ZHANNA KOPAN
"The Northerners left and felt devoted and thrown away"
Dikson is our youth, our childhood, our houses, it is our freedom without any problems. We were grown up there, it was a place where we used to live and which was loved. Furthermore... the North has a quality of being able to attach people for ever. Maybe because of the large expanse you can always feel the freedom there. The North is special. The people and the values are different, everything is different. I don't know how to explain that with other words. Having lived so many years on the mainland particularly in Petersburg I understand that the North is something inimitable and very beautiful.
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Yes, it is difficult physically there, you always have to resist the harshness of nature, the weather, to overcome something... But it tempers you and gives a feeling of more significance.
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In the youth we used to communicate a lot. We didn't have any televisions or computers, our lives consisted of communication only. Why do we spend so much time in social nets now? We are lack of communication. When the weather was good on Dikson, all the people were walking in the Tayana street. When the weather was very good, we went to the tundra and at bright nights to the coast of the Kara Sea. I remember a story. Once we went to Kolba (a geophysical station – remark of Siberia: Joining the Dots) which was seven kilometers away from the settlement, it was really dangerous. How furious our parents were! What is more, I was the oldest child there. We rolled in snow, looked up into the sky, declaimed poems and sang songs, sledged from the huge hills. Maybe that was the reason why we got so close to the tundra and the North? During my last years on Dikson every family had already bought a television and most of them the computer. I could go along the street and meet nobody – the people were sitting in their burrows. It was at the end of the 90s, when it already began: the eye-sockets of the windows got empty,
the doors were boarded up, the houses were left. Now people live there due to their love and enthusiasm only.

Zhanna Kopan, 1960s
A photo from Zhanna
Kopan's archive


My father Nikolay worked for the fish-factory as a hunter. His winter hut Zalideevo was 100 kilometers away from Dikson. Degtyarev used to live near him in his Uboynaya. There used to be lots of winter huts, every 25 kilometers. In winter the hunters got Arctic foxes, caught them by using traps, then flayed, cleaned and delivered. In summer they were busy with fishing. They caught the Arctic cisco, broad whitefish, white-fish, loach, muksun – all the sorts of fish were delivered. Imagine, my father alone had 200 kilometers of hunting and fishery area! Cross-country vehicles... My dad didn't like technical equipments; dogs and nature were more familiar to him, he was the last person who stopped using the teams of dogs. He always used to have dogs. They didn't belong to any pedigrees, but were very strong with thick fur not to get cold. Such dogs are called Eskimo dogs, but those were much bigger then usual Eskimo dogs.

Before going to school I lived in the winter hut with my parents. My mum helped my father: she hunted and cleaned the Arctic foxes. The Arctic foxes were great on Dikson. They were not as those raised in captivity, with beautiful but thin fur, but natural with very rich fur and they were much warmer. In general, it was a standard of life in the North to wear natural fur. We used to wear special polar winter clothes made from natural sheepskin, or sheepskin coats or different fur coats, because it was cold. On our feet we wore valenki (felt boots – TN) or unty (high fur boots – TN). My dad could sew unty and fur coats for my mum from seals and kamas (a coarse-fur part of animal legs, often of deers – remark of Siberia: Joining the Dots)
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Our winter hut was surrounded by water from the three sides and when my parents were busy, I sat near the hut tied around my waist to the peg so that I could only touch the water with my hand.
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I played with the plump puppy and cried: "They have tied me like
a dog..." The puppies from Dad's team were also tied. The hut was made from wood, it was warm there in winter due to the oven. My father even baked bread there, I have seen a photo on the Internet (Dad was loved by journalists, he was often photographed). And for dogs there were katukhi (sheds for small cattle in the south of Russia were called katukhi and in Siberia they were kennels for dogs – remark of Siberia: Joining the Dots) where they lived in winter. Later my mum and I lived in the settlement and my dad – in Zalideevo.
When the union had crashed, everything became more difficult, every hunter had to find customers and had to think how to sell his products. Somewhere above they decided that the North was not in demand and began to mess it up. Not Dikson only was ruined, but also the whole North. People were forcibly resettled. For example, my dad didn't want to move anywhere, but he left, because he had to. At that time it was possible, according to the Chernomyrdin's program, to get a flat on the mainland for free if a polar explorer had worked in the North for 30-35 years. However, if you got a flat you were forbidden to come back.

