Happy new year Yamal style

First of all, happy new year to all our readers, followers, and a big thank you to all those who contribute to making this blog a success.

This is my first ever new years trip to the Russian Arctic. Flying from Finland to Yamal, one of the first visible impressions is the extensive use of light here in the Russian North beyond the Arctic Circle. Immediately after arrival friends take me proudly to the city-park in Salekhard. It’s a sea of light installations, with lit sculptures of Arctic animals, such as moose, polar fox, reindeer.

They also have installed swings made of plastic, lit in different colours. The swing feels a bit warm even at temperatures below -30. In Yar-Sale (see below) they have a whole park of those swings.

Speaking of warmth, for the people in Salekhard they started building heated bus stops. Quite nice for people to wait. Although somebody told that they managed already to use one of them as public toilets :(, so there is still some awareness-raising to do about the initial purposes of such bus stops.

Colleague Roza Laptander doesn’t need a warm bus stop: the malitsa (reindeer herders coat) is as warm and more mobile:)

Of course it’s not quite typical to walk around in town with tundra clothing. But my friend Mikhail Okotetto has built his own chum right in town, and of course in the chum you go with chum-clothes:) Mikhail hosted us with Arctic delicacies: frozen fish from Se-Yakha, and heavenly delicious reindeer soup!

With Mikhail Okotetto, the chairperson of Yamal-Nenets reindeer herding obshiny, in his city-chum

Another new years present for the Salekhardians is the opening of a KFC! Quite amazing when I think that 25 years ago you could not even send a telegram with latin characters abroad from the Yamal Peninsula. And now reindeer herders can check on their phones the KFC menu in the internet and drive to the restaurant in Salekhard if they happen to be close by!

The finishing touches on the KFC restaurant opening in Salekhard

What I found striking in Salekhard and also Yar-Sale was the way in which they use light to make the polar night a bit brighter. In Finnish Lapland most of this is done by individual houses around their yards.

Here the lighting is installed by the municipality for the collective good. And it makes people like to go out even during the polar night

Yar Sale

The new year’s eve proper was quite an experience, in Yar-Sale, the capital of the Yamal Peninsula municipality. They installed really nice ice-art outdoor on the main square. After midnight many people gathered there under the big lit tree. In Russian it’s not called christmas tree but New Year’s Tree.

The main new year’s tree in Yar-Sale, the Centre of the Yamal Peninsula, just after midnight on 1 January 2022

They organised a big new year’s party for the village people. They had a showmaster cheering people up to move and dance in the cold, around minus 30. They had Santa Claus, nice music, and special fire places for people to warm up

People in Yar Sale were so outgoing at new year’s eve, in comparison to what I’ve seen in Rovaniemi

The town of Yar Sale has changed tremendously during the time since I first came there in the late 1990s: it used to be a small reindeer herders village, with only wooden houses and no paved roads, and wooden walkways.

Old and new: on the right is how Yar Sale looked like in the 1990s. Now it’s almost all concrete houses like on the left and in the background.

Now it is a neat town with concrete houses and beautiful playgrounds, public spaces, huge social infrastructure such as schools, kindergartens, hospital, indoor ice-skating hall, swimming pool.

The swimming pool is of course called “Arctica”. In a place with so many lakes and rivers, and people nomadising throughout, it’s good for the children to learn swimming in school, like Valentina’s 6 kids.

It is probably hard to find such a small town with that level of comfort. This became possible after the start of the gas industry development on the Yamal Peninsula (Bovanenkovo deposit, Yamal LNG, Novyi Port deposit, among others). Gaz money started flowing to municipal budgets, and the municipality used it for this town development. First I thought “why would an Arctic Town with 9 months snow need an indoor ice-skating hall?”. But after talking to Valentina, who moved from the tundra to town some 10 years ago, I understand that indoor ice-skating allows the kids in winter to stay warm, because in the ice-skating it’s warmer than outdoors:).

the new kindgarten is like a palace, cutting edge
The yard of the kindergarten features 7 windproof chums where children can spend time outdoors even though it’s windy. Much appreciated by their mothers
The rubbish collection service works even on a first January. In the front sledges by reindeer herders (rights) and boats (left), parked in front of the houses where some former nomads live.
Impresive that they even have separate rubbish collection (metal, plastic and paper separately from the rest), and apparently a processing plant at the outskirts of town (which I didn’t see yet).
This house was built for retired reindeer herders over 65 who do not want to move as nomads anymore. It features one-room apartments. The former nomads complained that the house did not have balconies. As a result, balconies were added on later, as you can see on the photo.

Quite some herders who get one of the apartments still go back to the tundra for the nomadic migrations, especially when they have a lot of relatives as nomads. But these flats give them the free choice how they want to spend their elderly life.

We had a great time with the children and grandchildren of the Late Sergei Serotetto, and it felt so nice to be back and part of that great family! A big thank you to all of them for hosting me. May all the nomads and their relatives have a good year 2022.

2 thoughts on “Happy new year Yamal style

  1. Bruce Forbes

    Oh my goodnesss, Florian! This was such an incredibly uplifting vlog post to read. I am deeply impressed on many levels… your ability to travel from Finland to Yamal during the pandemic, your laser-sharp focus on how people are able to interact in Salekhard, the comparison with Lapland, the vignettes with close colleagues and old friends, like Misha Okotetto and Roza Laptander—- this really gave me such a warm feeling sitting here in isolation in Sinettä, 23 km from Rovaniemi. Thank you so much for sharing this ☮️💜 bruce

  2. lukasallemann

    С Новым Годом всех! Spending New Year’s Eve in Yar-Sale is more similar to how they spend it in Moscow on the Red Square than how we do it here in Finnish Lapland:))

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