The meteorological

"All all all here UPV"

The combination UPV means the call sign of the island Dikson, it was used
by the Territorial communication center of Dikson for connection with polar stations and sea ships on medium waves.

Audio: Olesya and Dmitry Pisarenko
Photo: Valery Belov

"Wait until I finish my work... People are going away today".

"That's alright, we can wait".

"No, that's not, the warm hospitality must be offered".

Anatoliy Bukhta was sitting at the working-table and typing something on the computer. The printer was noisy. It smelt of a building materials shop in the almost empty room. There were some plants in the enameled buckets on the windowsills. On the shelves in the office cupboards there were packs of paper and some boxes with different tools. The black chairs were wrapped up with cellophane. That was a new service building of the hydrometeorological station on the island Dikson, people came here very recently. Bukhta is a director there.

"I have been on Dikson since 1981. I came here after the assignment of the Leningrad Arctic College", Anatoliy interrupted his work and smoked. "I had chosen Dikson as the most northern place, although oceanologists were asked everywhere: in Africa and on the Black Sea. I worked as an oceanologist until 1991. Then perestroyka happened, the stuff redundancies began and I had to change thirty jobs. I was both unemployed and a chief, a subordinate and worked at a construction site from a plasterer to a foreman. I also did inspectorial, bureaucratic and official works. I am good with my hands and can work as a mechanic and a carpenter. I often think, why I came back here?"

A photo from Valry Belov`s archive
Anatoliy Bukhta in the abandoned building of the hydrometeorological station on the island Dikson.
"And why?"

"I don't know", Bukhta answered tiredly, flicked off the ash from the cigarette into the enameled bucket , closed the window and went back to work. "The question is rhetorical for me".

Sinewy hands were hidden under the sailor's striped vest. Probably, his dark trousers used to be the right size formerly, but due to the long wearing became rather large. The face with prominent cheekbones was concentrated. His appearance completed a bald spot, a long ash-grey beard and glasses.

"Earlier we used to have a Dikson directorate of the hydrometeorological service with about two thousand people employees. The polar stations were disposed from the island Victoria in the West to the island Preobrazheniya in the East. From the island Rodolph in the North to the mys Sopochnaya Karga in the South. There were two big observatories: Krenkel on the Heis island and Fyodorov on the mys Cheluskin. Several hundreds people worked there. At that time we had everything: lots of oceanologists, an expeditionary department, a research ship Dikson, an ice centre, an observatory and weather forecasters. Then, after the wrecking of the USSR everything here degraded as in the whole country. We are formally a station that is difficult to access. We only deal with the collection, processing and transfer of information. The engineer earns from 20 to 30 thousand roubles including the polar bonus; the technician-meteorologist earns 21 thousand, the technician gets 13 thousand and a worker less than 10 thousand roubles. Well, are you going to drink tea?"

United hydrometeorogical station of Dikson 1915 – continues working

Khatanga 1928 – continues working
Tikhaya Bay 1928 –1960
isl. Domashniy1930 – 1954
m. Zhelaniya 1931 – 1997
Maria Pronchishcheva Bay1931 – 1992
Е.К. Fyodorov hydrometeorogical station 1932 – continues working
Rissian Harbour 1932 – 1993
isl. Preobrazheniya 1934 – 1996
isl. Uedineniya 1934 – 1996
m. Sterligova 1934 – continues working
Rudolph Island 1934 – 1996
m. Leskina 1934 – 1997
isl. Russkiy 1935 – 1999
m. Kosistiy 1939 – 1990
m. Sopochnaya Karga 1939
Andreya 1942 – 1999
isl. Maliy Taimyr 1943 – 1994
lake Taimyr 1943 – 1995
Solnechnaya Bay 1945 – 1992
isl. Vize 1945 – continues working
isl. Pravdy 1945 – 1994
Geiberg Island1949 – 1995
Nagurskaya 1952 – 1991
Ust-Tarey 1952 – continues working
the Izvestiy TSIK islands 1953 – continues working

isl. Isachenko 1953 – 1994
Krasnoflotskiye islands 1953 – 1991
isl. Vilkitskogo 1954 – continues working
isl. Golomyaniy 1954 – continues working

isl. Ushakova 1954 – 1991
E.Т. Krenkel hydrometeostation 1957
isl. Viktoria 1959 – continues working
m. Peschaniy 1961 – 1994
Pyasina 1976 – 1991
Ust-Taimyr 1987 – 1991
GO Kolba1963 – 1965

On the first floor Bukhta dumped out the snow mass into a metal container. The water at the station are melt snow and ice.
It is maybe the only thing that surprises the people coming from the mainland. Everything else is like in usual houses: a sewerage, a water-heater, the Internet, a television, mobile connection, kitchens, warm bedrooms and a room for drying clothes and shoes. Despite all the comfort, only few employees live there, the others go to work every day from the settlement. We went to the kitchen which is as uninhabited as Bukhta's office. A young woman Natalya, who was introduced by her chief as a technician-meteorologist of the second category, was cooking a borscht. She belongs to those people who live at the station continuously.

