2013 Kolyma Road of Bones Summer Tour in Siberia, Russia

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia

Norilsk is a wonder itself

Located in the midst of Russia’s Arctic tundra. Have you heard about the company “Norilsk Nickel,” the world’s leading producer of nickel and palladium, ranked also among the top four world platinum producers and the top ten copper producers? Norilsk Nickel is one of the biggest and richest Russian companies, that solely forms Norilsk City. Now look what conditions its workers live in. Wonder, isn’t it?


About Norilsk.

Norilsk is located in tundra in the southern part of Russia’s Taimyr Peninsula in latitude 69 North. If to be more precise, it is between the Yenisey river and the Taymyr Peninsula. Considered to be “the northernmost city in Siberia and the world’s second largest city (after Murmansk) north of the Arctic Circle” (cited from Wiki). By the way, Tiksi is not a city, it’s just a settlement.

No roads, no railways lead from the mainland to that city. So it’s impossible to make it by ground. Travelers might sail the Yenisey river to Dudinki, 70 km away from Norilsk, or just fly by plane. Not sure, if there is a regular passenger boat operating between Krasnoyarsk and Dudinki. Air communication seems to be the only means.

The city of Norilsk might be considered as the bedroom community of the Norilsk Nickel mining and metallurgical complex. As said above, Norilsk Nickel is the world’s leading producer of nickel and palladium. More company info might be found on its official website www.nornik.ru and Wikipedia.

The city population, according to the 2007 census, is 200,000 people, 70 K of them work for Norilsk Nickel. In the time of the USSR, there were 180,000 workers. City residents are involved in mining and producing nickel, palladium, copper, platinum, gold, cobalt, selenium, tellurium, rhodium, silver, iridium, ruthenium coal.

The company gives yearly production volume at the amount of 14 billion USD or 3 % of Russia’s Gross Domestic Product. It is six times more than Yakutia’s ALROSA.

Who live in Norilsk? Let’s see.

Mining started after the Revolutionary, in the 1920s. So there were volunteer workers in the beginning. Labour conditions in the North with extreme cold weather appeared to be hellish.

In 1935, the “Norilsk Combine” was established and eventually it became the exile for Stalin victims sent and controlled by the NKVD. Mining and metal production continued with Gulag inmates, later their descendants and volunteer workers, owing to high wages offered. By the way, the current average salary is 72,000 rubles (~2500USD), it’s really good for Russia.

In 1993 the Soviet Union collapsed. Many people moved to their homeland. Those, who couldn’t sell their apartments and stuck in the city, continues their life in that city, working this time for Norilsk Nickel.

Do you think anything have been changed with new rulers… pardon… with the major company shareholders, Vladimir Potanin’s Interros (25%) and Oleg Deripaska’s Rusal (25%)?

Below, please, see a photo report done by Arsen Tomsky (his blog), a friend of mine, CEO of Sakha Internet LLC and founder of Yakutsk popular portal Ykt.ru.

Norilsk City, February 9-10, 2011. The text (abstracts only) and pictures by Arsen Tomsky.

Norilsk is one of the worst ecologically unfortunate cities in Russia as well as in the world. Daily production emission is equal to 5 million tons.”

The average life interval in Norilsk is 10 years less than in the country and it’s commonly known that Russia is an outsider in terms of such characteristic. Add extremely severe environment, bare nature around, high prices, limited culture life, not-well-developed city infrastructure…”

Apartments are sold at a low price. The two-room costs 400,000 rubles (~14,200 USD or 10,152 EUR). In Yakutsk, for example, the same real estate goes for 2,800,000 rubles. That’s one of many reasons why it’s hard for people to move from Norilsk. If sell the property here, it’s impossible to buy anything in other regions.”

Indigenous peoples – Nganasans, Nenets, Evenks, Dolgans and others – do not live in the city. They are small in numbers and prefer to stay in villages and nomad camps. Locals say, they live in poverty. A taxi driver, who gave me a ride from airport, said that Norilsk residents tend to gather used clothes for passing to those villages. He wondered, why so many natural resources were extracted from the land and nothing were given to native peoples. He said, “Profits at the amount of billions! The company could donate at least 10 or 20 millions to the construction of schools, kindergartens and any other social purposes.” Think, he was right.”

Fishes in rivers are all the same. Nelma, omul, whitefish (chir and muksun). Sometimes they come with the taste of fuel. In summer camps are arranged on banks of rivers and lakes, people do shashliks (Russian kebabs), and sometimes they swim. I mean waters are as cold as in Lake Baikal. In tundra one can meet wild reindeer (more than million heads), many polar foxes, partridges, dugs, wild-gooses. Close to forest tundra there are elks, bears, wolves.”

Recently Putin visited Norilsk and he promised 10 billion for moving pensioners, 10 for city development and other 10 for something.”

People are really good, hospital. It’s easy to find a common language. Economy is active, but no growth is noticed and no declines felt, business works.”

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
Abandoned panel apartment houses in the Alykel airport area, 50 km away from Norilsk.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
Tundra

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
Snow protection hedge. Locals say that some winter brought snow at a height of 8 metres, piled on road sides. At that time, the highway to airport reminded a ravine in mountains.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
Tundra

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
Puffs of smoke are seen in the distance. Approaching Norilsk.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
This train is a monument. The railway connects Norilsk with Dudinka only, not with Russian Railroads’ Continental Network.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
Entrance to the city. You can see, who is the master in the city.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
A sad smile on the building. Actually, it is a rainbow painted.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
A few years ago some buildings were painted in cheerful colours to elevate residents’ mood. As time went by, paints got chapped. Now houses look sadder.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
The major New Year Tree. It’s the midst of February and it’s still here.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
Snow-burried transports, i.e. buses, KAMAZ lorries, and cars, are usual things to see in courtyards.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
A typical courtyard.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
The Palace of Sports construction was started by Mikhael Prokhorov, but after he sold his Norilsk Nickel shares (25 %) to Oleg Deripaska, it was stopped and neglected.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
Street advertisement is done in the form of constructions installed on buildings. No billboards, no stretching banners, as they cannot stand nature disasters like strong winds and snowstorms. Pay attention to the Apple sign, the city has the branded Apple store, people seem to be well-provided and advanced.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
Buildings on stone pillars as well.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
The train drags carriages full of ores.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
A ghost house.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
A house with the collapsed corner.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
A typical street in Norilsk.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
People know this bank like the palm of their “peeled off” hand.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
Buildings reminded me St Petersburg, but they looked like as they are right in the post-war period. Atmosphere is surreal completely.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
Why St Petersburg? Many people of Lenigrad, including architects, were exiled to Norilsk.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
Take a look. The left side is painted, the right not. Guess why. (A correct answer: it was done especially for Putin’s arrival to the city).

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
Do you see huge snowdrifts? They are everywhere.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
Déjà vu. Winter Palace. It appeared to be Lenin Square.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
The main street looks better.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
The heat and power plant. In 1979 frost at -60C and storms caused two gas pipelines bursts. The city was on the brink of evacuation.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
Norilsk Calvary Memorial Complex.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
A chapel against a background of Schmidt (Medvezhonok, alternative name) Mountain.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
A memorial dedicated to deceased victims of Stalin’s regime.

Norilsk, Taymyr Autonomous Okrug, Russia
A view on the city from Norilsk Calvary’s side.

Norilsk is an extreme, unusual Siberian city.

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