Behind the closed doors

Can you imagine what does it feel to live under harsh weather conditions behind the polar circle in the world biggest mining city? If there was an award of the most mysterious city in Russia think it should be given to Norilsk, the arctic city in the north of Krasnoyarsk region.


Closed to the foreigners and out of the ways of the Russian travellers this isolated city is usually known for 3 things: nickel, Gulag and pollution.

Doesnt sound like a place where you would like to spend your summer holidays, right? At the same time Norilsk attaracts more and more attention photographers trying to capture the life behind the closed door.


Going to Norilsk I personally didn’t know what to expect.

On one hand the most polluted city in Russia with the massive mining and metallurgy complex of 13 mines cant be a comfortable place to live. With +15C in Krasnoyarsk in 2.5 hours by plane I supposedly jumping back into the mid of winter which will last in Norilsk till the end of May.


On the other hand the city that gives 5 % of Russia’s GDP and 60% of the income of the whole Krasnoyarsk region simply cant be the worst place in the world.


The truth happened to be somewhere in between but what I did not expect is to meet people who actually love Norilsk.

It’s these people plus excellent soviet architecture of the Norilsk city center are the reasons why I can say that I actually like this city a lot.

I’ll tell about the people and about architecture in the next posts but for now would like to address 3 myth that exist about Norilsk.

1. Polution.

The city actually is quite polluted but I do not feel it yet. There’s no particular smell and no visible air pollution. The sky is bright and the snow’s white except for the parts that are next to the roads cos they are covered with some black powder which looks like ashes to me. Will figure out what is it.

The locals say that in winter all the smog raises up and it’s usually in summer when the smell is in the air.

In the geral the city’s very bright and positive with kids playing in the yeards and around the schools.


2. Harsh weather conditions.

Yes, that’s more then true. The average maximum temperature in Norilsk is -6C. The snow doesn’t melt till the end of June and it starts snowing in September again. Even though the locals are already greeting the spring I cant share the joy.

It was -20C since I came and with the strong northern wind blowing today I actually had to take the cab from the store to get home as 20 minute walk seemed like the death warrant. On the way home the cab driver was telling me about being called to take a man to the kiosk standing in the same yard for cigarrates and then back with the whole ride taking less then 2 minutes.


3. Infrastructure

The infrastructure is quite ok. A couple of good restaurants with the food and the bill of the Moscow level, some coffee places, 5 night clubs two cinemas and two hotels are not enough for the city with the population of 170.000 but I was quite impressed with the service level.

The one thing that I miss dearly is internet. And if before I was thinking that Salekhard had horrible internet, now I’m ready to take my words back as Norilsk literally has no internet. Only one place in town has wifi and 3g barely works here. Welcome back to the times when webpage took 15 minutes to open if you were lucky enough.


That’s just the first glimpse of Norilsk and as I was warned it’s too much of a complex city to understand it in two days, so I’ll keep exploring and reporting.


Kate B.



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