Magadan Oblast is a region of severe winters, permafrost, gulag ruins and gold veins. More than 20 tons of gold is mined here annually. In this hard-to-get to and hard-to-get-around-in region you will experience floating rivers and more untouched nature than you ever thought possible but will see few people. Outside the cities, the main residents are nomadic reindeer herders and gold miners. Flights from Moscow to Magadan take 7.5 hours. Despite being rich in resources the oblast is relatively poor and undeveloped in part because the infrastructure is so poor and undeveloped. Magadan Region tourist website: visitkolyma.ru
Known as Kolyma, Magadan Oblast covers 461,400 square kilometers (178,100square miles), is home to only 157,000 people and has a population density of one person for every three square kilometer. About 95 percent of the population live in urban areas. The city of Magadan is the capital and largest city, with about 95,000 people. About the size of Spain, Magadan Oblast it the least populated oblast and the third-least populated federal subject in Russia.
Magadan region has seen more than its share of tough times in it history and has become a symbol of courage and strong will. Life in the region is primarily based on presence of the oblasts’ large gold reserves which gave rise to development of the region in the 20th century. Nearly 2,000 placer gold deposits, 100 gold ore deposits, and 48 silver ore deposits have so far been identified in the territory. In the Soviet era, the exploitation of the gold deposits and the infrastructure to mine and transport it was carried out by forced prison labor. The Kolyma River in the eastern part of the oblast was used to bring the prisoners in. The 2,000-kilometer “Road of Bones” between Yakutsk and Magadan was the prisoner’s most infamous piece of work.. picturesque nature and history of the region.
Few tourists travel to Magadan. Permafrost makes construction difficult. The only real roads Kolyma highway (the “Road of Bones”) and it major branches: 1) along the coast to the town of Ola, 2) to Talaya sanatorium, and 3) to Omsukchan Seimchan. Ust-Seymchanu Srednekanskaya HPP — and huge dam and hydropower complex on the Kolyma River — mainly provides energy for developing industrial enterprises and gold, silver, coal and tin mining. The three main protected areas in Magadan are Ola, Yamskaya and Seymchansky reserves.
Magadan Oblast was established in 1953 in what had popularly been known as Kolyma. Among the indigenous peoples in the region are Evens, Koryaks, Yupiks, Chukchis, Orochs, Chuvans and Itelmens, who had traditionally lived from fishing along the Sea of Okhotsk coast or from reindeer herding in the River Kolyma valley. A significant part of the indigenous population live in the North Evenk municipal district. Most have traditionally engaged in reindeer herding, hunting and fishing. Their biggest events are an annual rally of herders and the holidays of Hebdenek, Bakyldydyak and Chayrudyak.
Getting There: Magadan is an isolated city, which has a strong impact on the way of life and economy of the region. Air travel is almost the only kind of passenger transport. A direct flight from Moscow to Magadan takes 7.5–8 hours, and the ticket prices vary a lot but are generally over RUB 25,000 during the low season and over RUB 100,000 in the summer. There are direct flights from Magadan Sokol airport to Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Novosibirsk, Yakutsk. The cost of flights from and to Magadan is practically the highest in the country. Buying tickets, especially for a summer trip, should be planned beforehand.
Transport in the region: There is no railroad connection with Magadan because of the frozen ground, the sea route is suitable only for cargo transportation. You can get to Magadan from Yakutsk along the Kolyma road, but this route is not the best option because of its length and difficult terrain. Buses go from the Magadan bus station to the villages of the region. There is no transport connection with other regions. Buses go to the Magadan airport 10-15 times each day, the trip takes 1-1,5 hours. You can use city mini-buses to move around Magadan, but taxis are the most popular and quickest means of city transport. The cost of a journey starts at RUB 150.
Climate and the Nature of the Magadan Region
Magadan Region is located in the northeastern part of the Russia on the shore of the Sea of Okhotsk. Winter lasts from six to seven and a half months and is very windy. Snow squalls are common, deep snows are rare and temperature can reach -30 degrees C on the coast and -40 degrees C inland.
The summer in Magadan is cold (averaging 16 degrees C) and rainy. Summer days in the coastal areas are characterized by frequent changes in the weather: a lot of rain, and almost constant winds, Fogs are often formed. In general, the most comfortable summer season lasts from mid-June to late August. Inland there is a greater ranger between nigh and day temperatures and temperatures can reaches 30 degrees C in the summer.
