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UNALASKA - A group of struggling villagers in the Russian Far East is closer to getting $25,000 worth of fuel donated by Alaskans.
A year after the Unalaska City Council provided the money, the diesel fuel finally may reach Nikolskoye, a village of about 750 people in the Russian Commander Islands at the end of the Aleutian Chain. The 55,000 gallons of diesel fuel is for the village power plant.
The Russian government has agreed to lift a $5,000 tax on the $25,000 donation, said Jeff Berliner, a trade official with the state Department of Community and Economic Development.
A letter from Alexander Potievsky of the Kamchatka regional government's Foreign Economic Relations and Tourism Division said the tax was waived once the fuel was reclassified as humanitarian aid rather than technical assistance.
``It looks like we've got the last big hurdle out of the way,'' said Unalaska resident Coe Whittern, who organized the relief project, which also included food and clothing.
Whittern said that during a visit last summer, fuel was rationed and the plant was providing only two hours of electricity per day for villagers' cooking stoves.
The donated fuel remains in Petropavlovsk Kamchatsky on Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula. The next step is to get it to the island village.
Whittern's Russian contact, Nikolai Poliakov, wants his church to oversee the delivery of fuel to ensure that it reaches Nikolskoye.
In Poliakov's opinion, that will require some continued diligence, Whittern said. Poliakov is a Protestant pastor in Petropavlovsk Kamchatsky who is associated with Youth With A Mission, of Salem, Ore. The religious organization told Whittern about the island's plight.
Gov. Tony Knowles requested tax relief in an Oct. 5 letter to the Kamchatka region governor. U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski also protested the fuel's taxation.