Drone footage shows spectacular view of ghost town frozen in time
Striking images from the Arctic offer a rare glimpse into a deserted coal-mining town from the Soviet era, showing what it looks like when people leave and Mother Nature takes over.
These abandoned buildings in the old coal-mining town of Vorkuta in the Komi Republic, Russia, were covered in snow on March 6, 2021.
Situated in the frozen tundra just north of the Arctic Circle, an abandoned mining city in northwest Russia appeared to be frozen in time with homes invaded by ice, buildings blanketed by snow and intricate icicles hanging from chandeliers.
Drone footage and striking images shot in March 2021 show aerial and up-close views of the eerie landscape where buildings and vehicles were left camouflaged in snow as far as the eye could see following recent brutally cold temperatures.
Temperatures that plunge as low as minus-60 degrees Fahrenheit aren’t uncommon in the coldest winter months for this once-thriving coal-mining city called Vorkuta.
Every winter, the snow and ice take over what used to be people’s dining rooms, living rooms and bedrooms in Soviet-era housing blocks. To see how this extreme weather has taken its toll on the scores of these once-lavish abandoned structures, Moscow-based photographer Maria Passer traveled to the deserted, ice-covered region and captured a trove of incredible one-of-a-kind images.
Vorkuta was once a flourishing city, although the genesis for how the hundreds of thousands came to settle there over the years is a disturbing part of its history. Prisoners were forced to mine the region for coal from the 1930s to 1950s. At its peak, the city had 13 functional mines, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. After Josef Stalin's death in 1953, thousands of ex-prisoners under the brutal Gulag system were released, and officials in Vorkuta were left with the daunting task of replacing the mining workforce.
"To attract miners to live in hard climate conditions, the salaries here were really good," Passer told CNN Travel.
People moved from across the USSR to the area for mining jobs in the later years of the Soviet Union, CNN reported.
Decades later, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and eventual shuttering of most of the coal mines, unemployment and extremely cold weather caused many to leave, turning some of these communities into ghost towns. A former "metropolis" that once boasted a population of nearly 250,000 in the 1980s, this dwindling remote area of Russia is now home to fewer than 60,000 people -- and four remaining mines.
"It's really a tragedy that many people have to leave their houses and to go to live somewhere else," Passer said in an interview with CNN Travel. “But these locations, they have an abandoned beauty. I'm trying to see this, and to show this, in my pictures."
Passer spent three weeks in early 2021 photographing ghost towns and villages around Vorkuta, according to CNN.
AccuWeather Meteorologist Adam Douty said the conditions depicted in the images is an extreme case of hoar frost, when a grayish-white crystalline deposit of frozen water vapor form in clear still weather on vegetation and structures, among other things.
“The area sees a large amount of snow compared to other parts of Siberia. This means that there can be higher amounts of moisture in the air, which can freeze to surfaces. This is most likely what creates the ice on all of the abandoned structures,” Douty said.
According to Douty, if any moisture comes into contact with the sub-freezing surfaces, ice crystals, such as the ones pictured, will form.
“As far as the ice and snow getting into the buildings, it looks like many of the windows are broken or removed which would be an easy access point. Even small cracks in the walls would let in moisture during snowstorms, and even snow can blow through these little cracks,” Douty said.
The area has been below freezing since early November 2020, barring four days that rose just above freezing for a few hours.
“Climatologically, the area sees temperatures remain below freezing until April or May, on average, so the ice and snow will likely not melt anytime soon," Douty said. "During the heart of winter, temperatures can dip as low as 60 degrees below zero, but daily high temperatures average more consistently around 0 degrees.”
Passer told CNN that she hopes her photographs shine a light on life in that corner of the world.
"When I explored this iced building, I had two thoughts: 'Oh my gosh! It's disastrous' and 'Oh my gosh, it's breathtaking!'"
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