Arctic project about Dikson,
the settlement on a coast of the Kara Sea,
Siberia: Joining the Dots

Russian version
Polar night.
View of the settlement Dikson from the island
Idea, text: Anna Gruzdeva
Photographer: Anton Petrov
Editor: Elena Makeenko
Photoeditor: Valeria Vetoshkina and Akademy of the Photography
Make-up: Vasily Vershinin, Nikita Pushkin and Evdokia Shelamova
Map: Katerina Shestakova
Translator: Maria Biryucheva

It is at the latitude of 73°30′ north and the longitude 80°31′ east. There is no cinema and no mobile Internet, no buses and no coffee houses, no supermarkets and no advertising banners there. There are also no people who have never seen a polar night and green plays of the northern lights. There are no people who wouldn't know what to do by meeting a polar bear or by aktirovka*. There are no people who don't expect
the appearance of the polar poppies and an airliner to come. It is Dikson – the most northern settlement in Russia.

It is December. If you are on Dikson in December, you can find out what time it is only looking at your watch or counting the lights
in the windows, because from the beginning of November the polar night begins on the peninsula Taymyr. On Dikson it is not as ink-blue and soft due to the city lights, car lamps and shop windows as in
Norilsk. The polar night on Dikson is like a heavy black coulisse which was curtained off in the sky by someone's invisible hand. Only once, in the middle of a day, the dispersed light seeps through it and the sky and everything around it becomes dusky. But even at that time it is hardly possible to distinguish where the land ends and the sea begins, where the sea ends and the sky begins.

People habitually call Dikson the end of the world, because it is in the North of Karasnoyarsk region, on the coast of Yenisey bay of the Kara Sea which is the end of the Arctic Ocean. It is more than 500 kilometers of unexplored tundra and far from the nearest big towns Dudinka and Norilsk. It is hardly possible to come to the closed settlement Dikson without having a special permission and using an old plane AN-26 which flies from the airport "Alykel" once a week only and even if there is no storm or fog. The local residents call the mainland everything outside of Dikson. On the mainland there are Siberia ("We are not Siberians! We are the Norhernmen"), the dense taiga, roads, the usual change of day and night.
At "the end of the world" people live in stilt houses. "Did you see the Arctic fox, chasing the dog in the yard?" The wild tundra, which is open for wind, and the endless ice.
That is the Arctic.
Dikson is 100 years old. Anyway, its history is not just a biography of a lonely dot on the administrative map of modern Siberia. It is the story how people and states met the Extreme North. It is much longer.

Ages ago in 11–12s centuries the Pomors, emigrants from Velikiy Novgorod, went "to all the ends of the icy cold high sea" to look for new fields and to trade with the Samoyedic peoples (also Samodeic peoples; the general name for the peoples living in the northern regions of Russia, who speak the Samoyed languages – Translator's note). At the beginning of the 17th century Mangazeya, which was the first Russian trans-polar fortress city, became the center of colonization of the great territory in the North of Siberia. Traders and yasak collectors (yasak was a kind of tribute in Imperial Russia exacted from the indigenous peoples of Russia, usually in fur – TN) went there for furs and walrus ivory. Later, in the 18–19s centuries the Russian and European seafarers made their ways to the North to find a better sea path between Europe and the Far East for trading. On 8th July 1875 the Sweden geographer and seafarer Nils Nordenskjold left the harbour in the city Tromso going by a small boat Preven and on 15th August came into a convenient harbour of a small island in the Yenisey bay. "I hope this harbour, which is empty now, will turn into an assembly place for lots of ships contributing the relationships not only between Europe and Ob and Yenisey river basins, but also between Europe and the North China",wrote Nordenskjold in his journal, noted the place on his sea maps and named the harbour "Dikson" after Oscar Dickson, the patron of his polar expeditions.

In the 20th century the North became a trading place of the USSR, as well as a place for field development and banishment, scientific researches and, of course, for building of new trans-polar cities and settlements. Among them Dikson was the capital of the Arctic. Different specialists such as meteorologists, builders, teachers, hydrographers, military service, polar pilots and radio operators went "to develop the North" from different parts of the Union. Today this Arctic settlement is going through a difficult period as well as most of other northern inhabited localities in Russia (Tiksi, Amderma, Khatanga, Igarka and other more).

1980s were "the golden years of Dikson", there used to live about 5000 people. Now, according to the official statistics, less than 600 inhabitants live there, but the locals make it more exact: there are really less than 500 people.
The net of polar stations, the geophysical observatory, the harbour of the Northern Sea path, the staff of the sea operations, the net of coastal aerodromes, the polar explorers' clubs, the hunters' winter huts, the fish-factory and the art gallery – all those things are kept now in the regional books, in files of the newspapers the soviet Arctic and in the memories of the people who went here to make the unfriendly Extreme North habitable. The only institutions remained until now are the frontier post, the airport without heating, the hydro-meteorological station, the boiler-house, the diesel-house, the school, the administration, the library and some shops.

Approximately from the end of November to the beginning of February the polar night sets in on Dikson. It is usually darker than in neighbor Norilsk, Dudinka, Igarka and Khatanga. The Northerners note that for someone the polar night ends if only the edge of the sun goes out whereas for the others it ends when the red round ball emerges above
the horizon.

Through habit, the local inhabitants don't say to go to Dikson, but to go onto Dikson, because historically the settlement has its begin from an island in the Kara Sea. Later it started to develop on the adjoining peninsula Taymyr too. So Dikson consists of two parts: the island and the mainland ones, which are separated by a one-and-a half-kilometer channel. In 2009 the island part was closed and is practically uninhabited now. People have moved to the settlement, the streets are empty, the wind has broken the windows and doors of the deserted houses. In the building of empty school 2 there are only hare's prints on the snowed up floor. The occasional places where the light is on and some work goes on are the hydro-meteorological station and the airport. There is more life in the mainland part of Dikson. People walk along the streets, the soviet caterpillar snowmobiles GAZ-71, new cross-country vehicles TREKOL and burans (a kind of snowmobiles – TN) go everywhere, the shops are open, there are a school gym, a library and a church. Also here more and more windows and doors get closed for good every year. Some monuments to the polar explorers and ships in the harbour carry back to the past greatness of the gates to the Arctic.
Nevertheless, people still live on Dikson. They go into the tundra and catch fish, they teach their children how to draw and to solve linear equations, they write the total dictation and take state exams, collect the archival photos and bake bread, they look after the heating boilers and the wind speed, they wait till the polar night is over and look forward to the first sun. Every abandoned winter hut or the closed door, every doorway gaping with blackness or a window with light are a part of the history there. It is the history of the mastering of the Northern Sea path and the history of the conquest of the North at the USSR period, but above all it is the families' or an individual person's history.


The report was written in 2014

— сhoose a story —
In the extreme North regions it is an announcement about storm which can reach 15—30 mps. During that time lessons at schools and some other institutions in towns and settlements are canceled. - remark of Siberia: Joining the Dots.