Magadan Region’s ecosystems include tundra, forest tundra, taiga, mountains and stony deserts. Most of the territory is occupied by high mountains and highlands. There are many beautiful lakes and streams that predominantly have a mountain character. The main river of the region — the Kolyma — is 2600 kilometers long and flows northward towards the Arctic. Most of the rivers and lakes are full of fish.
Some rivers are suitable for traveling of experienced adventurers. The Omulevka and Bahapcha rivers require a certain level of skill. The Buyunda, Korkodon, Sugoy and Omolon are easier to deal with. The lakes are beautiful, clean and rich in fish and mosquitos. They are rarely visited because they are so hard to get to. The largest lakes are Momontay, Malak and Urultun. In Yagodninsky District there is a hostel on beautiful Jack London lake.
Among the more common flora are daurskoy larch, cedar, dwarf birch, valerian, juniper, cranberries, tea, willow, rosehip, rowan and honeysuckle. In the forest, mushrooms grow everywhere and include aspen, boletus, boletus, russula. Among the other natural northern delicacies are lingonberry, crowberry, cloudberry and dwarf-pine cones. Among the large animals are reindeer, moose (elk), brown bears, wolverines, foxes, wolves and lynx. Rodents include chipmunks, squirrels, stoats, hares, wild mouse. In the higher areas you can find bighorn sheep and musk deer. On the protected island of Matykil — where Magadan State Nature Reserve — is located — there are sea lion rookeries and numerous birds. A total of 186 bird species have been observed, of which 150 nest in the reserve.
Magadan was one of the main centers of the gulag system. After gold was discovered in the Kolyma region in 1932, prisoners were shipped in to build the infrastructure and then work the mines. The first year thousands died working in cold swampy conditions on starvation rations. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, died before the camps were finally closed at the end of the 1950s. According to one estimate a fifth of the 20 million people who died in Stalin's gulag camps died in the Kolyma-Magadan region.
The Kolyma-Magadan region was home to several camp complexes, each associated with a different mine or construction project. At only time there were about a half million prisoners in the area. Many died before they even got there in the suffocating cattle car journey thousands of miles across Russia and Siberia. One ship carrying prisoners to the region got trapped in the ice and its arrival was delayed by nine months. All 3,000 prisoners died. Many were frozen to death and entombed in ice after hoses were turned on them during a revolt.
Magadan was the gateway for the camps. The prisoners arrived exhausted and half starved and were then marched to the camps that were up to 250 kilometers (150 miles away). Many died during the trek. At the camps the prisoners were put to work digging for gold and fed 700 calories a day, much of it in the form of cabbage soup. Those who failed to meet the high quotas had their rations cut. It is estimated that one man died for every kilogram of gold mined. Relatively few survivor stories emerged from Magaden-Kolmya because so few survived. The evidence of the camps has almost completely been erased.
Gold Mining in Kolyma
The Magadan Region is Russia's leading gold and silver mining area.. Kolyma produces about 24.5 tons of gold annually. Large-scale investment projects are being and have been implemented in the region. New deposits, such as Natalka and Pavlik, which have some of the largest reserves in the world, are being developed. The balance reserves at the Natalka deposit are 1,450 tons on gold and 331 tons of silver. The off-balance reserves of gold are 309 tons. At the Pavlik deposit, the established reserves of gold and silver are more than 154 tons and 39.8 tons, respectively, with forecast reserves of more than 200 tons.
The Yano-Kolyma gold region is located in Magadan Oblast and the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). It includes 15 large deposits of precious metals with a total resource potential of 4,700 tons of gold, and according to some estimates up to 7,200 tons. The unique gold bearing area was discovered by Dmitri Pavlovich Aseev, who headed the Tenkinsky reconnaissance district in the early 1940s. He discovered two gold-bearing creeks, later named after his children and predicted gold reserves of 50 tons in 1942.
The main way gold on the Kolyma is extracted is via open mining with a large degree of automation. The ore is washed with special dredges, with the help of mobile factories. A special grid separates large stones from soil. The gold-laden soil goes through pipes to the factory, where it's further filtered and small stones and the rock without gold are removed.
The second method of extraction is using a dredge. A huge floating “barge” is located in a dug out water basin. The primary mechanism of the dredge is an escalator that draws buckets full of rock and soil from the bottom of the pond. The rock is carries to the factory using several arms and conveyors. It passes through a series of drums and screens that remove unnecessary rock. The entire process is managed by one person with a remote. The dredge itself doesn't produce gold, only gold-containing concentrate. Ore falls into a special compartment the dredge employees don't have access to. Once a day, special people come, put the concentrate in the “safes”, seal them and take them away for further recovery and processing.
