The old people
and the sea

"When we came on Dikson, we were happy. Madly happy. I even brought her onto the Kolosovykh Island".

"Right. I married him and my husband, how it is said now, brought me on the honey moon journey. We went by a steamship and landed on Kolosovykh. Shall I tell you where I found myself? You should better have seen it..."

"How terribly dark was it there!"

"The North-East. I came onto the island and saw a small house on chicken's legs, but grown into the tundra and consisted of three logs and one small window. I came in, there were a small stove burzhujka, the floor overgrown with something abstruse. The entire moisture was everywhere. So I came and sat down. "Well darling, are you upset?" my husband asked me. So I turned the sleeves up and began to scrub the floor, the stove, everything was cleaned up and scrubbed. We wall-papered our hut, but the floor stayed uncoloured, we didn't have any colour. Nobody had lived in that house for thirty-three years. The brothers Kolosovy had lived there many years before. In their honour there is a guriy on the island. (Guriy is an artificial structure in the form of a pile of stones – the remark of Siberia: Joining the Dots). Misha covered the house with a roof, so the winter began. Do you know what the polar night before the New Year is like? It is not as on Dikson. It was so pitch-dark that you couldn't see your hand before your face. We were young. So, I got pregnant."

In 1960-1980s the coasts of Dikson and the mainland part of the settlement were littered with baloks where the fishermen and hunters used to store their boats, tools, nets and other things they needed in
the tundra by hunting. Most of them are empty now.
"We lost our heads because we didn't know how the pregnancy was going. When Danilovna felt bad, I thought I would go crazy. It was about 90 kilometers through ice and capes from Kolosovykh to the mys Sterligova with a polar station and other people. There were no houses and nothing at all on the way there. It was also very difficult to cross the channel. What did we have to do? I was afraid, made a covered carriage which was carried by dogs; the merchants used to go in such carriages a long time ago. I also made a sack from reindeers' fur and put my wife there, she was very light, and we set off. "You are going the wrong way!" she commanded sitting behind me. Each time when the sledge overturned on the hummocks, I put her back. I didn't know that... the pregnant woman needs constantly to go to the toilet."

"Dog had an honorary role of human's helper
by investigating
the polar spaces"

Book: Nikolai Urvantsev
"On the untrodden land" 1990
"Never mind, let them know how people used to live earlier. Well, I put her out of the sack, but the frost reached -40, it was December indeed. Then back into the sack and so over and over again. And the most terrible thing was that I had forgotten the signal pistol. We went there in the complete darkness, but I felt that the mys was not far away. There were no GPS systems at those times."

"To the Sterligov mys, to the ocean! The coast there is like an abyss."

"The lights were turned off at the polar station. Luckily, I had
the flares for the signal pistol with me so I made a hole in one of them, struck a match and... the shot broke out for about fifteen meters. It turned out that we were about to go into the abyss, which was only some seconds away from us. The dogs can't feel or see it, because they run and have no time to shake off the snow from their muzzles. Danilovna was also covered with snow. Suddenly, the lights turned on on the masts and the dogs from the station began to bark. I took about one and a half kilometers the wrong way. I left Zina at the polar station and went back alone. She got cold, her tail froze and now she is sitting here. She liked the North then."

Mikhail and Zinaida Degtyarevy are sitting at the table. There is a big plate of sandwiches with the Arctic cisco caviar and fresh loach. He is 76 and she is 68 years old. Degtyarevy are fishermen. Today they belong to those few people on Dikson who go fishing not for themselves only, but also for selling. "My Danilovna is an industrialist, and I am an aged pensioner", specifies Mikhail laughing. "Oh, come Misha!", grumbles "Danilovna" joking. A dialect is to hear in their speeches, they came from Belorussia to the Arctic. "After the army I went home, to Belorussia. Once I went to a dancing party and saw her there. I looked at her and that was it! That was it! I couldn't leave, couldn't sleep. Something happened then to me. Now we have been wandering through tundra for 53 years together". After moving to the Arctic Degtyarevy worked for a long time at the Dikson fish-factory.

A photo from Zjanna Kopan`s archive

Geographic objects in
the Kara Sea named after
the Northern dogs:

isl. Korsar
isl. Kazak
isl. Kuchum
isl. Grozniy
isl. Tugut
isl. Mametkul
isl. Chabak
bay Malakhay
isl. Matros
mys Martyn
isl. Psov
mys Sobachiy

The valuable white fish is found near Dikson: broad whitefish, white-fish, muksun, nelma and the Arctic cisco. The price of the fish in the settlement is 200 roubles a kilo and onthe mainland it is 400 roubles and higher.
The local inhabitants don't often buy cisco
or broad whitefish separated, they take
a sack of different northern fish.
Zinaida: We used to have a winter hut, but as the saying goes, we have been through it, have survived it. The houses have already come to ruin there. Uboynaya was 65 kilometers away from Dikson.

