January 01, 2020

Not the End of the World

Not the End of the World

In the summer of 2010, on the island of Bolshoy Zhuzhmuy in the White Sea, the shortwave radio crackled. And then Nikolai Ageyev, the lighthouse keeper, heard this: “A decision has been made regarding reduction of the number of lighthouses, and your service is being terminated.” For Nikolai and his wife Lyudmila, who had been working as caretakers of Zhuzhmuy lighthouse for seven years, the news was devastating.

Prior to this cutback, there had been several dozen lighthouses on the White Sea under the navy’s purview. Zhuzhmuy – one of the oldest in Russia – had been lighting the way for ships since 1871. First it was a wooden structure, later it was rebuilt out of steel. Each lighthouse has its own unique call sign and flash frequency. Zhuzhmuy’s sign was “wineglass,” and it flashed a series of four blinks, each lasting four seconds. Its beacon was visible from 30 kilometers away.

Nikolai was the third generation of lighthouse keepers in his family, following in the footsteps of his grandfather and father. He was even born at the lighthouse. Since his parents could not immediately travel to the mainland to register their son’s birth, he is “officially” a month younger than his true age (his birth certificate gives January 13, 1958, as his birthday rather than the actual date: December 13, 1957).

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