At the edges of the Bering Sea and Russia’s Arctic coastline lies one of the wildest regions on earth. In winter, the land is indistinguishable from the ocean, a vast white ice sheet extending into infinity. In summer, the tundra unveils itself in shades of moss and the coastlines are packed with polar bears and walrus.
Chukotka. The place where human destiny is carved by the cold.
This enormous and seemingly remote Arctic land, is home to 50,000 people– half Indigenous Siberians and half ethnic Russians.
I find myself here, where it is at once familiar and foreign. The bones of musk oxen age under traditional hunting boats and steel containers. As a longtime Arctic visitor, this is a land that makes sense to me. Except when it doesn’t. The history of the past century lurks.
The aged infrastructure of the former Soviet Union is everywhere. Concrete-block apartments and empty factory buildings make up the bulk of architecture. After the fall of the USSR, large industries vanished overnight, including reindeer meat and fur, which heavily impacted the livelihoods of Chukchi and other indigenous peoples.
From the aerial view, fates of the people seem dominated by the forces of mining and oil. Climate change marks the era with vanishing sea ice. To outsiders, the challenges of living in Chukotka seem insurmountable. But I find myself comforted after enough time on the ground. Snorting walrus and carpets of blueberries remind me that the mantra of the Arctic applies here. The resilient will endure.