Mikhail: Yes, we didn't have a flat for a long time, we were registered in our winter hut. We had there a huge wooden house with electricity, a small bath house, a wood-shed and a yard with a closet. Everything was built from the floated wood which had been washed ashore. Can you imagine how much of it was there? The coast was covered with it. When the settlement was built, people used all the materials: the floated wood, planking, laths, rods and beams. In the old days the Norwegian came on Dikson to study the local birds or something else, some of them could speak Russian. One day we were going along the sea coast and talked. "Do you have some wood along the sea coasts in Norway too?", I asked. "It doesn't grow as much wood there as it lies here", was the reply.

Zinaida: When we went to the settlement, we stayed by our friends or at an inn. We got the flat only in 1992 after six five-year plans.

Mikhail: By that time I got a Medal for Labour Valour and lots of different diplomas (Mikhail is an honorary citizen of Taymyr, an honorary inhabitant of Dikson and a holder of the Order the Red Banner of Labour – the remark of Siberia: Joining the Dots). However, it would be rather shameful for me to obtain a flat by persistent asking while other people were waiting too.

Zinaida: Working in Uboynaya Mikhail Grigoryevich and I used to catch a lot of fish, during one summer we could get 36 tonnes. Fishing is a very difficult work, it is not for women, but we were always together by the sea. We had a nevodnik – a wooden safe boat where even big waves weren't dangerous. I will never forget our going fishing during a wild storm when the wind was blowing and blowing. "Your main task is to hold the boat against the wave, and I will catch the fish", my husband said. After catching fish, we scaled and then pickled it together, so the work went on.

Mikhail: We always shared Uboynaya with some bears. It was a bears kingdom. During fishing in summer they were walking along the coast and we had to keep an eye on them them not to bump into one of them. Bears are afraid of people and seeing them, go away immediately. Nevertheless, tourists and seamen lured bear cubs, which was a silly thing to do. The cubs grew up and went to the winter huts to get some milk or fish. They are lured now too.
One of the symbols of Dikson is the monument erected to commemorate an original polar explorer and a seaman Nikifor Begichev whose remains were buried under it. In 1915 Begichev organized a sleigh train consisted of 1000 deers to save the seamen who were spending the winter in ice in their ships Taimyr and Vaigach. Begichev crossed the tundra, which was a many-kilometer way, and took the seamen to the mouth of the river Tarea. In 1920 the explorer helped to look for the lost members of the Norwegian Rual Amundsen's expedition – Peter Tessem and Paul Knutsen.

Zinaida: Being young we didn't notice the polar nights. The high season of hunting for the Arctic foxes was after all the polar night from 15th November to 15th March, that was a hard time. For one season we put out one thousand traps. The last year before the Soviet Union broke we caught more than 700 Arctic foxes. We also hunted for seals and bagged several thousands of them, slaughtered them and curried their hides. The seal fat was used in producing of lipsticks and vaseline, and its meat was delivered into the farms.

Mikhail: In that way we worked from 60s to 90s, made a fortune and could buy the furniture for our future flat. However, everything broke down in a blink. Just broke down. When we finally got a flat, there was no Dikson any more, the fish-factory was closed and we became as poor as a church mouse. All the money we had earned lost its value, we bought nothing and began to live anew. The only thing we owned were our high rubber boots.

Zinaida: When everything was destroying, we were going through a bad patch. Mikhail Grigoryevich got retired but l had to continue working. The young people grasped the main points of the new life and we, the people who were used to working hard to complete the plans at any price, were left with nothing. We became confused and had no idea what to begin with. We didn't know how to run an own business.

Mikhail Degtyarev is starting his buran. Until the 1990s the main transport for most fishermen and hunters was the team of dogs.
Mikhail: "What are we grieving for? Easy came – easy went", I thought. And since 1995 we have been engaged in business, whereas other people ruined themselves by drinking and died. God forbid, how much we did to get the right to go fishing! Moscow gives shares for catching fish and allots them. To get the share we must own a ship or a boat registered in Murmansk, moreover we have to get some acknowledgment in Krasnoyarsk, then they write and write that we need more papers.. . It is easier to go to the outer space than to become a businessman here. How could that happen in our region, where so many people used to work and so many fishing places are empty now. Having so much fish we are not allowed to get it! Since Moscow has been controlling those shares, we have nothing.

