photo by Elena Chernyshova(Freelance)


With the population of 175 300 inhabitants, Norilsk is one of the biggest cities above the polar circle. This city-factory has only one reason to exist: maintaining the biggest metallurgical and mines complex in the world. This complex brings in 2% of GDP of Russia.


The mines, factories and the biggest part of the contemporary city of Norilsk were constructed by the prisoners of Gulag. Over 600 000 prisoners labored there during 20 years.
Anna Vasilievna Bigus labored over 10 years in Norillag. After the liberation, she had no place to go – her house in west Ukraine was destroyed during the war, links with the family were lost… She stood in Norilsk and spent all her life there.


“Norilsk Nickel” is the world leader in the production of palladium and nickel, 41% and 17% of the world production. Norilsk minerals are extracted in 6 underground mines and processed in three factories. Melting departments are filled with gas emanation. The workers are breathing with masks or with the help of tubes linked to the carbon filters.


Sulfur dioxide is a principal source of acid rains in the area. They cause serious damage on the wildlife, vegetation, water of the region. Almost 100 000 ha of the fragile vegetation of tundra near the city is dead or is under the danger.


Norilsk is in the top 10 of the most polluted cities in the word. It is the most polluted city in Russia. Every year the metallurgical combine rejects almost 2 millions of tons of gas into the atmosphere.
More than 200 days a year emissions exceed the maximum rates.


Life expectancy is ten years lesser than the average in Russia, while life expectancy in Russia is already low enough, about 60 years. The emissions provoke the diseases of lungs, of respiratory and digestive systems, and can cause cancer. There are many cases of allergies, asthma, diseases of the cardiovascular system, blood disorders, skin problems or mental disorder.


Majority of buildings in Norilsk are constructed with pre-built panels. Each window corresponds to one flat of 12-17 meters square. These buildings were called “Gostinka” and considered to be a temperate accommodation for new arrived workers. For lot of them it became the permanent dwelling.


The architect created the urban space that could protect the inhabitants from violent winds of this area. The buildings are grouped together to form enclosed courtyards. To ensure a good circulation and avoid long bypasses of buildings, architects planned very narrow passages between buildings.


Winters in Norilsk are long with average temperature -30 ° C. The cold period extends for about 280 days per year, with more than 130 days with snowstorms. During hard frost, when temperature goes under -40 ° C, lot of steam rises from collectors transforming the space into a thick fog.


Norilsk is facing problem of maintenance of its buildings. Upper layers of permafrost are melting. This provokes the instability of the system of pilings, basement for the majority buildings in Norilsk. Supporting walls move and crack. Almost 7% of Norilsk buildings are in the state of emergency.


The polar night is a period when the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon forsaking the area without light. This period continues in Norilsk during two months from the end of November till the end of January.
Different studies show that the human body can’t adapt itself to such extreme conditions.
Most of apartments in Norilsk are equipped with UV lamps imitating daylight.


Norilsk has a club of “Warlus”, its main activity is outdoor ice swimming in ice-holes. The temperature doesn’t matter. Furthermore, colder it is, more people are coming to practice this activity. After swimming they can warm themselves in small saunas heated with the steam from the power plant.


In children garden, a special table is used to compare the temperature to the temperature felt under the wind. Children are allowed for a walk outside only under certain conditions. Sometimes children have to spend several months indoor. Some large closed spaces are designed for the children, so that they can enjoy outdoor activities like cycling, running… even during the winter.


Mentally, it is hard to manage the winter condition. It is even more difficult to break the daily rhythm “home-work-home”. The extreme winter conditions almost forbid any outdoor activities, so that the major part of the daily life occurs in confined spaces.


One of the Norilsk particularities is the lack of green spaces in the city where one can escape. People domesticate these industrial zones for their leisure and recreation. Picnics, barbecues, sunbathing, swimming, first romantic dates are organized