Every year in the middle of summer, “prospectors” from all over the Magadan region, as well as from other parts of Russia, gather at Gertner Bay in Magadan to take part in the Prospector's Luck gold washing championship, which takes place within the framework of the All-Russian Gold Festival. Participants compete in the skill of washing gold in the traditional way. During the competition, “prospectors” pan and wash gold-bearing soil with a large amount of water. Large pieces of the rock must be crushed. Excess material is washed away, and gold particles that are heavier than the soil remain at the bottom of the rinsing vessel. Grains of the precious metal can be quite small, but if you collect enough of them you can become rich.
Natalka is the home of a a major new gold-mining project operated by the gold mining company "Polus". The gold processing plant has a capacity of 10 million tons of ore per year, the largest in Russia. The first stage of the hot start at Natalka GOK was launcged by Russian President Vladimir Putin in September 2017 via video link. After reaching full production capacity the annual production of gold at the facility is expected to about 420,000-470,000 ounces a year throughout the life of the deposit development. Natalka’s reserves, under JORC methodology, are estimated at 16 million-to-34 million ounces of gold. Natalka is ranked 15th in the world in gold deposit reserves. The field was discovered in 1942. In 1944, a pilot production project of underground mining was launched using cleaning space methods. The first factory was built in 1972. According to the current estimates, the Natalka open pit mine will operate more than 30 years.
Magadan City (2,000 kilometers north of Vladivostok on the Sea of Okhotsk) was one of the main centers of the gulag system. A relatively young port city founded on the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk in the 1930s by geologists and prospectors, Magadan is located in a permafrost zone at a latitude of the White Nights, Northern Lights and long dark winters. Magadan is the capital and largest city of Magadan Oblast. It is home to about 95,000 people, almost two thirds of the oblast’s population. The city remains a mining center. Most the people that live there are involved in mining or fishing.
There isn't much to see in Magadan city other than Stalinist building, discarded tanks and fighters, a regional museum and a geology and mineral museum. Trips can be organized to the wilderness and sea. Activities include exploring the long coastline, kayaking, taking a sea tours to the numerous islands, deep-sea fishing, ice fishing and catching saffron cod and various species of Pacific salmon. Magadan is one of the few cities where the you fly paraglider in the city. Nagaev Bay, with its 200-meter-wide beach at low tide serves as a landing zone. Remote and sparsely populated bays such as Nagaeva and Gertner and quiet Staritskogo Peninsula are places worth checking out. The highest point of the city, 705-meter-high Marchekanskuyu hill, has a hiking trail to the top.
The center of Magada is an example of pre- and post-war Soviet urban planning. The main road, Lenin Avenue connects with the Kolyma highway and are lined with drab Stalin-era building of several height and design. The areas with the most character were designed by engineers and architects from Leningrad. The city has two theaters, museums, art galleries, festivals, concerts and fairs.
The Magadan Local History Museum features exhibits on nature, ethnography of the North, the and the history of the Magadan region in the Dalstroi period. One of the main attractions is a copy of a baby mammoth called Dimka, who was found in the frozen ground of Magadan Region in 1977. The Natural History Museum has interested displays on geology and paleontology, including an adult mammoth leg with 'live' DNA and the one-ton Bilibino iron meteorite.
Mask of Grief Memorial
The Mask of Grief Memorial (within Magadan city on Krutaya hill) is a sculpture-monument to the victims of political repressions and the Magadan area gulags, comprised of grieving faces and created by the sculptor Erns Neizvestny. A copy of a prison cell has been built inside the memorial, a sculpture of a crying woman stands behind it. Plaques containing the names of the Kolyma camps are placed on the slopes around the sculpture. Krutaya Hill offers great view of Magadan city and its bays.
The Mask of Sorrow monument was inagurated in 1996. The monument is a cast-in-place concrete structure 15 meters high. Eleven concrete blocks bearing the names of the most terrible forced-labor camps in Kolyma — Butygychag, Maldyak, Elgen, Serpantinka, Dneprovskiy and Kinzhal — were installed on the front of the monument, Symbols of all religions were carved in the stones surrounding the stairs next to the landing.