"In winter the employees come here by cross-country vehicles and in summer by motor-launches", Anatoliy said. "In season of bad roads when ice melts and drifts, neither a launch nor cross-country vehicles go here, so they order a helicopter. The same do they in autumn. I usually go on foot. When I worked in the harbour I used to ski there. That was normal. I lived on the island and worked there. I often used to go to the settlement twice a day. So, the kettle has boiled up, let's drink tea. Take the bread and butter", Bukhta nodded to the big can with yellow mass.

"Natasha, do you like the butter?"

From Lyubov Lapshina
about polar ice-cream*

illustration: Lyubov Lapshina

The new building of the united hydrometeorogical station of Dikson. There are some warm offices, staff's private rooms, kitchens, shower rooms — everything is like in a usual building on the mainland. However, some distinctive features exist. For example, water at the station is melted snow and ice.

"Yes, why not?"

"When it is stored for a long time, it gets covered with some plastic", commented Anatoliy displeased. "I whipped bread in the village by my granny so I know the taste of real butter".

There are no shops on the island. The products are brought to the station once a year by a diesel motor ship Mikhail Somov, which is as legendary as the oceanologist Mikhsil Somov himself. A ship, a sea, a glacier and an alley in Scant-Petersburg were named after him. During its navigation Mikhail Somov makes about three routs from Arkhangelsk, it brings different goods including products to the polar stations and the frontier posts. Bukhta orders what is necessary: flour, sugar, butter, cheese and meat.

The list of products includes sprats and sprats in oil, cod liver, Pacific saury, hunchback salmon – here they eat more canned food than fresh northern fish.
"In the soviet time, when I worked as a hydrologist here, I used to fly for unloadings. It was impossible to remember all the names of the ships, so many came to one port. Caravans of ships. There were people here. Now I am almost the only person. Bubnova, the leading meteorologist and Abaydulin nicknamed Abakan – the third-class operator of the gas generator station. And Natalya", Bukhta said.

"How were the people relocated from the island?"

"Using containers", Natalya answered and put shredded carrots into the pot with the borscht.

"Have you ever read Farewell to Matyora? It was the same situation. Bureaucrats came and persuaded people to leave. I offered to hold a referendum. Finally, they forced the people to go away just cutting the light off. Everything here was almost 100% worn out. There was no financing. So the people were just removed. As for me, I couldn't go away, I worked as a hydrologist and needed to realize the observations in the mornings, in the evenings, at nights and at New Years too. I stayed alone on the island and lived in a manufacture building".
"Do you perceive the island as your home?"

"Of course, how else can I perceive it?"

"What about the mainland part of Dikson?"

"No", Anatoliy answered without thinking long and became silent. "People leave. Many of them say they love Dikson but leave. Why do they leave if they love it? Anyway, there is a difference of perceiving. Everybody has his own Norilsk and his own Dikson".

"What is your Dikson like?"

"My Dikson... there is no description. Ask better Natalya", Bukhta answered bluntly. "Natalya, what is Dikson like?"

"It is the best."

"And why does your Dikson have no description?"

"Natalya came here in the end, and I came when everything was developing and then began to become extinct. In 1980s the half of all people working here had two high educations, the other half had one high education. There used to be a bakery, a stable, a school where children could learn for 10 years and some kindergartens on the island. At the time when I came here, there were no places to live in, people took their shelter in communal flats, there used to be even some intrigues in order to get a separate flat. Then the five-storey houses were built. Everything was developing, the life was bubbling. There was even a restaurant "Chyorniy kot" (the black cat) in the military unit. Another restaurant "Alex-tour" on the island was always overfilled. I worked as a bouncer there. The guys from the settlement went there to fight with ours - from the island. Like one village against the other.
The people who lived or came to Dikson in 80s – scientists, researches, people who were here on business trips – come here now, look at the houses and become indignant. How was that possible to desert everything here? So many similar cities were there in the North! The 90s brought the ruin. People could wait for their salaries for six months and get instead of them some spoiled products. It was a difficult time and the turning-point happened: at first the people wanted to stay and do something on Dikson, but then they changed their minds. Lots of my contemporaries ruined themselves by drinking and died, but they are not guilty, everyone has his own core and his own limit of fatigue. Lots of people who used to be engineers became janitors. Surely, they couldn't overcome the psychological barrier. Some of them became fencing-cullies".

