Europe’s easternmost city Photos of life in Vorkuta, one of Russia's fastest dying cities
The town of Vorkuta, situated in the permafrost belt about 110 miles from the Arctic Ocean, was founded by the Vorkuta River after large coal deposits were discovered in the area. The first detachment of prisoners was dispatched to the spot in the early 1930s, and they soon constructed a workers’ settlement known as Rudnik. By the start of the Stalinist Terror, the area was already home to one of the biggest and harshest camps in the Soviet Gulag: Vorkutlag (which included the Rechlag camp for political prisoners). In 1943, the many settlements around the coal mines, where the high salaries also attracted workers from across the USSR, were reorganized into the town of Vorkuta, now Europe’s easternmost city.
Soviet officials declared an amnesty after Stalin’s death, but the pardon did not extend to many political prisoners, leading to a massive prisoner uprising in Vorkuta, which the authorities brutally crushed. Since the 1990s, the town has been in industrial decline, the mines have outlived their usefulness, and residents have been leaving. Vorkuta is technically the fourth most populous settlement north of the Arctic Circle (after Murmansk, Norilsk, and Norway’s Tromsø), but this is likely based on numbers that are no longer accurate. According to unofficial counts, there are now no more than 50,000 people left in Vorkuta. Today, it’s one of Russia’s fastest dying cities.