UARU
Inside the Russian Town That Wants a Bridge Just Like Crimea’s
12 July, 2018

The Ukrainian film director and political prisoner Oleg Sentsov is currently serving 20 years in a penal colony in the town of Labytnangi in Russia. Across the Ob River from Labytnangi, there is another Russian town, Salekhard.  

Checkpoint at the Salekhard–Labytnangi ferry crossing over the Ob River, Salekhard, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia, 06.07.2018. Photo: Anna Tsygyma/Hromadske

Ferry operators at the Salekhard–Labytnangi ferry crossing over the Ob River, Salekhard, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia, 06.07.2018. Photo: Anna Tsygyma/Hromadske

Security guard at the Salekhard–Labytnangi ferry port on the Ob River, Salekhard, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia, 06.07.2018. Photo: Anna Tsygyma/Hromadske

Each town has reasons to envy the other one. Salekhard has an airport, while Labytnangi has a railway. But going from one town to another does not always go swimmingly and here’s why. 

There is no bridge connecting Labytnangi and Salekhard. Locals have to rely on 24-hour ferry service. The fare depends on the capacity of the vehicle: travelling on a motorbike or a moped is the cheapest at around $1.5, while heavy goods vehicles can pay around $128. Foot passengers ride for free. 

Salekhard–Labytnangi ferry port on the Ob River, Salekhard, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia, 06.07.2018. Photo: Anna Tsygyma/Hromadske

Yakov is a ferry operator on the Salekhard-Labytnangi route. Salekhard, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia, 06.07.2018. Photo: Anna Tsygyma/Hromadske

Crossing the river gets problematic once the summer is over. And in Labytnangi, the first snow comes in August. Road traffic stops before the frost sets in, but starts again once the temporary ice road opens.

Checkpoint at the Salekhard–Labytnangi ferry crossing over the Ob River, Salekhard, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia, 06.07.2018. Photo: Anna Tsygyma/Hromadske

Cars crossing over the Ob River on a ferry. Salekhard, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia, 06.07.2018. Photo: Anna Tsygyma/Hromadske

The hardest times are during ice drifts. When the water begins to melt, and the ice has not fully opened up yet, travelling between Salekhard and Labytnangi is only possible by helicopter. The flight costs close to $16. Goods deliveries, including those carrying food supplies, cease. But they are prepared for this in Yamal and stock up in advance.     

A captain of one of the ferries  at the Salekhard–Labytnangi ferry crossing over the Ob River, Salekhard, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia, 06.07.2018. Photo: Anna Tsygyma/Hromadske

Salekhard–Labytnangi ferry port on the Ob River, Salekhard, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia, 06.07.2018. Photo: Anna Tsygyma/Hromadske

People are not able to get to work or school in the neighboring town when this occurs. And those who were not able to make it home before the ice starts to drift have to stay in hostels or hotels.

When the sheet ice breaks into small pieces, locals are able to cross the river by hovercraft. This is a solution to the transport problem, but it’s not ideal.  

A morning in Labytnangi. Salekhard–Labytnangi ferry port on the Ob River, Salekhard, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia, 06.07.2018. Photo: Anna Tsygyma/Hromadske

The residents of both Salekhard and Labytnangi have been waiting for a bridge over the river for a long time. The authorities have been promising it for 10 years. They are in talks about starting construction next year.  

Fishermen on the Ob River bank next to the Salekhard–Labytnangi ferry port, Salekhard, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia, 06.07.2018. Photo: Anna Tsygyma/Hromadske

A cargo port on the left bank of the Ob River in the vicinity of Labytnangi, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia, 06.07.2018. Photo: Anna Tsygyma/Hromadske

A police officer crossing over the Ob River on a ferry. Salekhard, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russia, 06.07.2018. Photo: Anna Tsygyma/Hromadske

Some inhabitants of these Yamal towns believe that they will get their bridge eventually, others do not. However, they both look towards Crimea in envy, and how quickly the bridge connecting Russia with the annexed Ukrainian peninsula appeared.  

/By Nataliya Kaplan and Anna Tsygyma

/Translated and adapted by Sofia Fedeczko and Maria Romanenko