Abandoned Arctic: how to reuse abandoned houses in the Russian Polar Region
From wasteland to civilisation2 june 2023
One of the hallmarks of the Arctic is the abandonment of houses, settlements and industrial sites. Many were abandoned due to the loss of economic viability of having people on the site, some were damaged by the natural disaster and were no longer recoverable, while others were mothballed and probably forgotten. Such sites are called 'abandons,' and they are familiar not only to any visitor to the Arctic Circle but also to travellers around the country in general. It would seem that they are useless, but in Russia, they have found a use for them too.
Kayaking on the Arctic Ocean
Arctic abandons hold historical value, telling the story of Arctic exploration. This is the opinion of Natalia and Pyotr Bogorodskys, who have created their own project, Sevprostor. They have documented and described dozens of historical sites and participated in expeditions and scientific research in the extreme conditions of the Arctic. They have made many journeys to abandoned relics of past eras on their own.
Until recently, sailing across the Arctic on one's own was either a matter for the very wealthy or the very highly motivated. Since Pyotr and Natalia did not have the funds to buy an Arctic yacht, they started by travelling in a canoe and then a self-built catamaran. They were not embarrassed by the coastal voyage on the White Sea, the lack of communication and encounters with wildlife. Yes, it's easy to come face to face with polar bears on such journeys, so, according to Pyotr, one should never part with a gun on a journey. No one is going to kill a bear, of course, but scaring off a huge predator in practice is the only way to do it.
During their travels, the Bogorodskys have visited dozens of abandoned lighthouses, villages and military units. As these sites are a huge distance from civilisation, not only dilapidated walls but also everyday objects, equipment and machinery frozen firmly in the ice have been preserved there. From an environmentalist's point of view, they are rubbish, but for historians and local historians, as well as tourists following in their footsteps, such abandons are of enormous historical value. It is there that you can see the milestones of Arctic exploration, and the enormous scale and effort of the Soviet Union's efforts to develop the Arctic.
Abandoned by humans but still resisting the Arctic nature, this is exactly what the abandons have been for almost two decades. Abandoned buildings in the Arctic Circle only occasionally offered shelter to travellers, remaining a symbol of the attempt to tame the harsh temper of the North. In the past few years, however, the situation has begun to change with the emergence of a new impetus for the development of the Russian Arctic—the emergence of the AZRF as a special economic zone and the growing importance of the North Sea Route.
New life for old stations
Abandoned weather stations, military units and other facilities in the Russian Arctic are gradually coming back to life. Today, with the development of means of communication and the substantial modernisation of the region's infrastructure and technical facilities, including communications, there is no longer a need for such a large contingent of specialists to be permanently present at remote locations. We have already written about how the weather stations are gradually being converted to automatic operation, and how the stations themselves will soon receive new functionality.
One recent example is the Norilsk Development Agency, together with Roshydromet, has initiated a new project to create tourist bases using existing and, in the long term, reconstructed weather stations. They will be points from which visitors to the Arctic can travel to hitherto inaccessible areas of the Arctic coast, including the protected areas.
And the Russian Arctic National Park (Novaya Zemlya Archipelago) has created an open-air Polar Museum from its unique abandons. These are the complex of historic buildings of the Krenkel Observatory, the first polar station on Guker Island, the central complex of Soviet Arctic exploration on Alexandra Land and much more. The museum staff decided not to disturb the natural landscape consisting of unique buildings and nature but to organically integrate tourist routes into it.
By the way, in the course of their travels, Natalia and Pyotr Bogorodskys note that life is also returning to abandoned villages in the North. A unique ecosystem of rent-free housing has developed there, which can be compared in part to the communist system. People from the North come to the on-paper abandoned villages as a holiday home, move into vacant houses and live there for several months at a time. They renovate buildings, tidy up the grounds and share supplies with other tenants—in such a house, you will always find a packet of cereals, salt, sugar, paraffin, matches and a warm blanket. No one cares about the ownership of houses, because they belong to everyone and everyone takes care of them as best they can. People are returning to the Arctic, once again making its rugged shores their home.