The Komi Republic

A snowy ghost in concrete and steel

The abandoned settlement named Rudnik is home to geologists and prisoners.

01.12.2022//Abandoned settlements in the Arctic are not a rare thing. In such a harsh land, maintaining the existence of any settlement is a lot of work, which can only be justified by real benefits. The same goes for machinery—it is often easier to abandon a faulty car than to try to fix it. Nature is taking its toll quickly, and a whole complex of abandoned bases, settlements and buildings has formed in the vast expanse of the Arctic Circle, becoming part of the landscape. Some tourists take long journeys to the most picturesque ruins to get unique footage and enjoy the aesthetics of the subpolar wilderness.

But there are sites that can be reached on foot from inhabited civilisation. One of them is the abandoned Rudnik settlement near Vorkuta.

Modern-day Vorkuta started with the settlement of Rudnik (Russian for 'mine'). It was founded earlier than the town itself; in 1931, a branch of the Ukhtinsko-Pechorsky correctional labour camp, part of the Gulag system, was established here. The first group of prisoners sent to develop the Vorkuta field consisted of only 43 people. They reached their destination in May 1931, less than a year after its discovery by Georgy Chernov's expedition. The first steps in coal mining in the tundra were taken by those convicted under Article 58, the "political" one. In 1933, a settlement for hired workers was established near the camp.

It began to grow rapidly; at the first stage, a few Stalinist apartment buildings were erected, and later prefabricated five-storied buildings were added. After the disbandment of Vorkutlag, Rudnik became a Many renowned scientists passed through it, some of whom remained loyal to Vorkuta until the end of their lives. You can visit their graves in the memorial cemetery at Rudnik settlement—for example, Viktor Fyodorovich Morozov, an outstanding geologist and organiser of geological prospecting production, is buried there. To this day, his special, Morozov's method of exploring coal deposits is used far beyond the Pechora coal basin.

In the 1990s, when coal mines started to close one after another, people began leaving Rudnik. Those who decided against moving to the South were resettled to Vorkuta, as it became economically unviable to maintain half-empty apartment blocks. Many of the buildings ended up being demolished. Today, empty windows of the ghost town can be seen on the right bank of the Vorkuta River. The streets are overgrown, gradually being reclaimed by the tundra. The once majestic obelisk in the centre of Rudnik, a monument to the discoverers of the Pechora coal basin, is crumbling away. The pedestrian bridge over the Vorkuta river that separates the dead town from the living one is falling apart. The railway, on the other hand, still exists—the spur track to the Vorkutinskaya mine runs exactly through the settlement, and is still in operation today.

In Nenets, the word 'Vorkuta' translates as 'bear place' or 'place teeming with bears.' Nowadays, there are no shaggy visitors near the town, but in the early days, their presence demanded thoughtful security measures. By the way, the name of the settlement itself, Rudnik, is not so simple either. The locals believe that it is correct to pronounce its name with the accent on the letter 'u.' If you want to sound like a local in Vorkuta, you are advised to pay attention to it.

On the left bank of the river, where Vorkuta proper continues to live and develop, a monument 'In memory of the victims of political repressions' in the form of a stone block on a tall pedestal, tied up with barbed wire, has been erected on the Shakhterskaya embankment, just opposite the abandoned settlement. In Rudnik, the Cross of Repentance has been erected. It serves as a reminder that this very settlement was the starting point of Vorkutlag, one of the biggest Gulag institutions. Where barracks of convicts used to stand, Airsoft battles now take place. Fans of abandoned buildings take photos at the Rudnik settlement and also make videos of it from drones. It is important to note that if you decide to visit an abandoned settlement, you should keep safety in mind. Every year, abandoned buildings become more and more dilapidated and there is a risk of collapse. The best way to enjoy the aesthetics of the Arctic wilderness is from outside, preferably from a safe distance.

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