Inside Russia’s deep frozen ghost towns

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Aerial photography shows acres of snow engulfing buildings as far as the eye can reach.

Close inspection reveals strange features such as light fixtures ornamented with complex icicles, couches engulfed in a snowdrift, and sheets of ice streaming in from open doors frozen in time.

These are the abandoned ghost villages that surround the coal-mining hub of Vorkuta in Russia’s Arctic north, which have been blanketed in snow and ice as a result of recent extremely cold weather.

Maria Passer, a Moscow-based photographer, came to the region to document how the inclement weather has affected abandoned structures.

From the 1930s through the 1960s, the town of Vorkuta was an infamous Gulag labor camp, with convicts forced to mine coal in the region.

People migrated to the region seeking mining employment from all over the Soviet Union in the late Soviet Union.

“The earnings here were pretty attractive to encourage miners to live in terrible environment circumstances,” Passer tells CNN Travel.

The town’s fortunes shifted once more as the Soviet Union dissolved and coal mines began to shut. Many people fled the secluded location since there were no work possibilities.

Passer has been shooting abandoned structures in the communities surrounding Vorkuta for the past three weeks as a result of this movement.

“It’s truly a pity that so many people have to leave their homes and go to live elsewhere,” she adds.

“However, these sites have an abandoned beauty about them. I’m attempting to observe and depict this in my photographs.”

Beauty that has been abandoned

Maria Passer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Image

Passer is a photographer who searches for abandoned areas while traveling.

“I like to travel the world and photograph everything that looks lovely to me,” she adds. “I’m quite interested in urbex, or urban exploring.”

Passer was familiar with Vorkuta and its history, but she was moved to fly from Moscow to the region after viewing current photographs made by her photographer friend Lana Sator.

Passer had arrived in Vorkuta within a week or so, and the two buddies were exploring together.

“It’s incredibly evocative and really stunning,” adds Passer, to wander these neglected regions.

Some of the structures she photographed were fully uninhabited, while others were just partially deserted.

Passer’s most dramatic images were captured inside a green-hued building covered in snow in the town of Severny.

Maria Passer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Image

According to Passer, some people still live in this apartment building, thus the water is still on.

However, in parts of the complex’s abandoned units, pipes burst, allowing water to stream into the rooms, where it quickly froze into swaths of ice due to the freezing temperatures.

These cascades of frozen snow totally covered several of the openings.

“I’ve never seen something like it before,” Passer adds.

Extreme weather

While Passer was exploring these communities, it was -38 F (-38 C). Taking photos in such frigid weather has unique problems. Passer claims her battery was more prone to failing, so she had to keep her camera warm by holding it beneath her coat.

“Your hands go chilly. You are unable to move your fingers correctly. You must wear gloves.”

Along with the close-up shots, such as this one of a frozen chandelier, Passer also used her drone to acquire a bird’s-eye perspective.

Maria Passer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Image

Some of the aerial pictures were taken in the settlement of Cementozavodsky, which Passer described as nearly deserted.

“There is just one apartment complex in this hamlet that is not abandoned,” she explains. “There are no shops, banks, or anything else.”

Passer talked with several of the locals about their experiences.

“It feels like they’re sad because the place where they were born and raised is dying,” she adds.

“People who want to leave the region are unable to sell their apartments and must vacate.”

According to Passer, some people anticipate that the Russian government would assist them in relocating, although they are usually provided apartments in Vorkuta rather than elsewhere in Russia.

She chatted with residents of a partially abandoned apartment building in Severny.

“There is just one family, and they will be transferred to another apartment in a different building shortly,” she explains. The residents informed Passer that the damaged pipes that delivered the ice inside would not be repaired any time soon since the block will soon be totally empty.

Maria Passer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Image

Over the last several days, Passer’s images have gone throughout the world, their stark beauty captivating viewers’ minds and shedding a light on life in this Arctic region.

Passer urges visitors to consider the images’ background as well as their beauty.

“When I was exploring this icy structure, I had two thoughts: ‘Oh my god! ‘Oh my goodness, it’s awful!’ and ‘Oh my god, it’s gorgeous!’ “Passer explains.

Maria Passer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Image
Maria Passer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Image

“I want others who see the photographs to feel the same way I do.”


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