Nenets are the indigenous people in northern arctic Russia. They roamed the tundra for centuries, long time before the Soviet Union. Living in the icy desert of the Russian Arctic, they face extreme temperatures as low as -45ºC (-49ºF). Today, environmental damage is significant due to the industrialization of their land. Gas and oil exploration outposts rise out of the tundra, tapping the billions of tonnes of energy below, and posing a new challenge to the Nenets.
Internationally-renowned documentary photographer Justin Jin captured the life of struggling people in his photo essay “Zone of Absolute Discomfort”.
A Nenets herder collects his reindeers in -40C (-40F) in the Arctic tundra outside in the Russian Nenets Autonomous Region. They are the original inhabitants in the Russian Arctic before being displaced by Soviet collectivisation and modern gas and oil exploration.
The herders sell the meat to sausage factories and the antlers to China for use as traditional medicine.
Filip Andreev (70) and his wife Angelina Andreeva (68) were born in the tundra, but their families were forced to settle in towns under Soviet collectivisation. Yet, some traditions don’t die. Here, they cut apart a reindeer brought back from the Arctic tundra outside Naryan-Mar.
A WWII monument stands above Murmansk, the world’s largest Arctic city and a vital industrial and shipping hub. The city became an important military base during the Cold War with Finland and Norway just across the border.
Karp Belgayev, a coal miner, walks through Yor Shor, an abandoned village near Vorkuta where he is among the last ten inhabitants. Miners say that after ten years working underground it is impossible to remove black rings from around the eyes.
Vorkuta is a coal mining and former Gulag town 1,200 miles north east of Moscow, beyond the Arctic Circle, where temperatures in winter drop to -50C.
Here, whole villages are being slowly deserted and reclaimed by snow, while the financial crisis is squeezing coal mining companies that already struggle to find workers.
Moscow says its Far North is a strategic region, targeting huge investment to exploit its oil and gas resources. But there is a paradox: the Far North is actually dying. Every year thousands of people from towns and cities in the Russian Arctic are fleeing south. The system of subsidies that propped up Siberia and the Arctic in the Soviet times has crumbled. Now there’s no advantage to living in the Far North – salaries are no higher than in central Russia and prices for goods are higher.
Alexander Krashevski says he looks older, but he is only 35. Alcoholics are among the few staying on in crumbling Arctic cities. Most others have moved south in search of jobs as Soviet-era industries collapse. The local population is sharply falling, replaced in part by an influx of alcoholics like Alexander in search of cheap living.
Gases emitted from the nickel mining combine in the Russian Arctic town of Nikel kills almost all vegetation within 5 km radius. The combine, built in 1937 during Stalin’s reign, emits five times more sulphur dioxide — the cause of acid rain — than the whole of Norway just seven kilometres away across the Russian border.
In 2001, Norway gave Norilsk Nickel, the head company, 32 million euros to modernise the facility and cut pollution. The money disappeared, and the pollution carries on.
The pollution is caused