Why on earth do people live in the coldest city on the planet?
Diamonds….and prison camps.
Welcome to Yakutsk.
It’s the capital of the Sakha Republic State in Russia.
It’s one of the biggest cities in Siberia.
And at only 280 miles south of the Arctic Circle and with record lows, it’s the official coldest major city in the world.
Yakutsk has been around in one form or another since the 13th century.
Originally it was a fort built to protect the mix of Yakut and Siberian populations that banded together to hide from the then rising Mongolian Empire.
Later, when imperial Russia took over, Yakutsk became the capital city for the local ruling war-prince.
Even then, it wasn’t a particularly large settlement until the 1880’s—when gold and other valuable minerals were found nearby.
Extensive digging for those resulted in an even greater and more lucrative discovery: diamonds.
The area around Yakutsk is full of them.
The region is responsible for a full fifth of the world’s production of diamonds.
Stalin increased the city size further by tacking on several local prison work-camps to expand the diamond-mining force at his disposal.
Many of the modern inhabitants are descended from a combination of the two waves of diamond miners: the earlier willing volunteers and those Stalin condemned to the mines.
As an economic center of interest to the Russian government, it’s one of the most accessible places in Russia.
It’s a terminus point for the railway and highway.
They’ve recently added in an airport to make travel to Yakutsk more appealing to visitors and ease travel for the constant stream of incoming and outgoing diamond businessmen.
The airport can’t actually operate during most of the year. It’s entirely iced in.
It’s gone as low as -83.9 degrees Fahrenheit (-64.4 degrees Celsius). Which is insane.
The winters are crazy long as well. It’s winter almost the whole year in Yakutsk.
During the height of the cold, most people try to avoid going outdoors at all.
It’s so cold that most of the whole place is built on ancient permafrost.
Most of the soil there hasn’t been defrosted in several millennia. It’s that cold there.
Construction of anything is a nightmare—it’s too difficult to dig into the ground to put in foundations.
Structures are either oddly temporary.
Or built haphazardly on top of concrete piles.
They’ve actually set up a special research institute nearby to look into the construction problem of permafrost.
Oddly, despite the crazy cold and long winter, when summer hits—it’s actually pretty warm. It’s oddly most comparable to Los Angeles summer.
Except without the beach. Yakutsk is hundreds of miles from the coast.
The nearby river is apparently quite lovely during summer though. It’s a local tourist destination.
But mostly the people in Yakutsk are the people who have always been in Yakutsk—those born and raised to deal with extreme conditions of their beloved city.