Many people consider Vorkuta, Russia to be the outer edge of civilization. Vorkuta is a swiftly dwindling coal mining town which is considered to be one of the coldest cities on Earth. Temperatures as low as -61 Fahrenheit are not uncommon in the winter, as Vorkuta is located just north of the Arctic Circle. In the 20th century, frigid Vorkuta was famously home to some of Stalin’s most brutal forced labor camps.
As the cost of mining increased in the early 21st century, Vorkuta’s mines began to close in quick succession and the population of the city began to decline. Apartment buildings which once housed miners are now encrusted with giant icicles. Busted windows and broken pipes transform abandoned housing complexes into ice palaces that look as though they only could have been created by a vengeful sorceress from a Russian folktale.
Many of Vorkuta’s once bustling apartment buildings feature impassable stairwells coated with slick ice. There is no one left to defrost Vorkuta’s abandoned structures. Vorkuta’s remaining residents are continually relocated to more compact buildings that are more affordable to heat. With each passing year, more of Vorkuta’s buildings are reclaimed by the elements.
Vorkuta is swiftly becoming one of the world’s most haunting ghost towns. Thick sheets of ice and endless snowdrifts ensure that Vorkuta’s abandoned buildings remain literally frozen in time. Onlookers who are hearty enough to brave the extreme cold are never able to forget rooms full of stacks of books, rows of bottles, and bedroom furniture entombed in ice. The icy fate of Vorkuta is a sobering reminder that humans do not dominate nature as effectively as we think we do. Vorkuta reminds us that—in the coldest corners of the world—we are only one power failure away from our cities devolving into inhospitable ice palaces.