photographer Arseniy Kotov is dedicated to documenting the changes in Russian life and architecture since the fall of the USSR, a commitment that brought him to the coldest European city last February. The hotel is approximately 110 miles from the Arctic Ocean. Vorkuta is a small mining town that once housed one of the largest and most strenuous forced labor camps during Stalin’s reign. The city is often plagued by temperatures as low as -45 degrees Celsius and now has one of the fastest dwindling populations all over Russia.
During Kotov’s visit, he toured various residential complexes built for workers, many of which were abandoned when the mines closed. However, one building in particular is evidence of how desertion continues to worry the once thriving city, an ongoing problem that Kotov captured in a stunning series. His photographs frame the shabby five-story structure, which is completely covered in foot-length icicles and piles of snow. Relics of former residents and the broken blue paint peek through the frost, much of which sticks to the stairs and railings and climbs the walls.
Kotov tells Colossal that buildings are often turned into similarly cool caverns when pipes burst due to lack of maintenance, resulting in splashes of hot water, subsequent high humidity, and subsequent ice growth on any surface. At the time of his visit, a family was in the Severniy district building, which was still connected to the central heating system that runs through Russian cities, which made it easier to pass some of the sidewalks thanks to the warmth of the radiators. Although Kotov was unable to meet the only inmates, he heard that they were moving not long after his tour and said:
As I know, the locals said that after a week when I visited this building, he and his wife were relocated to another apartment and the entire building was cut off from all communications (water, heating, electricity). This is a common story in Vorkuta: as fewer and fewer people are left, it becomes unprofitable to heat an entire building and people are gradually being moved to other houses that have more habitable apartments. Local authorities call it a “managed compression strategy”.
Many of Kotov’s photographs are compiled in Soviet cities: work, life & leisure, and his second book, full of pictures he took while hitchhiking around the country, is due out in November. Prints are available at Galleri Artsightand you can follow Kotov’s sightings and travel on Instagram.
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