Dad moved from Dikson to Ivanovo. It was very difficult for him to live on the mainland. Firstly, he had to use public transport. Secondly, each time he needed some products he had to go to the shop and not into his storeroom. Lots of things were not clear, it was a vacuum... Dad held out one year, then by right or wrong he went onto Dikson back. It cost him so much effort, but he was over the moon being back on Dikson. He worked as a stoker and as a guard there. He came on the mainland only once, on his holiday, and said where he wanted to be buried – close to my mum (she died eleven years earlier than my father did and was buried here on the mainland). After his death we had to bring him here from the North. That was so long ago.
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Many people, especially those who spent lots of time in winter huts, who spent their lives in tundra, were afraid to go away from the North, because they knew that lots of people who went away, died.
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In the North, people felt being in their right places, they felt being useful and a part of a big family. But after the crash of the Soviet Union there was completely no work on Dikson, people working in the winter huts, fishermen, their jobs and goods – everybody and everything became unnecessary. Where was everything bought, including fish and fur? Abroad. The Northerner left and felt devoted, thrown away. Most of them became lonely, because their children and grandchildren lived in absolutely other places. They didn't get any accommodation for example in Vsevolozhsk near Petersburg, they got it in Ivanovo which is far away to visit often. I saw my dad on the mainland twice, then he was alone like the most of those people. With no family, no familiar circle of social contacts, no accustomed atmosphere, in completely different climate. Like trees! In the North if you go out and look around, you will see the horizon everywhere. When you see and feel the freedom in front of you, you feel like a free wind. And in the city every look rests against a tree or a building, there is nothing to watch, everything is enclosed. You feel your insignificance.
It took me very long time to get used to Petersburg after I had left Dikson. The space was not the same, the people were different, the life was different, and the weather. So I was really homesick. Then I got used. However, all the time I have been looking for familiar smells, especially in spring. In spring I sometimes walk along the river Neva or some canals and think that it smells of fish, it smells of the sea, it smells of Dikson! Or that smell of creosote in the port... For me everything is connected with the North.
In summer the flowers smell comes from tundra on Dikson, it is perfectly unique, there is nothing else like that smell. And I also will never forget the feeling of the first freshness, of the first green, when you go out from Dikson and come onto the mainland for the first time and breathe in the smell of leaves. You are always looking for that smell, it is like looking for the smell of snow, and you finally find it. Sometimes. Winter and autumn have different smells of snow in the North. In spring the snow has a smell of the sun and of water. And in autumn the water and the ground begin to get a smell of snow; black heavy clouds with a little whiteness come and you understand: it is winter. In autumn there is not any smell of snow, but you can feel snow. When it snows for the first time, it doesn't have a smell of the sun, it smells of some putrid grass and the ground.

This winter we suddenly witnessed the Northern lights in Petersburg, which was very unexpected. I was carried away. Of course, it is immeasurable greater and much more beautiful in the North, you will never forget it. You will never forget the closeness to the sky. It seems that if you raise your hand up, you will reach a star.
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Ludmila Timofeeva:
"Dads and granddads made the boxes for the children for themselves, they were sometimes ordered to carpenters. Normal sleds were boarded over with plywood and a plexiglass was fixed into. I think, that kind of baby transport was very actual for many regions of the Extreme North. On Dikson the boxes were given to those families who got small children without asking anything in exchange for that. There was always the atmosphere of supporting and a kind of community, although the people from Petersburg, Moscow and out-of-the-way place lived side by side".