Sep/Oct 2018 Current Moscow Time: 06:28:03
22 September 2018

  The world’s biggest country, in a magazine. Since 1956.

Hunting the Kola Super Deep Borehole

Author: Paul E. Richardson
Illustrations/Images by Mikhail Mordasov

May/June 2016
Page 38   ( 8 pages)

Summary: Last fall, Russian Life editor Paul Richardson and photojournalist Mikhail Mordasov set off on a Kickstarter-funded, month-long, 6,000-kilometer road trip between Russia’s northern and southern borders.


To say Nikel is dirty or ugly would be an insult to the words. We could also insult grubby, dilapidated, run-down and sad.

Nikel is not a pleasant place.

On our way into town we stop alongside a small lake with some unclassifiable, live birds floating on the surface. From this distance, there is nothing even remotely attractive about Nikel, set as it is into the blackened hills, surrounded by massive, toxic tailing piles, the towers of the nickel refining plant spewing sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere.

Officially designated as a “settlement of the municipal variety” (??????? ?????????? ????), Nikel and its 12,000 residents are located just seven kilometers from the border with Norway, in Russia’s Pechenga region. This area originally began to be incorporated into Russia in 1533, after the Novgorodian monk Tryphon (now revered as a saint) established a monastery on the Barents Sea. His goal was to evangelize the local Sami Skolts tribe, to show that Christianity could flourish even in the harshest of conditions. And flourish the monastery did. By the time of Tryphon’s death, some 250 monks and lay followers were living an ascetic existence along these frigid shores.

Six years later, at the start of the Swedish-Russian War, Finnish troops under Swedish command (Finland then being part of Sweden) decimated the monastery and murdered 116 monks and lay followers. The monastery was moved east and would not be restored in its original location until 1886.

Over the next two centuries, the region remained sparsely settled, largely by Sami and by Pomors who emigrated here from the South. The border began to be established in the first part of the nineteenth century when, in 1809, as the result of the Finnish War between Sweden and Russia, Finland became a principality of the Russian empire. Just over a decade later, in 1826, the 196-kilometer border with Norway was also established.

When the First World War ended and the Russian Empire crumbled, Finland declared its independence, codified in the 1920 Treaty of Tartu, in which Bolshevik Russia ceded much of the Pechenga region (which the Finns called Petsamo) in exchange for two regions in Eastern Karelia.

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