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Swedish traveler survived in Yakutia


Mikael Strandberg - One of Sweden's most famous travelers. He crossed the Kolyma River skiing and got from Norway to South Africa on a bicycle. Strandberg has spent most of his life in expeditions, taking photo reports and documentaries. Ten major expeditions took him almost 28 years. Now the traveler is 54 years old, and he's one of the few Europeans who visited the Yakut Oymyakon - the coldest settlement in the world.

- What inspired you to travel to the "Pole of Cold" and make a film featuring the Evens?

- Back in 2012 my friend from Yakutsk Egor Makarov invited me to make a trip riding a reindeer. It lasted only four days, but it was a real challenge. Then I got acquainted with the Evens, I lived with them side by side for several days. For another trip to the "Pole of Cold" I was inspired not by extreme temperatures, but just the people who live there.
The Evens are amazing; they are very easy to communicate and have a very healthy and undistorted view of life. I would like to talk about their way of life and, of course, about the deer that have not gone away, despite the ever-changing modern world and the invention of new vehicles. The Evens are constantly faced with the pressure of the modern world. They lose their lands, rights to hunting and fishing, but we can learn a lot from them even today. In the West we live in a different world and make a lot of mistakes. I decided to make a film about the Evens to get people interested in the life of Northern peoples, to talk about what we need to fight for their rights and protect them from the greedy companies conducting their business in the north.

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- Do the Evens have families, if they are constantly engaged in reindeer herding?

- The Evens, with whom we were traveling, were not quite nomadic. Yes, they spend most of the year in the wild, being engaged in reindeer herding, hunting and fishing, but they do have families. They return to their villages in order to take breath, to communicate with their children, to watch TV, like all people.
Most of all I was struck by traditions. For example, shamanism and the world of spirits in which they live. I was able to meet with shamans in Yakutsk and make some shots for our film. Also, I was lucky enough to visit the farm where the Yakut horses are bred. The Soviet system of animal husbandry almost exterminated them, but now they are cared for. These are amazing animals. We visited Tomtor - the village where these horses are bred using the very latest technologies. I am glad that the Yakut horses have a future.

- What was your first impression of Oymyakon? What do you need to take along for such a trip, in order to survive?

- Lately, I studied the Arab world and have been on expeditions in the desert, so my body was very poorly prepared for the bitter cold. As soon as I got down from the plane, I immediately felt freezing cheeks and cheekbones. This feeling haunted me during the whole trip. The starting point of our expedition was a village of Uchugey. We went there with a bunch of stuff: modern equipment, radios and so on. Also we had special clothes for polar expeditions. We wanted to test whether they can compete in terms of convenience and warmth with the national clothing of the Evens. So, I bought the shoes, which were supposed to endure a hundred degrees below zero, but in -50⁰C I felt that I was deceived. Shoes of the reindeer were much better; I was not freezing at all.

- What was the most extreme in the expedition?

- In some places, we had to travel on the rivers, and this was the worst. Reindeer pull a sleigh on the cracking ice, and you do not know for sure whether you reach the bank of the river or not. Every year many people die on these rivers. But it was part of the adventure, so I was not really worried. I trusted the Evens one hundred percent. At such moments I felt a real adrenaline and enjoyed our trip. As for the health hazards. One person from our team had serious problems with the skin. He has frostbitten cheeks, but was saved by a dog fat - he put it on his face. Frostbitten skin looked terrible. We did not spend more than 6-7 hours in the open air, making stops, putting up a temporary tent and stoking the fire. This was largely what saved us.

- How does it feel -50⁰C?

- One day I walked out of the tent to pour a cup of coffee. I splashed it into the air and hundreds of small crystals fell down on me. It was unbelievable and beautiful. Locals say it's a great way to check whether the temperature dropped below -50⁰C or not. The most unusual feature of such extreme temperatures is that everything looks amazingly beautiful, like paradise, but in fact it is very dangerous environment. One cannot allow any mistakes at all.


- Tell us about your impressions of the Far East. This seems to be already your third expedition to Russia. Why did you come back there again?

- The first time I traveled to Siberia and the Far East in 2004. I spent a year out to overcome the Kolyma River by canoe and reach the Zyryanka River. From there we went skiing with my partner to the bay of Abramchik. The average temperature during the journey did not rise above -48⁰C, it was very cold. Sometimes it dropped up to -58⁰C. Just a horror. We spent a few months in tents without any heating, and sometimes it was impossible to sleep due to the cold. Even after traveling to Oymyakon I did not quite understand how we survived then in Kolyma. But we did it, despite the fact that we were constantly sweating and transported nearly 140 kilograms of various cargos. Every night we were freezing and shivering with cold and pain. We survived because we have bestirred ourselves to overcome the entire route and reach the goal. That trip absolutely changed my life: I always come back to the Far East, especially to see again those wonderful people who live there. Since that time I have visited Yakutia four more times and decided to come here to make a documentary.

Andrei Urodov