The most difficult

places to live

in Russia

Living here is almost impossible, but a one-off trip is the dream of many.

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1. Novaya Zemlya archipelago, Arctic Ocean

(1,800 km from Moscow)

Polar bear on land in the polar day period. Novaya Zemlya archipelago

Legion Media

Just imagine: you take out the trash and encounter a bear. Yes, there are places in Russia where this stereotype is true. One of them is Belushya Guba, a village on Novaya Zemlya, where residents live check by hairy jowl with these cuddly creatures. Novaya Zemlya is an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean with a population of just 2,500 people. In February 2019, an emergency situation was declared when bears invaded the residential area in search of food — they entered residential buildings, foraged in trashcans, and some even attacked people. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt.

Besides nosy bears, locals are acclimatized to the fierce Arctic winds and snowdrifts that can reach two storeys high. If that happens, people leave their apartments through a window. Flights to the nearest city, Arkhangelsk, are forever being canceled due to bad weather, so be prepared for a week-long wait or more.

2. Oymyakon, Yakutia (9,000 km from Moscow)

Aerial Of Oymyakon Town, Siberia

Getty Images

The village of Oymyakon is officially the coldest place in Russia, where the temperature can drop to a bracing -60C.

Locals wear thick fur coats not for show, but survival. Eyelashes quickly become covered with hoarfrost, and children have to pop in and out of shops on their way to school to get warm. Motorists install double-glazed windows in their cars, wrap the engines in blankets, and never turn them off on the road — the chances of getting stuck in the middle of a wintry wasteland are too great.

3. Norilsk, Krasnoyarsk Territory (2,800 km from Moscow)

Aurora Borealis, Norilsk

Getty Images

Take -60C cold, add factories pumping out all kinds of filth, and you get not the perfect holiday destination, but the setting for the next installment in the Fallout series. Norilsk has the dubious honor of often ranking as the most polluted city in Russia (and sometimes the world). Platinum, gold, silver, nickel, and copper are all mined here, hence the not-so-fresh air and post-apocalyptic landscapes.

But if you’re a fan of polar nights, you can enjoy them here for 45 days a year (beat that, St Pete). Norilsk has no overland connections with other cities. Another peculiarity is the regular phenomenon known as the “Black Snowstorm” — a strong wind with speeds of more than 40 m/s, which then turns into a hurricane capable of knocking people off their feet. Some residents suffer from depression brought on by the darkness and constant cold.

4. Kurush, Dagestan (1,700 km from Moscow)

Mountain village sky Kurush onair skyline mountscape caucasus

Legion Media

This small village in southern Dagestan lies at an altitude of 2,560 meters above sea level, and is officially the highest mountain settlement in Europe. Tourists at this altitude often lack oxygen. Snow periodically sweeps the roads, severing Kurush from the outside world for weeks on end.

To survive, locals grow potatoes and raise sheep, which literally save the village from extinction — the sheep provide both wool for clothes and milk for food, including homemade cheese.

The local school has trouble finding teachers, since not everyone enjoys being so far from civilization. However, Kurush has a cult following among tourists and climbers, who use it as a base for ascents of the stunning peaks of the Caucasus Mountains. 

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