Vorkuta is a slowly dying coal mining town above the tree line in the Russian Arctic, it is unique as the buildings are colourfully painted but detremential to the environment as highly toxic fumes scar this desolate landscape. Vorkuta, Russia. 23/10/2009.
Vorkuta is a bleak coal mining community, closer to Canada’s Baffin Island than Moscow. Vorkuta is at the last stop on the Russia’s northern train route and yet another, “Road or rail of bones” built by forced Trotskyite prisoner labour in the 1930’s.
There are no roads connecting the town to the rest of Russia, only local roads connecting the highly toxic coalmines that scatter the landscape, belching out toxins into this fragile tundra eco-system. The mines are only half operational after the economic reforms of Perestroika and privatisation as the costs of transporting the coal by rail to any economic centre are prohibitive. The mines will be gone in the next quarter century but the damage will last for eternity.
Vorkuta is a self contained community of third generation miners, some descended from ex political and social prisoners while others took advantage of the higher than average wages being offered by the Soviet authorities to work in such isolated and inhospitable conditions. Average temperatures in January can reach -60 degrees although global warming is ushering an improvement, -40.
Russia last train station is next to a decayed Stalin era theatre but unlike the rest of Russia, the Stalin and Brezhnev apartments are painted different colours to avoid the depression and other psychological disorders that come with the dark Polar nights.
Vorkuta is really the hoping off point to explore the Poly Urals, a mountain range that stretches down to Kazakhstan, more than three thousand kilometres away. The landscape is a treeless but this is where the Urals, the oldest mountain range in the world really take a spectacular form with untouched clean rivers flowing through the tundra. This does not mean there has not previous human habitation as the Poly Urals are littered with abandoned towns and ski resorts only open during the months of May and June.
Poyarny was once a research town of two thousand souls. The Town’s main purpose was analysing the mineral deposits that could bring fabulous wealth to the Soviet system. Today, the wooden slum housing and Breshnev apartment blocks lay abandoned while tall snowy peaks looking down as if to say, “We will always be here”
The old homes have been stripped of anything of any value and are just waiting to completely wither away and simply disappear. Already the roads and pavements have disappeared under a layer of tundra bushes while a daily crew of contractors come to maintain the station and work on whatever needs to be worked on.