We also picked up a good friend for a visit to L'viv - Vladimir from Salekhard, Russia. Back when Erik was a graduate student at Michigan State, he received an email about his website from Vladimir, asking him to include a link to the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Republic on the site. An email-based conversation followed for several months. When Erik conducted his dissertation research in Russia and Ukraine in 1999, Vladimir invited us to visit. During Lea's trip to Russia in November 1999, we bundled up and headed north.
Vladimir's town is located on the Arctic Circle and is home to about 30,000 people. Because it is so far north, there is limited daylight in the fall and winter months. During our stay, the temperature often dropped below -30°. This is around the point where Celsius and Fahrenheit scales cross, so the temperature was about the same in both metrics. On the right you see us and our friends Vladimir and Igor at about 4:00 PM in front of a sign welcoming visitors to "Salekhard - The City on the Arctic Circle."
Salekhard is the capital of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Region. The primary employer in the region is Russia's main natural gas company, Gazprom. Although the city's history extends back to 1595, it is perhaps most famous for its stint as the local hub for labor camps during the Stalin era. Stalin decided to build a Trans-Polar Railway as a northern complement to the Trans-Siberian Railway. Thousands of people were forced to work in brutal conditions to build the railroad. The project was abandoned after Stalin's death and was never completed. Some of the homes in contemporary Salekhard were used as living quarters for camp guards.
Many nomadic reindeer herders live in the area and we met some on the road to the village of Aksarka. They graciously agreed to take photos with us and give us a ride on their sled. As you can see in the photo on the left, one of the reindeer is an albino. White reindeer are considered to bring good luck to the Khanty people. The local cuisine was quite interesting and surprisingly delicious. We sampled reindeer meat as well as the tastiest salmonid we have ever encountered. Muksun is a delicious, fatty, white-fleshed fish that lives in the upper Ob river. It is traditionally eaten raw (frozen and dipped in salt), but we also ate it smoked, cooked in aspic, and fried. It was simply the best fish that we have ever eaten (in all of its forms).