The Mask of Sorrow combines the sculptural features of classicism and abstractionism. On the left side of the Mask, the sculptor has portrayed a hemisphere of the human brain: the memory block. The Mask's forehead, nose, and eyebrows form a cross, and the left eye cries a tear of human heads. The empty eye socket on the right contains an improvised bell underneath which is the inscription of inmate number 937. On the reverse side of the Mask is a non-canonical crucifixion and a sculpture of a young woman crying, both made from bronze and symbolizing suffering and sorrow.
Magadan City Bays
Magadan City is situated between two bays: Nagayev Bay to the west and Gertner Bay to the east, both which in turn are inside Taui Bay. Nagayev Bay is narrow and elongated, deeply cut into the land. The hydrographer and surveyor B.V. Davydov noted that the bay “could justly be called the best anchorage around the Okhotsk Sea.” It is believed that construction of Magadan's administrative center started at this bay. The first prefabricated cottages of the cultural center of Vostochno-Evenskaya (Nagayevskaya) appeared on the shores of the bay in 1929, later becoming a city. At that time, ships were unloaded manually using smaller boats. The construction of a commercial seaport began only in 1933.
There is now a first-class seaport in Nagayev Bay. Berths are occupied with diesel electric freight vessels and tankers that deliver hundreds of thousands of tons of cargo. Several ships can be moored at the same time, and navigation continues into the winter. The picturesque bay attracts many nature lovers. The shores of the bay are steep and there is a narrow sand line at low tide. To the left you can see the peninsula of Staritskiy, where there is the natural monument “Kamenniy Venets” (Stone Crown), a pile of stones on a rocky mountain.
There are several attractions on the shores of the bay: a monument to the Soviet singer and poet Vladimir Vysotsky; a monument to the Pioneers of the Kolyma and Chukotka; a Memorial Stone in memory of soldiers, border guards, and pioneers of the Okhotsk Sea coast; a monumental sculpture of a mammoth called Vremya (Time); and a small marine park with a playground.
Gertner Bay is known for its frigid beaches and climbing glacier. Every winter a small creek there turns into an ice palace several meters high. The colder the winter, the more spectacular and huge it is. The glacier is near Magadan city so many citizens often visit this winter miracle on weekends. Some people enjoy a stroll along the ice hummocks and steep cliffs, other gets to the place by driving their car on ice. inspired. The best time to visit this place is the beginning of spring. The days are getting warmer, the sea of Okhotsk is alive with fast ice, and bird's can be heard in the rocky cliffs. For climbers the glacier becomes a place for training.
Near Magadan City
Snegorka Ski Resort and Leisure Center (10 minute drive from Magadan) has two pistes on its slope and is equipped with T-bar lifts. A full day pass costs RUB 1,500. People who don't want to ski can rent huts, barbeque and order a samovar with hot tea (7 hours rent costs RUB 1,000). The “Pereval” restaurant located within the leisure center offers European cuisine with Far-Eastern charm (Prices start from RUB 1,600 per night per person). Children can visit an adventure park, rides, and a folk culture center showing the household of indigenous Arctic ethnic groups: a yaranga — a Chukchi house, and a little reindeer shelter.
Staraya Veselaya Bay (30-minute drive from Magadan) is a popular destination with locals. Although Magadan is surrounded by sea and there are beaches within the city limits, locals prefer Staraya Veselaya Bay because it favorable location makes it warmer than other parts of the city. The tides are strong in Staraya Veselaya. When the water is low, you can reach the nearby island of Vdovushka and gather seaweed, mussels, and trumpeters, which are Far-Eastern gourmet clams. Only trained people can swim in the Sea of Okhotsk: the temperature reaches 10 degrees in the summer. The bay is a good winter fishing spot, especially for catching smelt and saffron cod. There is practically no infrastructure in the bay, yet on sunny days it can get quite crowded.
Lake Solenoye (one and a half hour trip through mountain passes from Magadan) is freshwater lake is separated from the Sea of Okhotsk by a shingle spit. Heavy storms sometimes bring the sea water to the lake, making the water salty. Solenoye is a shallow lake and the water can get warm enough to allow tourists to swim. Licensed fishing areas are located near the lake; seals often come close to the shore. The cost of a full day limited fishing license starts from RUB 700.
Cape Nyuklya is where the first Kolyma expedition landed in 1928. Now is is one Magadan citizens” favorite leisure area. There is a viewing deck at the top of the pass with a view of the Sea of Okhotsk and the cape itself, which is called “Sleeping beauty” by the locals. There are special fishing areas in Ola river creek near Nyuklya. During the fishing season, you cannot see the bottom because of the fish! You can literally catch fish with your hands and cut them open and feast on famous local caviar.
