‘I drink because I’m afraid of cold’ – tells me Nikolay, one of the telecom workers who was sent here from Yekaterinburg. ‘I’ve never been to such a cold place before. That’s why I work every day and drink every night.’
I’ve never been to such a cold place as well. I was in Murmansk, which is 3 parallels more northern but I was there in October so didn’t really understand what does it mean to live in Murmansk. As for Salekhard, I went for a stroll today, walked about an hour and felt that I’m getting cold, so I went home to find out that it’s -39C.
On the way home a man holding a vodka bottle approached me and asked if I want to be photographed on the top of the tall snowdrift. Men here know how to get a lady’s attention.
Salekhard, a lonely island in the sea of Tundra. Andrey, the bus driver who was taking me from the airport yesterday says that it does feel very isolated here but he keeps himself busy not to start drinking. He has shifts as a bus driver every second day and on the days when he’s free, Andrey takes care of his small transportation business.
‘Salekhard is clean and nice but so small and the nights in winter are so long. You leave at 7am from the bus park and return there at 9pm spending most of the day in the darkness. But you see, the day is getting longer already!’
Longing for the sun, that’s what Salekhard is. 5 month a year the temperature doesnt rise over -20C.
-25C or -30C is a normal temperature here but to give Yamal a credit the cold doesn’t feel that extreme as in the european part of Russia because of a very low humidity. Just like today I didnt even feel that it was almost -40C and was thinking that it should be around -30C.
Why, oh why would people live in such harsh conditions? This was my only thought as the plane was flying over the beautiful northern Ural mountains, which have big deposits of gold chrome and the rest of Mendeleev periodic table. Yes, I do know that Yamal produces 20% of Russian gas, but I did not understand why would people want to live here.
Andrey, the bus driver, came here from Altay 12 years ago to earn a lot of money, didnt find the money but met his wife and stayed and is happy now.
Batyr, the cab driver from southern Kyrgystan, came here for money as well. Says that the police doesn’t try to get bribes from the drivers and doesnt stop unless you break some rules. ‘When I first came here I though I would die here. It’s so cold. I drunk vodka. Next day couldnt work.’ explains Batyr in broken russian. Since then he doesnt drink. ‘People are very nice here, not like in Moscow.’
Sent during the soviet time here for work or coming by themselves after the collapse of soviet union, people are driven with high salaries but find smth very different. I think, they find themselves.
In Surgut I was told that the north is only for the strong, it tests you and if you prove to be strong it accepts you without looking at your nationality. But Surgut knows nothing about the north compared to Salekhard, the lonely solder at the border of the polar night.
Would you be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with him?