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Europe’s easternmost city Photos of life in Vorkuta, one of Russia's fastest dying cities

Source: Meduza
Roman Demyanenko

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.

Roman Demyanenko
A cemetery for Gulag prisoners shot in the village of Yur-Shor during the Vorkuta Uprising on August 1, 1953.
Roman Demyanenko
Roman Demyanenko
Inside one of Vorkuta’s abandoned apartments.
Roman Demyanenko
Family photos left in an abandoned apartment.
Roman Demyanenko
In many apartment complexes throughout Vorkuta, there are just one or two families left.
Roman Demyanenko
95-year-old David Dorn, an ethnic German whom the Soviet authorities deported to Vorkuta in 1943. He worked in coal mining with the Vorkutlag prisoners. The USSR rehabilitated him in 1956 (expunging his criminal record), and he remained in Vorkuta.
Roman Demyanenko
A local banner for the “Vorkutaugol” coal company outside a residential building.
Roman Demyanenko
Roman Demyanenko
In late autumn, several thousand reindeer are brought to Vorkuta for slaughter. Their meat is considered a delicacy.
Roman Demyanenko
A Caterpillar repair hangar. This machinery is the only transportation available to Vorkuta residents during heavy snowfall and blizzards.
Roman Demyanenko
For off-road trips to the tundra for hunting and fishing, locals build homemade all-terrain vehicles, “karakaty.”
Roman Demyanenko
A local couple, Anna (who works as a vendor) and Sergey (a miner), celebrate their wedding outside their garage.
Roman Demyanenko
Airsoft training practice in the abandoned town of Rudnik.
Roman Demyanenko
A party at the “Polar Wolves” nightclub.
Roman Demyanenko
Roman Demyanenko
Roman Demyanenko
Roman Demyanenko
The bridge over the Vorkuta River into the abandoned town of Rudnik, where the area was originally settled. Local teens play on homemade swings from the bridge, which is now in disrepair. 
Roman Demyanenko
The Vorkuta River.
Roman Demyanenko
A dance school in Vorkuta.
Roman Demyanenko
Roman Demyanenko
Roman Demyanenko

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