The region of Yakutia
JAkutien, also known as Sacha, is not only the largest republic within the Russian Federation, but also the world’s most gigantic territorial subunit – no US state, no Australian or Canadian territory is larger. The whole of Germany would fit into Yakutia almost nine times.
With just one million inhabitants, the Far Eastern region is one of the most sparsely populated areas on the planet. This is mainly due to the climate: “We are nine months a year cold and three months extremely cold,” say the people here, although in June, July and August it can sometimes be over 20 degrees. Then, however, there are myriads of mosquitos on the way, which makes the Yakut summer less attractive.
The colonization of Yakutia by Russia began at the beginning of the 17th century, which was accompanied by a massive Christianization of the indigenous people. In the tsarist empire the indigenous peoples of the region such as Yakuts, Evens, Evenks and Dolgans were still clearly in the majority, but in the Soviet era hundreds of thousands of Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians poured into Yakutia, so that the indigenous people became a minority in their own country.
That changed only after the fall of communism. Today the Yakuts are the largest ethnic group, the Turkish-speaking Yakut is the official language alongside Russian.
The coldest places in the world
Yakutia is Siberia’s cold chamber. Because of the permafrost, the temperatures here are below zero from October to April, mostly in the double-digit range. The places Verkhoyansk and Oymyakon registered minus 67.8 degrees in 1892 and 1933 respectively, they are officially recognized as the cold pole of all inhabited areas on earth.
The temperatures mean that neither fruit nor vegetables can be grown, and everything that is offered in the markets is automatically frozen, including freshly caught fish. If you go out with glasses on, you run the risk of freezing to your skin. Locals post photos of their white frozen eyelashes on Instagram.
The freezing cold also affects everyday life: because the frosty ground makes it virtually impossible to lay drainage pipes, the outhouse rate is high. And if you don’t have a heated garage for your car, you can let the engine run in the cold months, otherwise it wouldn’t start again.
As a home remedy for the cold, the locals recommend Russki Chai – Russian tea. In fact, it means vodka.
Diamond auctioned for $ 26.6 million
Around a seventh of all diamonds worldwide come from the soils of Yakutia, and the Russian state earns billions with them every year. A pink stone found in 2017 brought in a 14-carat cut called Spirit of the Rose on November 11, 2020 in the auction house Sotheby’s for the record sum of 26.6 million US dollars.
It is the largest purple and pink diamond ever to be auctioned. It took a year to sand and polish.
The rocks are a Unesco World Heritage Site
The Lena, at 4,294 kilometers a good three times as long as the Rhine, is the longest river in Russia. Your most spectacular section begins around 150 kilometers southwest of the republic’s capital, Yakutsk: the Lena Columns – up to 300 meters high, vertically towering rock formations that stretch over 80 kilometers in the otherwise flat land on the south bank.
The bizarre spikes were created more than 400 million years ago by uplifting tectonic plates, and since 2012 they have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the summer, river cruise ships sail from Yakutsk to the pillars.
Stalin cult despite labor camps in Siberia
Two Stalin monuments were erected in Yakutia in the 21st century: Monument number one has stood in the mining town of Mirny since 2005, the mayor cheered the dictator on the occasion of the unveiling as the “great son of Russia”.
Monument number two was erected in 2013 in Yakutsk, the capital of the republic, to pay tribute to Stalin’s role in the victory over Nazi Germany. The fact that Stalin had millions of Soviet citizens deported to forced labor camps in Siberia, including many in Gulags in Yakutia, was no reason for the authorities to stop the Stalin cult. Not even for Vladimir Putin, who was Russian President in 2005 and 2013.
The polar bear among the horses
The stocky Yakut is practically the polar bear among horses: He defies temperatures down to minus 70 degrees. The small horse is able to find grass under a thick blanket of snow, has short limbs and small ears, which is helpful in cold weather, as is the winter coat with hair up to 15 centimeters long.
The local Yakuts use the Yakut for riding, but above all as a meat and milk supplier. Kumys, double-fermented mare’s milk, is a local specialty.
“When God distributed the treasures of the world, his hands froze over Siberia and he dropped a great deal”
This is how a Russian proverb explains Yakutia’s enormous mineral wealth. On the one hand, this includes gemstones – in addition to diamonds, for example, the violet gemstone charoite and the emerald-like chrome diopside.
On the other hand, the soil contains around 30 percent of Russian coal and rich deposits of gold, oil, gas, iron and ores. Due to the extreme climate, the mining has only partially started.
Quirky, record-breaking, typical: You can find more parts of our regional geography series here.
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