Jack London Lake (300 kilometers north of Magadan City) is very picturesque place. Situated at an elevation of 803 meters near Large Annachag High Ridge, the lake has narrow beaches with rugged coastline, stretching for many kilometers between spectacular mountains that provide a stunning backdrop for the lake. The highest points of these mountains are 2287-meter-high Aboriginal peak and 2292-meter-high Snow Peak. The lake reflects like mirror surface when the water is calm and the scenery is particularly awesome in the fall when autumn foliage mixes the taiga coniferous forests. The lake was named in 1932 by geological party under the leadership of 23-year-old Peter Skornyakova, who brought with him one of Jack London's books. The only problem with the lake is that it is quite difficult to get to..
Proceedings Island (100 kilometers from Magadan city, in Olsky District) is a rocky butte that rises from the sea on the western edge of Taui Bay. On a clear evening, the island can be seen on the horizon from the coast of Nagaev Bay. It is a federally-protected natural monument. The area of the island is nearly 2.5 square kilometers. The top of the island is a flat plateau with rocky ridges and boggy meadows. Cragged screes and headlong rocks up to 150 meters high surround the island on the south, east, and west. The coastline is marked with boulders and reefs, cut with multiple small bays and coves. Along the northwest extension, there is a low meadow terrace with fresh lakes enclosed by a semi-circular stony littoral area.
The average annual temperature is - 2.3 degrees (-15.8 degrees in January and 10.6 degrees in August). Southwesterly winds prevail in the summer, and in the afternoon hours, strong winds can create dangerous waves.
The island is especially popular among scientists, researchers, and photographers, because it is home to one of the largest colonies of birds in the northern part of the Sea of Okhotsk. The total bird population is about 1.8 million. They eat nearly 200 tons of fish and sea invertebrates daily. A total of 147 species of birds inhabit the island. Nesting fauna numbers 21 species, including 11 colonial seabirds: kittiwake, tufted puffin, slaty-backed gull, horned puffin, auklet, parakeet auk, spectacled guillemot, murrelet, and gannet. Such rare spices as Steller's sea eagle and peregrine falcon also nest on the island.
Native vegetation is represented by 120 species of vascular plants. Zooplankton is found in great abundance in the waters surrounding the island, especially near the border of Motykleysky Bay and Taui Gulf. Feeding shoals of pelagic fish gather here: walleye pollock, sand lance, and herring. In total, 32 species of fish inhabit local waters.
Magadansky Reserve (60 kilometers southeast of Magadan city, accessible by boat) is the home of a large breeding ground of the Steller sea lion as well as a variety of birds such as Baikal teal, small tundra swan, osprey, golden eagle, white-tailed eagle, peregrine falcon, Far Eastern curlew, common owl, and fish owl. The symbol of the Reserve is the magnificent Steller's Sea Eagle.
The territory of the reserve consists of four parts: Kava-Chelomdzhinsky, Seymchansky, Olsky, Yamsky Island, and Yamsky mainland. Covering a total area of 8,830 square kilometers, they are located far from each other and differ greatly in terms of topography, climate, flora, and fauna. Despite the remoteness, difficult transport arrangement and the harsh climate, the reserve always attracts wildlife enthusiasts from all over the world.
