Yar-Sale

Kirill Seretetto takes a sip of sweet black tea behind a table full of maps in his kitchen. Brought up as nomadic reindeer herder on the tundra he has deep knowledge about the challenges his nomadic relatives face as the climate changes and the permafrost melts. “In some instances, the changing weather seriously affects the possibility to travel. Thinner ice makes it more dangerous to cross rivers and lakes,” he says pointing out some of the migration routes on one of the maps. 4,500 people live as nomads with their reindeer in Yamal, united by a tough work ethic necessary to survive the deadly winter temperatures of -50°C.

In Yar-Sale town there are some state benefits the Nenets tribes welcome. Helicopters ferry family members to the tundra and children from the age of seven such as the Yaptiks attend Russian language schools. It is here the Nenets come to stock up on provisions before migrating with their reindeer from summer pastures in the north to winter grounds just south of the Arctic Circle. The entire migration covers around 1,100 kilometres and includes a 48-kilometre crossing of the frozen waters of the Ob River. By autumn the brigades bring their herds to Yar-sale for the big annual slaughter. A relatively new meat processing plant has expanded export of meat globally from the Yamal Autonomous Region. Exports are only possible via frozen winter roads or helicopter, leaving the meat industry with the same logistic problem as the herders, crossing the Ob river in a changing climate. The company situated in the town export meat mainly to Germany, while reindeer skins are sold to Europe for clothes and antlers exported to China where they are used in a male potency drug.

Despite their robust vibrant culture and ability to survive one of the harshest environments on the planet, the Nenets lifestyle is now threatened. Climate change and the increasing exploitation of fossil fuels has put stress on the indigenous people by requiring more of the land they use as reindeer pasture, pastures that holds almost a quarter of the world’s known gas reserves. The voices of these tribes are drowned out by the 16 trillion cubic metres of gas waiting to be extracted from the Bovanenko gas field. Along with reindeer meat, gas from the field is exported to Germany via the Nord Stream pipeline supplying Europe with cheap fuel. But the voice of the Nenets is one of change, if the permafrost continues to thaw releasing methane into the atmosphere, we may wish we had listened to their cries.

A boy playing among concrete poles buried deep onto solid permafrost that will be the basis for a new house in Yar-Sale. All houses are built on stilts to avoid subsidence when the permafrost thaws.

Construction site Town before tundra AdornedConstruction decorationAll above groundSacred place Fishing at sunsetLifeline to the tundra Around the housesBetween the housesYamal flag Town meets the tundraSledges in town Yar-Sale streetUnder constructionLeninCulture clash