The lure of a better life, amid Siberian cold and darkness

Blessed with a cornucopia of valuable metals buried beneath a desert of snow, however so bereft of daylight that nights in winter by no means finish, Norilsk, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, is a spot of brutal extremes. It’s Russia’s coldest and most polluted industrial metropolis, and its richest — no less than when measured by the worth of its huge deposits of palladium, a uncommon mineral utilized in cellphones that sells for greater than $1,000 an oz.

Additionally it is darkish. Beginning about now, the solar stops rising, leaving Norilsk shrouded within the perpetual night time of polar winter. This yr that blackout started final Wednesday.

Constructed on the bones of slave jail laborers, Norilsk started as an outpost of Stalin’s Gulag, a spot so harsh that, in accordance with one estimate, of 650,000 prisoners who have been despatched right here between 1935 and 1956, round 250,000 died from chilly, hunger or overwork. However greater than eighty years after Norilsk turned a part of the Gulag Archipelago, no one actually is aware of precisely how many individuals labored there in penal servitude or what number of died.

The Norilsk camp system, referred to as Norillag, shut down in 1956, when Nikita Khrushchev started to dismantle the worst excesses of Stalinism. The legacy of repressive management, although, lives on in tight restrictions on entry to metropolis. All foreigners are barred from visiting with no allow from Russia’s Federal Safety Service, the publish-Soviet successor to the KGB.

“Norilsk is a singular metropolis, it was put right here by drive,” stated Alexander Kharitonov, proprietor of a printing home within the metropolis. “It is sort of a survivor. If it had not been for Norilsk, there would have been one other precept of life within the Arctic: You got here, you labored, you froze — and also you left.”

The residents of Norilsk have stayed, turning what till the Nineteen Thirties had been an Arctic wilderness inhabited solely by a scattering of indigenous peoples into an industrial metropolis dotted with smoke-belching chimneys amid crumbling Soviet-period…

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