Russia: Blogging the Winter in Yakutia

Global Voices Online
Friday, November 20, 2009

Winter is yet to arrive in much of Europe, but one of its geopolitical attributes is already back in the spotlight: fears of disruptions of natural gas deliveries from Russia seem to be growing more intense, due to the recurring dispute between Russia and Ukraine.

Politics aside, however, in some of Russia's regions winter has been there since around mid-September. In Yakutia, for example: Russia's largest federal region, close to India in size, with a population of less than a million, though, home to the Northern Hemisphere's Pole of Cold, the land rich in natural resources, including diamonds, oil and gas.

On Sept. 15, Yakutsk-based journalist and blogger Bolot Bochkarev posted two Flickr slide shows of autumn in Yakutia - in Yakutsk and in Pokrovsk - on his blog,, and wrote this (ENG):

At my Flickr account I received a good question from an Australian user, tanetahi. In his comment to one of my first autumn pics he wrote:

Do people get depressed or complain much about the cold as you progress from summer to winter in Yakutsk, or is the severe climate just accepted as an inevitable part of life there?

My answer was “September and the early October are very depressive. No, we don’t complain about the upcoming cold. We just regret sunny summer days are over, and we have to prepare to the long winter.” That’s actually depressive. [...]

One day later, Bolot was forced to update his autumn post:

[...] UPDATE: Sept 16, 2009, The first snowfall happened in southern Yakutia!!! That’s in Nerungri, Tommot, Aldan! It can mean one thing only.WINTER IS HERE!!! )))

In Yakutsk it is too chilly and muddy. I wish to have snow right now, because it would be warmer a little.

Some two months later, on Nov. 18, Bolot posted this note (ENG) on his Twitter page, @yakutia:

next week we gonna have the first -40c days in yakutsk. too early. hard to believe.

(-40 degrees Celsius is -40 degrees Fahrenheit.)

Earlier this month, Bolot re-posted photos of "Yakutsk in November" taken two years ago by photographer Björn Steinz. And there is also plenty of practical travel information on Bolot's blog, including a review of a Yakutsk hostel and a "description of the standard tour to the officially acknowledged coldest Siberian place" - Oymyakon - provided by "Semen Baishev, an Oymyakon-based travel enthusiast," who "arranges all the travel program in the Pole of Cold for individual tourists and travel agencies’ groups."

In addition to blogging at, Bolot runs portal (ENG) (which includes, among many other things, an editor's blog), and contributes to, "an international online project [...] dedicated to the cold and everything related to the cold." At this latter venue, Bolot has recently shared his "Don’ts in Cold Weather" - and below are a few of them:

[...] 1. I don’t smoke outdoors, when the temp is below -20C. Breathing cold air is not good for my throat. Sorry, but I smoke. I am trying to cease smoking.

[...] 4. I don’t stay outdoors longer than 20-30 minutes, when it is cold, like -40C. Even in reindeer fur boots and super warm Arctic Canada Goose parka I will start feeling chill.

5. I don’t talk much by a cellphone outdoors either. I like expressing emotions and being heard (btw, when a mobile is frozen, the microphone and speakers work terrible, as low as it can be possible). If I do that, I can get cold. Again it is not good for my throat.

7. I don’t spare money on taxi at late night. I will pay 100-200 rubles for one ride rather than 14 rubles for the public transportation. Taxi brings me straight to home in a short span of time. In case with buses, it’s always a long waiting at bus stops, and unsafe… street hooligans, you know, tend to appear at nights. [...]

Elsewhere in the Russian blogosphere, Yakutia has been recently featured on LJ user sergeydolya's blog (ranked #21 on Yandex Blogs portal). The blogger posted two photo reports (RUS), on Oct. 20 and 29: one from the diamond-mining town of Udachny (the name translates from Russian as "lucky") and the other from a deer-hunting trip (which involved lots of waiting and looking around, some drinking, but no actual hunting, as the deer never showed up).

Finally, here is what Russian photographer Oleg Klimov wrote about turning ice into drinking water in Yakutia, in his Nov. 18 post (RUS), which includes three photos:


Traditionally, the Yakuts use proper names for any significant natural phenomena. [...] [The Lena River] is known as "Grandmother Lena" and has a status of a respected grandma, while the Russians have been traditionally referring to [the Volga River] simply as "mother Volga."

Since the Yakuts live in the permafrost conditions, they are extracting water from frozen areas, too, and they are doing it today the same way they were doing it 200 years ago. Tap water is still a luxury here. The thing is, it is a very labor-consuming process to dig up water wells in permafrost and it is not profitable in the age of "black capitalism," so water is produced from ice that's cut from the Lena River with a [Soviet-made Druzhba gasoline-powered saw] or with specialized sawing devices. One ton of ice costs 500 rubles [approx. $17]. A truck is capable of carrying some 3 tons [of ice], which is not enough to last the whole winter. Water produced from ice is valued nearly as much as mineral water, because, it is said, crystallization freezes off all possible types of bacteria and infection.


In villages and outside Yakutsk, they begin to store this "mineral" water in autumn, when the ice is still not too thick. And it is being delivered like stacks of firewood along the banks of the lakes and tributaries of the Lena. You're walking down by the river and see: here's the ice that belongs to the family of the Ivanovs, and here's the Petrovs' ice, etc. The best ice comes from the running water. No one is stealing other people's ice. [...] If you need water (drinking or for washing), head of the household takes a crowbar [...], splits the thinner ice, carries it inside the house and places it into a special barrel, where ice slowly turns into water. If you spend a week living in such a house, it is possible to forget that it's the 21st century out there, but you also begin to feel as if you are part of the nature, which, actually, we still are. Even though not its best part...


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