1. “40,000 Against the Arctic”. I didn’t want to leave the impression that the Soviet attempts to populate and develop the Siberian north were all unsuccessful. The town of Novilsk, for example, which Smolka describes as a new settlement created to explore recently found nickel deposits (and also then a prison camp, part of the Gulag system), has in fact grown to a population of over 100,000. But, according to Wikipedia, it lost about 25% of its population during the 1990s. The Wikipedia suggestion is that it was closed because of the sensitivity of the mining activities, but it is also noted that there are nearby ICBM silos and, equally important, that it has been designated one of the ten most polluted cities in the world!
But I think that it must be true that the problems with heavily populating the arctic regions of Siberia are overwhelming and that it takes (in a “free economy”, such as today’s Russia, where at least mobility is not controlled) a lot for someone to voluntarily live under these climactic and air quality conditions.
The highlight of Siberian settlement today seems to be Yakutsk, which is even more remote (at this level of remoteness, perhaps this is irrelevant), but whose population has steadily grown and is now over 200,000. Yakutsk is also a mining center, with large quanties of gold and diamonds be excavated. It is also an educational center, the home of permafrost and mammoth museums, and more.
It is also a very cold place, and largely inaccessible by land. There is a highway that will take you to the western side of the broad Lena River, but there is no bridge, and the city is on the east bank, accessible only by ferry and only for a few months each year (unless you are willing to take your vehicle on the ice during the winter months). For five months of the year, the average high temperature is below zero, fahrenheit. In January, for example, the average high is 39 below zero, and the average low is 51 below zero, although it has gone down as low as 84 below. The record high in January is 22 fahrenheit.
On the other hand, July is not so bad. It normally gets up to 77 degrees fahrenheit, and the normal low is 53. It has reached 101 degrees on occasion.
And they eat horse meat there as a regular matter, an indigenous food of the area’s native peoples.
If you go, you really have to fly. I have to quote, from ‘Wikitravel.org’, an explanation of the highway to town:
“The only road that is passable year round, connecting Yakutsk to the rest of the world, is the M-56 from Never [true] to Yakutsk. The road is in a dilapidated condition and not entirely paved……In 2006, this road won the dubious distinction of “worst road in the world”…..The other road is to Madagan. Heaven help anyone who foolishly sets out in this direction. Unimproved dirt roads (paths) wandering off through Siberian taiga for approximately the length of the United States. Reports (presumably from people crazy enough to go this way) suggest that a 30 km section of the trip is prone to natural gas seepage, which can call drivers to fall asleep and, well, not wake up.”
I would love to go to Yakutsk, in spite of the cold (or in part because of it, perhaps). I’d like to see the country side, and believe it or not, the museums (which include art museums, historical museums, archeological museums, the mammoth musuem, and the cryogenic museum) would be fascinating.
Maybe for my next birthday.