Mar 5, 2021
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People leave – snow comes. Why are mining settlements dying in Vorkuta

Near Vorkuta, there are less and less residents and more and more photographers-bloggers posting shocking photos of deserted villages on social networks. On them – deserted Khrushchev houses with empty eye sockets of windows, gloomy snow-covered quarters and entrances, similar to ice caves.

What happened in the villages of Vorkuta, where once went “for a long ruble” from all over the USSR? And what is the life of former miners like today? About this “AiF” told Chairman of the public organization “Hostages of the Far North”, deputy of the Vorkuta City Council Vladimir Zharuk

“We flew to Moscow for a weekend to drink beer”

– I came to Vorkuta from Ukraine 40 years ago. Then there were 13 coal mines working here, next to which there were settlements. Vorgashor, Yurshor, Zapolyarny, Oktyabrsky, Severny, Cementnozavodsky, Promyshlenniy, Sovetsky, Komsomolsky – they all surrounded the city, forming a ring. On the outskirts, 100 km away, Khalmer-Yu, known throughout Russia, was located. At the end of the Soviet era, there were 215 thousand inhabitants in Vorkuta and these mining settlements. For 30 years, the population has decreased by 3 times. 15.5 thousand apartments were abandoned by the former inhabitants who moved to the regions where life is warmer and cheaper. There are only four mines left. Some of the villages were closed. And in the remaining apartments, “odnushka” can be bought for only 60 thousand rubles.

Since the days of the USSR, Vorkuta deposits have not become scarce, but the metallurgical companies that got them are not profitable to expand production at current coal prices. And the salaries of people are no longer the same that once beckoned to the North. The Soviet tunneller received 1000 rubles. a month and could fly to Moscow on weekends to drink beer at the Zhiguli restaurant. Now it seems like a fantasy, but I myself knew these guys, and they did not go to the last. A plane ticket cost 42 rubles, and 6 flights a day went to the capital. Nowadays, not every village 10–20 km away from Vorkuta has a bus, a pharmacy and a first-aid post. Sometimes it is impossible to go for a medicine, let alone to the “mainland” for rest.

And there are a lot of such household inconveniences. In the village. Komsomolsky, when a blizzard covers the access roads, a car with bread does not come in. From the nearest main road to the only local store, bread is delivered by workers who wander through the snowdrifts with full bags. The Usinsky water conduit serving the city is completely worn out. In December 2016, one of the pipes froze over, and it was only possible to repair it in October 2017, after the ice melted in the summer. At the same time, the reduced urban population does not need as much water as before, but it is impossible to reduce the throughput of the pipeline: it will definitely freeze in winter. And part of the water flows into the tundra.

Ice waterfalls

In half-empty houses, another attack. No one is watching over abandoned private apartments. If the riser breaks through, the water spills, splashes out and freezes on the walls in icy waterfalls. The Vorkuta administration recently admitted that servicing empty housing annually eats up 570 million rubles from the budget.

When the population of a village is reduced to a minimum, below which it is impossible to maintain life in it, the remaining residents are relocated to other villages, and some “lucky ones” – to Vorkuta itself. So Yurshor, Promyshlenniy and Oktyabrsky became depopulated. And in December last year, the last residents left the village of Sovetsky, which also began to die when the mine was closed nearby. At the same time, resettlement to Vorkuta is proceeding very slowly. Why the authorities are pulling to the last, when there is a huge fund of abandoned municipal apartments, it is not clear. Apparently, they are interested in that.

Queue for 100 years

Many Vorkuta families would like to leave the Far North altogether. But without the help of the state, this task today is impossible even for those who once received huge salaries by Soviet standards. Their savings were destroyed in the 1990s. By law, citizens who have worked in the Arctic for more than 15 years are entitled to a subsidy that makes it easier to buy an apartment in a more livable region. As of early 2020, there were 14,335 such families in Vorkuta. However, only 164 received certificates for payment of subsidies from the federal budget. At such a rate of relocation, the last in line has a chance to relocate only after 87 years. In 2021, even fewer certificates were allocated to Vorkuta residents – 114.

Deserted northern villages are found not only in the Komi Republic, where Vorkuta is located. But, according to my observations, the situation in our region is worse than in others. For example, the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, together with Gazprom, created a housing construction fund, which erected two microdistricts in Tyumen for veterans of the Yamal north. Such a microdistrict is also needed in Syktyvkar, the capital of Komi. Builds housing in other cities for its former employees Norilsk Nickel. But Vorkutaugol does not do this.

By the residual principle

In Russia, at the beginning of 2020, there were 187.9 thousand people on the waiting list applying for resettlement from the Far North. Suppose there are 2.5 people in each such family. Then, taking into account the standard cost of 1 sq. m of housing in the Russian Federation and the standard of living space for 1 person to help all these people needed 389 billion rubles. However, for the resettlement of northerners last year, a beggarly 5 billion was allocated from the federal budget with a surplus of 876 billion. That is, there was money in the treasury, but the state preferred to save it and send it to reserves. And, apparently, the reserves seemed to the government insufficient, since in the budget for 2021 the expenditures on the northerners-settlers were already reduced to 4.5 billion rubles.

It is clear: the crisis. But another thing is also clear: crises in the economy give way to ups, and the situation of people who have become hostages of the Far North does not change. I have been dealing with their problems for 15 years and for all my proposals that allow organizing resettlement in this life, and not in the afterlife, I receive useless replies.

Now, for example, as an anti-crisis measure, the state is buying unsold apartments from developers. On behalf of the government, the Dom.RF corporation is doing this in different cities. The apartments are planned to be rented out. And if this housing is handed over to Vorkuta on the waiting list under social tenancy agreements, the state will kill two birds with one stone. Both developers and migrants from the Far North will be supported in one step. I sent this proposal to the Government of the Russian Federation. I hope to get a positive answer, and not another reply.

At the same time, 60% of those on the waiting list awaiting resettlement are pensioners. Calculations show that expenditures from budgets of different levels for one elderly unemployed northerner are 2-3 times higher than the expenditures on pensioners that are required “on the mainland”. It is profitable for the state to solve once and for all the problems arising from the surplus of the disabled population in the North. And this, among other things, would allow the best PR campaigns to raise the prestige of new Arctic projects, one of the centers of which Vorkuta has been identified.

Officials from different tribunes keep repeating how important it is to attract young people to the Arctic, to create decent conditions for their work and life. I believe that the fulfillment of this task is impossible without solving the most pressing problems of veterans. People who go to the North must be sure that tomorrow they will not be left to fend for themselves, like our generation.

The British tabloid Daily Mail published an article about the semi-abandoned former polar village of Cementnozavodsky. It is located 18 kilometers northeast of Vorkuta.

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