July 01, 2015

The Enchantment of Kimzha

Most maps do not show Kimzha, a rural hamlet in northeast Arkhangelsk oblast, though it stands near the intersection of two rivers, the Mezen and the much smaller Kimzha. Its population varies between winter and summer: a couple of hundred in the winter, and a hundred or so more during the summer, when relatives visit. In this distinctive village, located near the Arctic Circle, people seem to exist in another time.

Kimzha lies buried under severe winter conditions for much of the year and my first experience of the place occurred in early March 2000. The summer prior, in 1999, I had seen a photograph of the Kimzha church, consecrated in the 1760s and dedicated to the Hodegetria Icon of Mary.* It showed five soaring towers and cupolas over a structure of massive larch logs. Friends in Arkhangelsk warned me of the difficulties: the place would be impossible to reach by land in the summer because of the lack of roads, but I was convinced I had to see it for myself.

Formerly, there was limited scheduled transportation by water from Arkhangelsk, but that had ceased with the collapse of state subsidies. Another possibility was to travel by small plane from Arkhangelsk to Mezen. But I wanted to experience the terrain between Arkhangelsk and the Mezen River, and for that I was told of another mode of travel: over a temporary winter road, a zimnik.

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