Magadansky State Nature Reserve was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in.2005. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: All four clusters of Magadansky Reserve are separated from each other, rather hard-to- reach and have no settlements or constant transport roads. Each cluster has its own distinctive features in locality appearance, climate conditions, composition of flora and fauna. Clusters of the Magadansky Reserve are located within the Northern Far East mainland mountain and upland physical-geographical province. Among them emerges the Okhotsko-Kolymskoye highland standing on the watershed between Kolyma basin (Arctic basin) and rivers falling into the Okhotsk Sea. From the west the area is adjoined by the southeastern edge of Cherskogo mountain system and a line of intermountain areas the most noteworthy of which is Seimchano-Buyundinskaya. The Reserve's area is situated in the zone of moderate and sub-polar climate charactcrzed by cold long winter and cool short summer. The vegetation period is not enough provided by heat, typical are summer frosts and uneven humidification. [Source: Commission of the Russian Federation for UNESCO Russian Ministry of Natural Resources]
All landscape-vegetation groups of the south of the Magadan Region are presented at the Reserve. According to the latest data, at the area of three near-Okhotsk clusters were noted 638 species of higher vascular plants. At floristically poor Seimchansky clusters grow 236 plant species, but the share of continental species absent at other clusters is high here. The most significant features of each cluster from the conservational point of view: Yamsky coastal cluster - features the disjunctively located part of Siberian spruce areal on the northeastern edge of its distribution. The cluster is distinguished by the high biodiversity and the abundance of relic dark-coniferous plant species. Yamsky marine cluster - features the peculiar vegetation of the bird bazaars of Yamsky islands which had apparently been formed as the result of long-time interaction of birds and coastal vegetation. Kava-Chelomdjinsky cluster - except its vast area and great diversity of vegetation types, is unique by its species composition and wetland complex typology. A line of species on their eastern edge of area1 grows here. Olsky cluster - has one of the richest specific flora of the northern Far East with great number of endemics of the different floristic regions and relics of different age and genesis. The peninsula is an intersection spot of arctic and arctic-alpine species' southern migration routes and routes of' Far East species moving to the north. Simchansky cluster - is the only continental cluster with the composite flood plain structure and rich and diverse wetland and flood plain vegetation. It is peculiar by many species common in the Pacific found in its inland flood plain forests as relics.
“In rivers and lakes of the Reserve are met 32 fish species. The most numerous are migrating salmons - humpback salmon, chum salmon, silver salmon (Onchoryncus Gorbuscha, 0. keta, O. kisutch) separate specimen of quinnat and blue-back salmon (O. tschawytscha, 0. nerka) are met. In rivers and lakes of the Seimchansky cluster are common: Arctic grayling, whitefish, Brachymystax lenok, Coregonus cylinotraceous, pike, perch and burbot. Avifauna of the Reserve is representative for the Okhotsk-Kolyma area. Avifauna list includes 173 species, 150 of which are nesting; the others are noted on passage. 40 species of terrestrial and 8 species of marine mammals have been registered within the Reserve. Most common are Sores caecutiens and Sores daphaenodon, northern redbacked vole, chipmunk, pika, blue hare, brow bear, fox, sable, ermine, mink, locally - elk and bighorn sheep. At all clusters are met, but less typical are: red and Russian flying squirrels, root vole, weasel, gluttton. Lynx is rarely met.”
Butugychag Camp and the Valley of Death
Butugychag Camp (250 kilometers north of Magadan City) is one of the most in famous Soviet forced labor gulags. Located about 40 kilometers away from Ust-Omchug village in Tenkinsky urban district, the camp was built to exploit a uranium, gold and tin deposit and was at its worst in the early 1950s — when uranium was mined without protective gear — and now is an abandoned ruin
The tin deposit on the site of the camp was discovered in 1936. Reconnaissance conducted in the area showed significant reserves of the metal, about 10,000 tons. Thus, the Butugychag mine was formed, and the camp settlement of the same name was set up with it. By 1938, mine was yielding significant amounts of ore and metal.
Before World War II, only 20 or so people worked on the extraction, but by the beginning of the 1950s the number of workers increased dramatically, Butugychag combined several camp sites — CLD PO Box No. 14, Dizelnaya, Centralny, Kotsugan, Sopka and Vakhanka — stretched almost three kilometers. The intensive development of the mine and the camps was associated, among other things, with the discovery of uranium-bearing ore. This was around the time that the Soviet Union was developing its first nuclear weapons.
The camp existed from 1945–1955 . It is one of a small number of camps where prisoners mined uranium. The camp also contained a top secret research-medical facility where a series of experiments were conducted on camp inmates. Witnesses of the camp state that the camp took the life of some 380,000 people in the 10 years of its existence. This is probably an exaggerations whole camp system there did not have more than 31,500 prisoners at one time in its 45 subdivisions. The uranium was mined by hand without any protective gear whatsoever. The average miner's life span was only a few months. Even today radiation readings in the area are very high.
A famous legend about the “Valley of Death” is connected with the camp. According to this legend, indigenous reindeer herders in the area, moving along the Detrin River, noticed large number of human bones and skulls scattered around. Soon after, their deer became sick with an unknown disease. First, the hair on their legs fell out and animal withered and died. Since then, the inhabitants have given the camp and the valley a wide berth.
Visiting Butugychag Camp is possible as a part of tourist groups. Several galleries with empty rock dumps, abandoned buildings, geological trenches, remnants of ore embryos and railways remain in the area where the uranium was mined can be seen. Visitors should be aware that radiation levels are high. There is generally no problem if your visit is for a short time and while you are there you drinking water or eating mushrooms or berries from local sources and and take pieces of rock away with you.
