Set in “the most depressing city on earth,” plagued by blood-red rivers, toxic air, and 45 days of permanent darkness

A GRIM city dubbed “the world’s most depressing” is so remote that it cannot be reached by road, and its polluted life expectancy is ten years lower than the national average.

The world’s northernmost city, the remote Russian mining town of Norilsk is dark for two months of the year and has a truly chilling past.

Norilsk in Russia has been described as the most depressing city in the world

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Norilsk in Russia has been described as the most depressing city in the worldPhoto credit: AFP
It is one of the ten most polluted cities in the world

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It is one of the ten most polluted cities in the worldPhoto credit: Reuters
In 2016, a nearby river turned blood red

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In 2016, a nearby river turned blood redPhoto credit: Instagram

The small town in the Krasnoyarsk Krai region of Siberia in eastern Russia is one of the most remote cities in the world with over 170,000 inhabitants.

Norilsk is located almost 3,000 km from Moscow and more than 1,500 km north of the regional capital, Krasnoyarsk.

No roads lead to Norilsk. A freight rail line runs in and out of the city, and the port town of Dudinka, 40 miles away, offers a connection to the city by sea – although it is frozen over in winter.

It’s so truncated that when locals leave town they joke that they’re “going to the mainland.”

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Norilsk didn’t get a proper internet connection until 2017 – until then, this Ipswich-sized city was dependent on a dodgy satellite connection.

Therefore, the only year-round route to this remote corner of Russia is to fly, although even that is not easy.

After a more than five-hour flight from Moscow, visitors are greeted by an apocalyptic hellscape built on the site of a Soviet prison camp.

The modern history of Norilsk begins in the early 20th century when a geologist discovered rich deposits of nickel, copper and cobalt at the foot of the Putorana Mountains.

Norilsk sits on the world’s largest nickel-copper-palladium deposits.

In 1936, the USSR began building a huge mining complex in the mountains, using around 500,000 forced laborers from a nearby gulag.

For 20 years they labored in the harsh arctic permafrost, killing 18,000 people in horrific conditions.

Today, a fifth of the world’s nickel comes from Norilsk and more than half of the world’s palladium, a metal used in car exhaust and jewelry.

Almost everyone in Norilsk today has some connection with the nickel factory, either as a direct employee of Norilsk Nickel or as an employee of one of the many companies that depend on it.

But having such an enormous job creator in the city comes at a staggering price.

Even the snow is red in winter… Beautiful on the one hand, chemical on the other

Yevgeny BelikovFormer worker in a nickel factory

Norilsk is now the most polluted city in Russia and one of the ten most polluted cities in the world.

Each year, the nickel factory pumps out more than two million tons of toxic gases, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon, phenols and more.

Around one percent of all global sulfur dioxide emissions come from this one city.

The air is so polluted that many people mine the above-ground soil for soot because it contains valuable minerals.

Not only does this cause acid rain, killing many of the surrounding trees, but it also takes a devastating toll on the residents of Norilsk.

The life expectancy of a worker in Norilsk is only 59 years, 10 years below the Russian average.

Cancer rates in the city are also twice as high as in the rest of Russia.

A health study found that rates of blood disorders in children in Norilsk are 44 percent higher than the average child in Siberia, while rates of nervous system disorders are 38 percent higher and bone and muscle disorders are 28 percent higher.

BLOOD FLOW

Rivers around Norilsk have turned red several times in recent years

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Rivers around Norilsk have turned red several times in recent yearsPhoto credit: AFP

In September 2016, the nearby river Daldykan turned blood red in eerie scenes.

There was no official explanation for this horrific phenomenon, which some locals attributed to a “message from God about an imminent world war.”

A drain at the nearby smelter was given as the more likely cause.

Reported former factory worker Evgeny Belikov was quoted by ABC News as saying that a reservoir near the factory was a similar color and known by employees as “The Red Sea.”

“In winter the snow is red, too,” he is said to have said. “On one hand it’s beautiful, but on the other hand it’s chemical.”

A company spokesman said at the time: “Norilsk Nickel’s Polar Division has not confirmed any leak in the emergency industrial waste discharge into the Daldykan River that could have affected its condition.

“However, environmental monitoring is being carried out around the river and the company’s adjacent manufacturing facilities, including helicopter flights.”

On June 3, 2020, a river outside Norilsk turned blood red again after a massive diesel spill was caused by a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel.

The spill of more than 20,000 tons of diesel into the Ambarnaya after a fuel reservoir collapse at a power plant prompted Vladimir Putin to declare a state of emergency and criticize the subsidiary.

45 DAYS OF DARKNESS

45 days a year the city is in complete darkness

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45 days a year the city is in complete darknessPhoto credit: Getty

Aside from the toxic pollution, Norilsk’s desolate situation also gives it the justifiable claim of being the most depressing city in the world.

Located in the arctic permafrost, the city experiences 45 days of uninterrupted darkness each year.

Around two thirds of the year the city and its surroundings are covered with snow.

The average temperature in Norilsk in January is -30°C, despite hitting previously terrifying record lows of -53.1°C.

The so-called “polar T3 syndrome” is common. This is caused by a lack of sunshine and can lead to forgetfulness, mood swings and cognitive impairment.

In summer, on the other hand, the sun does not set for 65 days.

It might come as a surprise to some that anyone would want to work, let alone live, in “the world’s northernmost city”, although there’s a good reason why so many do.

Norilsk Nickel workers can earn more than £800 a month compared to the national average of less than £600.

It’s also unlikely that Vladimir Putin will step in anytime soon, given the company’s staggering 2 percent of Russia’s total GDP.

The company is owned by Putin ally Vladimir Potanin, and a former investor was oligarch Roman Abramovich.

However, the ex-Chelsea owner sold his 1.7 per cent stake in Norilsk Nickel in March 2019 for US$551m (£446m).

The company says it is trying to reduce pollution and in 2017 announced a $14 billion investment in a major new development program.

This ambitious plan aimed to cut sulfur dioxide emissions in and around Norilsk by 75 percent by 2023.

However, it is not clear whether this goal is still achievable after the enormous disruption caused by the Covid pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine in recent years.

Much of the town is engaged in nickel mining

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Much of the town is engaged in nickel miningPhoto credit: Getty
Norilsk Nickel is controlled by Putin's ally Vladimir Potanin

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Norilsk Nickel is controlled by Putin’s ally Vladimir PotaninPhoto credit: Getty
18,000 Gulag prisoners died in the Norilsk building

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18,000 Gulag prisoners died in the Norilsk buildingPhoto credit: Getty
Life expectancy in Norilsk is only 59 years

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Life expectancy in Norilsk is only 59 yearsPhoto credit: Getty

https://www.the-sun.com/news/5544586/most-depressing-city-earth-norilsk-russia-pollution/ Set in “the most depressing city on earth,” plagued by blood-red rivers, toxic air, and 45 days of permanent darkness

DevanCole

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