASIAN will process and incorporate into a spatio-temporal database for the former Soviet Union that will span all four post-war Soviet census periods. Funding permitting, the work will be extended to include the pre-war census materials as well.

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