In March Hromadske and Oleg Sentsov’s cousin Nataliya Kaplan traveled to the town of Labytnangi, located on the Yamal peninsula in the Russian Arctic. Here, in the White Bear colony, on May 14, Sentsov announced a hunger strike. His sole demand for the end of it is the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners being held in Russian prisons.
Sentsov refuses meetings. He says that it’s easier for him that way. But we didn’t go to Labytnangi just to see where exactly Sentsov is being held – we also wanted to find a lawyer who could come to the colony quickly, as well as someone who would agree to deliver packages to the prisoner. However, doing this wasn’t easy. Yamal is a Gazprom territory: locals depend on their employer, often live in company housing and are afraid of risking their position.
The climate in Labytnangi is cold and damp. In March, at the time of our trip, the temperature hovered around -30° C. To get into the city you have to cross the Ob River, which separates Labytnangi from Salekhard – the capital of Yamal. In winter the river freezes and the ice becomes a road.
“I imagine it as a desolate steppe where everything is covered with snow, and there’s a barrack in the middle,” said Oleg Sentsov’s mother Liudmyla in an interview with Hromadske.
Scroll down to see what the place actually looks like.
The mammoth sculpture – the symbol of Salekhard – was installed on the banks of the Ob River near the ferry terminal in 2004. The remains of mammoths are often found in Yamal. The last time archaeologists uncovered them was in 2007. Photo: Anna Tsygyma / Hromadske
Arrival on winter roads. In summer there’s a ferry crossing here. Photo: Anna Tsygyma / Hromadske
Cars crossing the Ob river on ice. On the other bank is Salekhard. Photo: Anna Tsygyma / Hromadske
“Yamal’s Gate.” A construction that adorns the bridge in Salekhard. Photo: Anna Tsygyma / Hromadske
In the summer, the average temperature is 14° С. In the winter, it’s -23° С but it often goes down to -50° С. Photo: Anna Tsygyma / Hromadske
Labytnangi is a city of gas and oil workers, it’s developing quickly but many townspeople continue to live in barracks. Photo: Anna Tsygyma / Hromadske
At the beginning of March the temperature rose to -20° С, the locals rejoiced at the “warm” spring weather. Photo: Anna Tsygyma / Hromadske
These cars are the best kind of transportation in Yamal. Photo: Anna Tsygyma / Hromadske
An ethnographic complex in Gornoknyazevsk. Photo: Anna Tsygyma / Hromadske
Evening in Salekhard. By Russian standards, the majority of people from Yamal live richly. However, in the conditions of the extreme north locals’ health deteriorates quickly. Photo: Anna Tsygyma / Hromadske
Sunset in Salekhard. During the severe frosts in Yamal you can see the northern lights. Photo: Anna Tsygyma / Hromadske