"Did you have such a turning-point?"

"I didn't. We should always derive a benefit from the arisen situation. The time can be devoted to the self-education, intellectual development, meditation and prayer. A mug of water and a piece of stale bread would be enough to set off for a feast of the own thoughts".

Anatoliy Bukhta near
the burned down church

"I had a chapel here, it burned down two years ago. I kept there many hand-made things which were useful in the North. Some clothes, different instruments. Maybe, that was an omen of the right time to go away", Bukhta put out the cigarette deep in thought. He seemed to think about that not for the first time.
"Here used to live a woman, Vinogradova. She lived in a winter hut Pyasina. She went fishing and hunting, shot seals and bears. Once she decided to move from the Arctic to Ukraine. She built a house there, but was short of money to make a fence around the house. That was why she came back here for some period of time. She went fishing and hunting again. After she left to Ukraine and made a fence around her house, she died".

"Do you think, Dikson has a future?"

"Of course, it has", Bukhta answered confudently. "Dikson is our outpost in the Arctic. It is the capital of the Arctic. It is the best harbour for ships to stay in the Northern Sea Route. Scientists and meteorologists should work here as it was earlier. The North has to be developed, it has lots of natural resources. Not coincidentally, there is a war over it now. It is a good place to open, for instance, a museum of the Arctic development history. I have seen a good example in Norway. They build a village on water like in antiquity just after finding a vikings' boat at that place. They build roads and tunnels. And tourists from all over the world go there. This place has its history, the interesting buildings, but in our country they don't attract any attention for some reason and our authorities are not interested even in a museum.

There used to live a family here, the Lubninyhs, who devoted themselves to the history. Gerard Ivanovich was a military sailor, served on the archipelago Novaya Zemlya (New Land) and worked here in the harbour as a engineer-hydrotechnician. Alla Fyodorovna was an economist. They studied the Taymyr coast from the mys Cheluskin to Dudinka. They didn't spend their holidays neither in Sochi nor on Havaji, they went to the North taking their rucksacks and a tent. After they died nobody wanted to hand their lamp. In Bergen, a city in Norway, there is a museum with a ship Fram. It is permissible to walk there, to have a look at the cabins and the machinery. There are polar explorers' individual things there. On Dikson you can see a lot of ships and schooners here and there, but they disappear. Maybe, the sea washes them off... Do you want to go to the tide-gauge at night with me? Have you got a torch?"

Anatoliy Bukhta on the coastal fast ice, the sea ice formed in winter along the sea coast.
[Three hours later]

Wearing a dark-blue jacket with a big black collar and the stripe Norilskiy nikel, a cap with ear-flaps and unusual as if they had been hand-made valenki (kind of felt boots), Bukhta met us in the corridor. His long beard was hidden under the turtleneck of his sweater. It was three o'clock in the morning. For us, people from the mainland, it was long past our bedtime. For a person from the polar station it was time to check the tide-gauge.

"What are your valenki made from?"

"They are already twenty-five years old. It is impossible to buy new valenki here so I have to patch mine up. They are made from smooth woolen cloth, if you pull them tight, the snow won't get into. Have you taken your torch?"

We went out. It was warm, not colder than -10 degrees. The bright lamps on the roof of the new meteorological station building enclosed us and some space around us in the white ring of the light. The generators of the new diesel electro station were making a noise. Deeper into the island there was blackness only.
"Do you think we have a chance to see the Northern lights?"

"Once walking with my daughter when she was a child I saw the Northern lights and heard from her: "Dad, look, they show a film in the sky!" Anatoliy answered. "No, there won't be any lights today. And this is the […] stream", he showed something under our feet with the ray of his torch. There was the snow only.

"What stream? That was inaudible because of the wind".

"The Yuzhniy Stream".

Anatoliy Lomakin about

A photo from
Anatoly lomakin's archive
"That is not a wind", answered Anatoliy calmly, moving ahead. "The real wind means that empty metal barrels fly
by 35 mps and by 50 mps people fly".
"Are there living houses in the distance?"

"They are not living houses any more, they are ruins".

We went along a tilted road made from wooden planks which showed up here and there from under the snow, outlining our way. Bukhta turned off the road, he had his own inner compass. The low constructions were covered with snow up to the roofs. Anatoliy brought us to the plane bay.