Camp Dnipro (320 kilometers from the city of Magadan) was a Stalin-era camps set up in Kolyma at a tin mine. Tin-bearing cassiterite mine was discovered in the early 1940s. The mine began operations in 1942. The mine closed in 1944 and reopened in 1949, using gold mining schemes to mine the tin. In valley there were eight washing devices. A bulldozer pushed ore-bearing "sands" into a deep tank. After that a conveyor belt transported the sands to a scrubber — a large iron rotating barrel with holes and pins — used for separating out stones, mud, water and metal. Large stones and waste ended up in waste piles. The washed shingle, and fine particles were feed into water streams, feed pump and long sloping blocks with grates and cloth , strips. Tin-bearing stone and sand settled on the cloth, while earth and stones flew from the back pad. The tin-bearing stone and sand which settled on the cloth was collected and washed again.
Much of the mining work was done by hand using picks, shovels, crowbars and wheelbarrows. Ore was carted in wheelbarrow up and down tunnels, paths and planks. Workers were expected to move at least 80 wheelbarrows a day, every day, the year round. The main labor force of the mine were prisoners convicted on various crimes. Some were common criminals but many were political prisoners. The number of camps ranged from 500 to 1,500. Among those that served time and survived and wrote about their experiences were the Austrian Jew Peter Demant, who wrote "Zekameron the Twentieth Century" and Vsevolod Pepeliaev, who wrote "Punishment without a Crime."
The camps were generally divided into working and living areas with many of the prisoner-workers living in of Russian-style huts,. Remains found at the camp sites include industrial and residential buildings, a preserved part of the crushing plant with large piles of ore, camp watchtowers, barbed wire and lights. At the top of the work area, at a height of over 100 meters, there are several pits from mined ore. Guided tours of Dnipro Camp are offered from June to September. Magadan tour operators offer historical tours lasting from three days.
The Kolyma river is largest river in the Magadan region and is also one of the main rivers of Yakutia. .It has long been one of the main transport arteries of the region. Gold found in and around the river led to the rapid development of the entire northeast Russia region. Kolyma refers to area around a river, and Magadan in particular. The valley and mountains surrounding river are covered by coniferous, mainly larch, forests. The Kolyma river is regarded as a great fishing river but was also an important transportation link some of the northernmost prison labor camps.
The Kolyma is 2129 kilometers. It source is in the mountains and pleateaus of the Okhotsk-Kolyma Highlands. Its mouth is in the Arctic Ocean. For than half of the year the river is frozen solid and you can drive a truck on it. Sometimes when the ice breaks up the spring there are huge floods. Navigating the Lena down river into the Arctic Ocean and then heading upriver into the Kolma is one way to get to northeast Russia without flying. Pride Kolyma — at phenomenon Sugoysky Krivun — is where the huge river bends like the letter S and narrows to a few tens of meters.
More than half of the Kolyma River basin is located in the Magadan region. The Frisher Kolyma Hydroelectric Power Plant. uses the natural power of the Kolyma River to provide 95 percent energy consumption of Magadan Oblast. The Kolyma reservoir is one of the largest reservoirs in the world. Today, the energy potential of the river is still largely untapped. A second power station is being built at - Ust-Srednekanskaya. It will provide resources for the development of the mining companies in the region.
Among the mountain taiga in the mainstream of the river and streams that feed into it are 25 species of fish, most of which are common in the waters of Siberia. These fish include pike, perch, East Siberian grayling. burbot, sturgeon, Siberian white salmon, broad whitefish, Arctic grayling, cisco and burbot with its butter-soft liver.
Kolyma River, the Soviet Era and the Gulag System
The Kolyma river an important transportation link for some of the northernmost Stalin-era prison labor camps. In the 1930s, barges plied the Kolyma river taking scurvy-stricken prisoners to some of the harshest camps of Josef Stalin's gulag system, many of them involved in building the "Road of Bones". Now the camps are long gone and the region — once a bustling Soviet Arctic outpost — is largely forgotten.
