Thursday, January 8, 2015

Life in one of the darkest, most polluted cities in the world


Life in one of the darkest, most polluted cities in the world

Winters are long and cold in Norilsk, Russia, with an average temperature of minus 31 degrees Celsius (minus 23 degrees F) in January. Days are characterized by frost, coupled with strong and violent winds. The cold period extends for about 280 days per year, with more than 130 days of snowstorms.

What is life like in the world's northernmost city, which also happens to be one of the world's darkest, coldest and most polluted cities?
Photographer Elena Chernyshova spent eight months in the Siberian city of Norilsk, one of the few cities located above the Arctic Circle, between 2012 and 2013 to document the lives of residents who have learned to adapt to one of the harshest climates in the world. 
Winters are long and cold in Norilsk, with an average temperature of -31 degrees Celsius (-23 degrees Fahrenheit) in January. Days are characterised by frost, coupled with strong and violent winds, and the cold period extends for about 280 days per year, with more than 130 days of snowstorms. The polar night lasts from December through to mid-January, so there is no sun for about six weeks. In summer, the sun does not set for more than six weeks. (MORE: Breathtaking photos of the coldest city in the world)
 The cold, dark winters are as bleak as the city's history. Gulag prisoners and forced labour workers constructed Norilsk's mines, factories and buildings, according to Stanford University's Hoover Institution. From 1935 to 1956 more than 500,000 prisoners were forced to work in the freezing cold under inhumane conditions. Many, however, have chosen to live in Norilsk by choice. The city is home to one of the world's biggest metallurgical and mining complexes, which provide employment and decent wages to more than half of the 175,000 inhabitants. Prosperity from the city's mining industry comes with risks, however. Nickel ore is smelted on-site at Norilsk, and the smelting is directly responsible for severe pollution, generally acid rain and smog. By some estimates, 1 per cent of global emissions of sulfur dioxide comes from here. Efforts are being taken to help reduce emissions, but the ecological situation in the city remains alarming and is denounced by environmentalists as a major environmental disaster. The city is so polluted that residents suffer high rates of cancer, lung disease, blood and skin disorders, and depression.  The life expectancy of Norilsk's citizens is reportedly 10 years lower than Russia's already low life expectancy of 60 years old. Workers in the metallurgical complex are so exposed to extreme conditions that they receive a compensation of 90 days of holiday and an early retirement at age 45. (MORE: The solitary life of an island's lone resident)
 Aside from living with ecological, climate and polar night challenges, inhabitants of Norilsk also live in relative isolation. The city is only accessible from Russia by air. Waterways connecting the city to the rest of the world can only be used during the summer months. And while temperatures can reach 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit) during the summer, a lack of green spaces and parks - Norilsk's surrounding areas are naturally tree-less tundra, only a few trees exist in the city - means inhabitant have to go to great lengths to enjoy nature. Click through the slideshow above to learn more about life in Norilsk. View more of Elena Chernyshova's work at her website.

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