ALBERT MINGAZHEV
"The island is a phantom city now"
We – three children and our mum – went to the island in November 1975. Our dad had been working there for already two years as a short-firer. Before coming there we lived in the Ukraine town Ternovka, my father had worked as a rescuer in mountains and my mum as a brigade leader of a building team. The long flying was difficult first of all for mum, for us children everything was interesting and unusual: sudden changing of climate, very different nature, planes and people. The first floor only was for passengers in the small old building of the airport Alykel. The snowstorm continued for more than ten days and there were as many people who had to wait in the airport as herrings in a barrel. Mum defended a sleeping place on the big airport weigher for us. But people were calm and were waiting patiently until the weather got quieter and they were allowed to get onto the planes. Generally, the North people were absolutely different from the noisy Ukraine inhabitants, not only because of their specific "northern" clothes – boiler suits klimatichka, high fur boots, but also due to their balanced calmness, patience and tolerance and their speeches.

Touristic map of
the route Krasnoyarsk-Dikson along Yenisey, 1983. Today there are no passengers motor ships going to Dikson.


A photo from Alexander Spiridonov's archive
When we came, the November Dikson was covered with snow. Father brought us into a small one-storey house, which was divided into two parts. It was a communal house for three families: the shared kitchen with a stove, there was a cold toilet with a container under it near the entrance and there wasn't any bath. From the window we could see the Samolyotnaya bay. We saw planes landing. In winter every morning we were woken by rotors which were cleaning the runway and the road from the island to the settlement, but also our football place located not far from the stand of airplanes. Then we moved from one flat to the others, warmer ones, which was very important in our conditions. Without any orders, we just negotiated and moved.
There were lots of inhabitants on the island, so a lot of them lived in communal and shared houses and all-metal building blocks – round metal barrels for living. Every organization was responsible for its houses, kindergartens, garages, boiler-houses. Very notable were the houses and institutions belonged to the main organizations: Hydromet, the airport and the military unit. They were independent on each other, like states in one state. As well as the whole island was independent on the mainland part.
---------
People on the island lived very close and friendly. Of course there were sometimes arguments and fights, because of the very close neighborhood in one kitchen.
______
There were situations when families broke or the partners changed – they were our small local soap operas. There were even cases that sometimes shot somebody: there was enough weapon for it (in the family of my sister's classmate the father shot his wife and then himself). The TV appeared in the houses at the and of the 70th. I remember how we ran to the "old waiting room" to the technicians to look at their self-made television that translated the Moscow time programs. So people sat together, entertained and enjoyed, very often visited each other, went to the cinema (the queue was so long that its end stretched from the club to the street, for a long distance away).

There were three clubs on the island: The central club in the airport part of the island, Krasniy ugolok in the radio meteorological center and the club for the military personnel. Each of them was teeming, the life was bubbling, different courses were organized, there were some vocal instrumental bands (that competed with the settlemental bands). At New Year my wife and I went from one club to another, there were so many young people that you couldn't drop a pin. We danced, met each other, all of us were happy to see the others as if we hadn't seen us for the whole year...
--------
There was a cow shed in our settlement, so milk was delivered to the shop, and also to the school and the kindergarten for free. Hay for the cows was brought by ships. Can you imagine the cost price of that milk?
______

There was also a pigsty on the island at Hydromet, it burned down before my very eyes, I helped to get out small pigs from the fire. We had a horse stable and remember the fortune of each horse, they played an important role in the life of the island: worked like draft animal and at the festival Day of the Sun sledged children in painted sledges as quick as a wink.

One horse sank one day, went under the ice near the dam, the sledges are seen on the bank of the bay until now. At the end of the 80s the horse stable was liquidated, only one horse stayed, Maxim, that was needed by nobody and wandered through the settlement: dishevelled, with huge hoofs and a long tail. At one polar night the nurse from the kindergarten Irina Kushch was afraid of it: walking to work she saw something resembling a white bear and staying on the corner of a house. Sure, she was frightened and was about to run away, but looked carefully and saw that was our Maxim sleeping, squeezed into the corner, white from snow and hoar frost. Later the poor horse was hit by a car and his dirty tail continued lying on the road for a long time after that had happened. In its young years when Maxim grazed in freedom, my brother and I had found it, put a hand-made bridle on it and rode imagining us being Indians.
I want to tell you about our bread. There were two bakeries:
the civil and the military ones. Very tasty bread, high, aromatic like home-made was baked there. When children went to Krasnoyarsk to study at universities (good that then the flights were direct and flew many times a week), they always asked to hand them our smoked fish and some bread, it was a taste of home for our children.

--------
Most parents tried to send their children to the mainland to some summer camps, some of them did it for themselves, the others asked their acquaintances to take their children.
______

I want to tell you about our bread. There were two bakeries: the civil and the military ones. Very tasty bread, high, aromatic like home-made was baked there. When children went to Krasnoyarsk to study at universities (good that then the flights were direct and flew many times a week), they always asked to hand them our smoked fish and some bread, it was a taste of home for our children.