Dmitry Solovyov of Reuters wrote: “ The Kolyma used to be a river of death for prisoners in some of the harshest camps of Josef Stalin’s Gulag empire. Now the camps are long gone, but so too is the activity of a once-bustling Soviet Arctic outpost. In the 1930s, barges plied the Kolyma river taking their cargo of scurvy-stricken prisoners to penal camps in Siberia’s northernmost settlements or the nearby Magadan region, a trip along what inmates dubbed “the road of bones.” [Source: Dmitry Solovyov, Reuters, September 20, 2007]
“Once dubbed a “cursed black planet” in camp inmates’ songs, the river is now a lifeline for a shrinking community. Under Soviet rule, the authorities used to fly in fruit to make sure residents had a balanced diet. Now with no more state subsidies, local industries, or ships in the port — infrastructure that made life possible in this remote corner — those who still live here relish what the river offers: fish.
“For the neighborhood, this river is its daily bread,” said Valery Gizatulin, a 45-year-old fisherman at the Markhayanova fishing concession which in Soviet days hosted a large fish factory. “There used to be good infrastructure around this area. Now only fishing and hunting remain for locals.” Eight time zones east of Moscow, residents here call the rest of Russia “the mainland” — it is so difficult to reach that this region might as well be an island.Gizatulin gulps down a shot of vodka and forks up a generous chunk of steaming hot fried sturgeon: “The river provides us with a livelihood, it gives us fish, money, everything. Otherwise, we would not have survived here.”
Kolyma Highway: The Road of Bones
The R504 Kolyma Highway connects the cities Yakutsk and Magadan. Its length is slightly more than two thousand kilometers, of which approximately one thousand two hundred kilometers is located on the territory of Yakutia. Those who traveled along this route, say that it is one of Russia's most beautiful roads: beautiful mountains, endless taiga space and breathtaking views make travel more than once to stop to admire the view.
The story of the construction of the Kolyma Highway is not so beautiful. It was largely built by Gulag prisoners/ Those who died due to the harsh conditions of life and work were often just left on the side of the road or in the road itself because it was too difficult to dig a grave in the permafrost. Today the bones of these workers are scattered on the entire length of the road and that is why it called the “Road on Bones.”
The Dalstroy construction directorate built the Kolyma Highway during the Soviet Union's Stalinist era. Inmates of the Sevvostlag labour camp started the first stretch in 1932, and construction continued with the use of gulag labour until 1953. The Monument of Northern Highway Toilers was established in 1987 by production motor transportation association to honor toilers of northern routes. Now tour operators offer summer and autumn tours from Yakutsk to Magadan at the legendary highway length of 1 week.
In 2008, the road was granted Federal Road status, and is now a frequently maintained all-weather gravel road. When the road was upgraded, the route was changed to bypass the section from Kyubeme to Kadykchan via Tomtor, and instead pass from Kyubeme to Kadykchan via a more northern route through the town of Ust-Nera. The old 420 km section via Tomtor was largely unmaintained; the 200 km section between Tomtor and Kadykchan was completely abandoned. This section is known as the Old Summer Road, and has fallen into disrepair, with washed-out bridges and sections of road reclaimed by streams in summer. During winter, frozen rivers may assist river crossings. Old Summer Road remains one of the great challenges for adventuring motorcyclists and 4WDers.
Kadykchan: A Mining Ghost Town
Kadykchan (730 kilometers from Magadan) is one the most famous "ghost" regions in Russia. The name in Even language means "Valley of Death". Kadykchan is located near the Kolyma Highway. It is visible to all passers-by on the highway. From a distance it looks like a normal town but once you get there you realize that it has been abandoned.
Kadykchan located in a beautiful location, near the confluence of stream into the Arkagala River. The first settlers were miners who came here for the 1930s to develop a nearby coal deposit. Later, a gulag was located here. Among the prisoners who worked the coal mine of Kadykchan was the a writer Varlam Shalamov.
By 1986, more than 10,000 people lived in the village. It had shops, restaurants, a movie theater, cultural center, sauna. With mines supplied fuel for heating throughout Central Kolyma. In 1996, after an explosion in a mine coal mining ceased. People began to leave. In 2003 it was decided to resettle the village, but not everyone wanted to leave. Until 2009, Kadykchane still had about 200 residents. As of 2017, there were only two people.
Some houses are well preserved. Roads and sidewalks also in fair condition. It seems that people left the place very suddenly. Some apartments were left as they were: an open book on the desk; clothes still in a closet. At the entrance is rust-eaten sign that reads: "Cossack". It is still possible to identify the hospital buildings and clinics, the hockey box and the school with a poster that reads: "Welcome to the world of knowledge." In front of the House of Culture is peeling statue of a proletariat leader.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation (official Russia tourism website russiatourism.ru ), Russian government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in September 2020