It is impossible to conform to the Moscow rules only. Even in our Krasnoyarskiy kray everything is different from the region to the region: Krasnoyarsk has one rules, Dikson – the others. Even the nets are different! Since the beginning of time we caught fish swimming near the coast using the forties and forty-fifths (40 and 45 are the sizes of meshes in a fishing net - the remark of Siberia: Joining the Dots ). And now we are told to use the fiftieth nets, but it is clear that we get out the fish with caviar, while the marketable fish go through the meshes. I din it into our leaders' ears: Look what you are doing! You are destroying the fish! I begin to gut each fish before to pickle it and see that every fish has got caviar. That didn't use to be the case. Ichthyologists used to come to our the winter hut and assess the catch. Not a single ichthyologist has come here for more than twenty years. Clever people don't visit us any more. For the bureaucrats it is more important to get the papers, and what people tell them, is like banging the head against a brick wall. Maybe it is advantageous for somebody that there is nothing here in the North, that nobody catches anything or what the hell it is... Why did they set such conditions?

illustration: Lilya Matveeva

The price of the northern fish in Krasnoyarsk/Dudinka/on Dikson. Broad whitefish, white-fish, muksun, nelma, cisco







It is important to develop in the North not only the oil production, but also the fishing. It needs returning the coastal catching of fish and making easier the legalization of a business. By the way, there is a very perspective youth here, they would work. As long as we, the old fishermen, at least two or three of us, are on Dikson, we could teach them what it's all about, for example how to pickle the Arctic cisco. It is a real art indeed! To pickle fish following the books recipes is not the same. However, nobody wants to renew anything. I went to the okrug, there is a fish-inspection there. "Have you ever been to the North?", I asked them. "No, I haven't. What do I need your North and your fish for? ", was the answer. Although the sea is open, the fishermen can't do anything. If I caught some fish today, I would have to call a specialist in Krasnoyarsk and report how much I caught. After that we would call a border guard, he would come, check and write a report. The good thing is that we are allowed to bring the fish to the settlement and draw up a report there and not on the coast, because during the storm it is very easy to lose the whole fish. On the other hand, it makes no difference, it is awful. Luckily, when the fish-factory existed we managed to make merzlotniki (frozen pits – TN) in the rock, where we keep fish now.

Zinaida: And what about selling off? How much does it cost on Dikson? That is the most complicated problem now. Let us suppose that now we can catch a very lot of fish, here we have
the Arctic cisco which is very valuable. But we are so far... How to deliver the fish? It is possible to do that by plane or by ship only, that's all. We are lucky to have found a customer who takes
the fish away for himself immediately. At the same time the volumes are very small, we catch three tonnes of winter fish during one month and a half.

Mikhail: Yeah, the volumes are scanty. We remember the golden years and are very disappointed now. We became a kind of slaves. If it was possible to cast off the bureaucratic yoke, the North would begin to revive. You know, when I came here in 1956 I was 18 years old, the sea was alive with ships. They stayed here in the harbour like people sometimes stay in a queue when they want to buy some valuable goods. When the military ships and icebreakers, which were going to the East, got stuck here for a winter, the music used to play day and night. Even the people like Danilovna and I went to the club for dancing. All the children were outside, the atmosphere was very different. People enjoyed themselves, people lived. Even if they lived in shared houses and didn't have much money, but they lived cheerfully. Nobody had any locks. And now, try to knock until one hears, people die and stay at home for days without being visited and found by their neighbors. A colonel has died recently so... How could it happen that neighbors became so wild?

An abandoned room
of the house on the island Dikson. Before leaving to the settlement, the inhabitants of the island had boarded up the windows and doors, but the Arctic wind smashed them, so a lot of houses are full of snow in winter.
Zinaida: I would like to see Dikson alive, as it was earlier. To see the people here, the building. Our bread was so tasty, white and so light. (The motor ship) Chekhov came here from Krasnoyarsk and everyone brought our bread to the mainland. There was good sausage in the shops, it was covered with wax and was stored in sawdust. If you buy different sausages in our shop now, you won't feel any difference between them, the taste is the same. And what to say about the fish now? Unfreeze a fish from a shop on the mainland and you will get the water only, there will be no fish there. And in the city they sell salmon on the market. Nothing of the kind! Such ruddy salmon doesn't exist, it is actually pale-red.

Mikhail: What I want to say, Dikson is... of great sentimental value of me. After the war I have never seen as much bread as there was here. I knew that I would never leave it. And we don't leave. We could go to our daughter to Belorussia or to our son, he lives in Canada. No, I can't live on the Mainland, I am terribly ill there. We are nothing there.
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