Friday, 6 October 2017

From Vankaren to Polyarnyy, the Far Eastern Arctic coast of Russia

Russian Arctic is known to be quite a gloomy, unwellcoming corner of our Earth. Not only the landscape is bleak and desolate, but the settlements on Arctic Sea's north coast are unfriendly places: derelict residential blocks, obsolete industry (mostly mining, oil and gas), pollution, military ports with nuclear fleet, remnants of gulag camps nearby; even the native villages of rein herders are mostly miserable and abandonned to their unlucky subsistence economy. No place for Ultima Thule there.

Nevertheless, I try to find any bit of attractiveness in the iced tundra and iced ocean areas which show minor damages from russian-style "progress" in the past century. These small villages are a set of some historical interest as rural, native or mining settlements, under administration of the larger Cape Schmidt port town, built under soviet regime, which is also a testimony of the middle-20th century madness.

The Chukotka district is the unit of the Russian Federation that occupies the easternmost extension of Siberia, reaching toward the Bering Sea.

The indigenous population makes up around 28% of the total population. They now have some benefits of modern life (electricity, post, school, transport) but many keep their traditional life of reindeer herders and sea hunters.

Probably related to Alaska's Yupik eskimos, the Chukchi native people used to have a nomad life in tents, changing campsites through the seasons


Vankarem is situated on the coast of Chukchi Sea, not far north from the Arctic Circle, not far west of the International Date Line; it's a rural settlement, most of its inhabitants are Chukchi, keeping ther traditional life style.

Coordinates: 67° 50′ N, 175° 51′ W
Population: ~190

The original settlement was mainly a set of small wooden cabins in parallel lines to the coast.

The best improvement in decades: a greenhouse. Finally green fresh vegetables.

Colour is important in the Arctic, it helps keeping up good spirits.

The local School.

The Meteo and Communications station.

Due to the latitude, arctic lights are frequent in Vankarem:

Cape Schmidt

Cape Schmidt (Mys Shmidta) is a work settlement and administrative centre. Most of the town is a nightmare of terrible looking blocks and industrial buildings, many in ruins. It was built along the shore of a land spit ending in a double Cape, and separating the sea from a water inlet.

Coordinates: 68° 55′ N, 179° 27′ W
Population: 160, decreasing

The settlement was founded in 1931 as a part of the Soviet Union's development of its Arctic air defences. Changes in strategic defence in recent decades led to a decline in Mys Shmidta's importance, though the settlement remains one of the main northern sea ports for Chukotka.

In 1954, the airfield was developed as part of the plan to create a ring of the Soviet Air Force air bases around the Arctic for the use of its strategic bomber fleet during the Cold War. The airfield then became less important and finally closed for military use; now it provides civilian flights to Anadyr.

The airport terminal of Cape Schmidt.

That's a landing runway where anyone would be deadly frightened to land on tundra wetland:

The port at Mys Shmidta is generally open between July and Septembera. Though it also has lost importance, Mys Shmidta is still the main northern sea port in Chukotka.

Average temperatures are negative most of the year.



Built on the same land strip ending in two capes in the arctic waters, Ryrkaypiy (Russian: Рыркайпий) is a Chukchi rural village just close to Mys Shmidta but on the ocean side of the spit.

Coordinates 68° 52′ N, 179° 22′ W
Population: ~800
                  over 300 are Chukchi native

The road entrance to the village.

Marine hunting and reindeer herding have traditionally been a key source of food and employment for the local indigenous people, but finally some real progress has recently arrived.

The monument to Nordenskiöld, a Finnish-Swedish sailor and scientist who first travelled the Northern Sea Route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, in 1878-1879, thus inaugurating the Northeast Passage. He harboured and explored this area during the expedition.

They seem to like yellow up there.

The new school and educational centre.

Chukchi dance in the Centre's hall.

Some efforts are made to keep the traditions alive. This and the modern facilities being built are helping to fix some population in Ryrkaypyi.

A younger generation is growing in somehow less apalling conditions.

As with several of the rural settlements thorughout Chukotka, Ryrkaipiy was the centre for a collective reindeer farm. The reindeer herds are still the major source of employment for the local people.

Things are different, anyway.


This is probably the most attractive siberian ghost village :D

Isn't that a big tourist attraction ?


Coordinates: 69° 09′ N, 178°43′ E
Population:  0

The settlement was established to house miners working in the nearby goldmines since 1963. At the end of the 1980s, construction of large residential buildings started. Polyarnyy had a population of around four thousand during the 1980s.

In the 90s mining became unprofitable, and in 1995 the settlement was abolished.


Aurora over the port of Cape Schmidt.