There used to be an 8-year-school on the island, the children of 9th and 10th classes learned at the settlement school, they lived in
a hostel and for the weekends were driven or walked home – onto the island. We, the younger children, were very jealous of their maturity and independence. The other boys and I were driven to settlement to the school workshops only, to have crafts classes there. One day we were going back from the settlement and got lost. When we left the weather was quiet, but some minutes later the snow drift began and the snowstorm was so powerful that it became pitch-dark. The off-roader was thrown from side to side by the storm, the driver went out and tried to understand where we were, he did that many times. Nadezhda Nikolaevna Naumenko, our English teacher, who was going with us, was frightened, but we, knowing old birds, did not care a straw. Thank goodness, we went to the island dam and everything finished very well.

There were a lot of children on the island. In winter we sledged and went skiing. We cleaned the ice on the paddling bay and could play ice-hockey with self made sticks. In summer we made rafts, went in them along the paddling bay or along the ice-way of the Kara Sea from the island to the settlement. Sometimes, when the days were especially "hot", we swam in the pit. You could call it swimming only conventionally, we lighted a fire, dipped very quickly into the small shallow lake and immediately ran to heat. Most parents tried to send their children to the mainland to some summer camps, some of them did it for themselves, the others asked their acquaintances to take their children.
In 1980 a 10-year-school was built and we began to learn there whereas our old school became an airport hostel. Lots of new very talented and creative teachers came, they were real enthusiasts of their work. Among them were the sisters Lidia Artamonova and Larisa Korshunova, Nikolay Korsunov, Tatiana Cherepanova, Nadezhda Kuidina, Valentina Shirko, Nikolay Kudriavtsev and others more. They all were wisely and continuously directed by the head-teacher Inna Grigorievna Gomel. I am very grateful to all my teachers, their example which induced me to follow in their footsteps. In 1982 I finished school and entered the History and English department of Bashkir State Pedagogical university in Ufa. After the university I worked for one year in Tuimazy (Bashkir Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic), then ran away onto Dikson taking a beautiful young wife with me. From 1988 to 2002 I worked at the island school then I went to the settlement school where I am working these days as a teacher of English, History and Social studies. Everything is good, but every now and then I keep an eye on the island. I see up to pain familiar contours, the memories come and my heart aches.
--------
Perestroika couldn't arrive Dikson for a long time, we had
a small island of communism among all that bedlam until the middle of the 90s.
______

Products and goods were obviously delivered by sheer force of inertia. We had enough products, although the cards were put into use including a kind of protection from mad tourists: passengers coming by boat from Krasnoyarsk, Dudinka and Norilsk ran quickly into the shops, bought everything and urgently went back. That's why the sellers hided from them the goods which were in short supply understanding that they wouldn't get anything more until the next navigation.

During some period of time we were not shaken as the entire part of the country. Going out for a holiday we wondered what was happening on the mainland. But later it came to Dikson too and the catastrophe broke out. The military suffered first. All over
the North the anti-aircraft defence system was liquidated (the staff brigade of the anti-aircraft defence system was situated on the island). During the short period of time they were evacuated into nowhere. It was one third of the whole population of the island and the students of the school. After that perestroika touched the airport, the time of "economists" and irrational commanders' management brought to privations of orders, of financing and selling of our helicopters. The best experienced crews and avia-technicians had to go away, of course, taking their children with them. Then the the science was attacked, it just became unprofitable. A large scientific center of collection and processing of data and knowledge about the nature and weather in the Arctic was liquidated. The small polar station the island Dikson is the only thing we have left from the previous powerful center and from the polar settlement.

Feeling desperately people began to leave. Perspective and hope left the island. Everything, what had been made during the long years by polar workers' incredibly hard labour and by the people of the whole country, was damaged in a very brief space of time. Now the island is a phantom city with empty eye sockets of windows. It is a memorial to those people who heroically tried to develop the rough extreme north, it is an evidence of our dullness and naive hope for some better times, it is an accusation against our "wise" government.
--------
For me, as well as for my wife and my daughter, the island is our house even if it is a left one. We often remember it with melancholy.
______
In 2006 after a long fight between the people and the administration the school was closed and the last citizens were transported to the settlement. Another life began, the half-island and half-mainland life. From 1975 until 2002 I lived, went to school and worked on the island. My family and I had the feeling that the mainland part of the settlement has actually never belonged to our island part of the settlement. We had everything our own, we were self-sufficient and self-provided. We had different mentalities, cultures, atmospheres (here on the island we were proud of being the polar explorers, we even got more money for working in the North). If we went to the settlement on business, we tried to come back home as soon as possible. On the island it was simply cosy, familiar and very friendly.
For me, as well as for my wife and my daughter, the island is our house even if it is a left one. We often remember it with melancholy. Living in the mainland settlement we look at it and can't get used to the new place. Especially now when the spirit of the North, the polar spirit of the Arctic settlement and a previous polar explorer's self-esteem disappeared. Other people came, the only thing they are interested in is roubles. They often have no respect for these places and people, who have explored and developed this inhospitable region of "white silence".
Choose a story
Share your story about Dikson