"I have a garden here, it is the most northern in the world. I have been cultivating it for twenty years. I brought the dung from the left pigsty and stable. Sorrel, golden root, sagebrush, heracleum, camomiles, dwarf willow and polar poppies grow here", Anatoliy lighted up the area around. There was the snow only. "Long ago the larch seedlings were brought here, we tried to plant them. They didn't take roots. Those trees needed some help. They should have been planted on the south decline, surrounded with thermal accumulators made from dark stones and covered for winter. Who would do that? Recently, in the settlement they "planted" some plastic trees in front of the administration building and the school.
They twinkle with different lights. How absurd! If I stay here, I will try to reproduce larches. After all it is the most northern tree in the world".

The place where Anatoliy's house and garden lie, is called by the locals Shanghai. Lots of baloks (small mobile fishermen's houses – TN) are crowded there. Earlier, the Dikson men used to store there boats and different instruments for fishing and hunting. That is why Shanghai is often said to be a men's place. It is impossible to take it in at a glance. The windows of baloks don't have any lights in any more and the street light is not enough to see something further than the contours of the nearest constructions. At the polar night there is only one lighthouse in the plane bay, it is the winter tide-gauge.

The winter tide-gauge is a depth-gauge which is needed to measure the water-level in the sea. The tide-guage is hidden inside a small balok. The tide-guage must be checked every four hours to get the data important for the ships in the Arctic.
"The sea ice formed along the coastal zone which remains fast", is written in Bukhta's Atlas of ice formations about the coastal fast ice which we were going on. On the fast ice a small metal house stand on the runners, with the tide-gauge inside. The tide-gauge is a depth-gauge which is needed to measure the water-level in the sea. There-in the Kara Sea. From afar that construction resembles a cosy Dolgan balok sliding at night through the boundless tundra. Anatoliy opened the door of the "balok". There were an electric light, a small hole in the ice and a long depth-gauge with black and white graduation lines, going into the water. Under our feet was the sea.

"Our tide-gauge works by the zero level of the Kronstadt sea-gauge of the Baltic system of depths and heights. The sea level monitoring needs hard work. The temperature has to be hold constant to keep the hole non-freezing as the temperature outside can reach -40. In such cases it is also necessary to split the ice around the hole with a special crow-bar peshnya and pour it with hot water to continue the monitoring", Anatoliy said.

The distance from the meteostation to the tide-gauge is about two kilometers. Anatoliy goes there four times a day, every six hours without any weekends or holidays getting, how he said, a very scanty salary. The monitoring is important for many ships furrowing the unfriendly Arctic. It was also the monitoring what undermined Anatoliy's health.

The power of the light bulb made it possible to illuminate the ice near the tide-gauge only. Out of that saving circle of light began the strange space as if there weren't any horizon, light and time at all. It was easy to imagine how the meridians pierced the dark sky with their thin shining lines and reached out for the one point – the North Pole, which was 1800 kilometers far from there.

We we going along the coast. Anatoliy stopped and turned off his torch.

"Do you know what the white silence is? Here it is. "The sea is still and deep; All things within its bosom sleep; A single step and all is o'er, A plunge, a bubble, and no more", Anatoliy declaimed the poetry without any expression as if it was a weather forecast. "It is from "Martin Eden" by Jack London, do you remember? In 90s I offered my fellow to arrange a refuge for poets on Dikson. Then I got an answer that at those times the most possible was to arrange a refuge for alcoholics.

From Lyubov Lapshina's (meteorologist of the island Vilkitskogo) recollections:
"The boys sometimes asked me to make ice-cream. Everybody ordered half a bucket (they were 20 years old and were always hungry as wolves). In a big pot I made a hot thickener from milk, egg powder and sugar. Then I continuously stirred it in the frost (- 42С0) and finally got puffy ice-cream. I always followed the recipe my mum had sent me from Leningrad. The boys were like fishermen sitting on the snow with their buckets of ice-cream. They resembled their dogs running around with cans in teeth."
Anatoliy Lomakin:
"Baloks in Shanghai were different, depending on their owners' tastes. A normal balok began with a small store-room, then there was a kind of workshop with a workbench and shelves for tools. Most baloks were built by the fishermen who owned the boats to have a closed room for keeping them in winter. That is why baloks contained a hangar for a boat, a workshop and at the same time it was a place for having a rest or hiding from the wife's anger. Under the baloks people often cut freezers with small cells for storage of meat and fish. The entrance of the freezer was closed with a cover with foam plastic. Lots of people liked to celebrate different dates in their baloks, especially by the good weather in winter, some of them spent there all their free time and practically lived there. There was a large amount of baloks by the middle of the 1990s, they were spread so chaotic that after such parties not all people could find their ways home right away. Hence that the name of the place was Shanghai."
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