Vorkuta: the saddest city in the world

Let’s imagine a city perpetually covered in a blanket of snow, where winters are characterized by their extreme severity, with temperatures dropping to -50 degrees Celsius. In addition, it experiences a 40-day period of darkness due to the phenomenon of the polar night, and the simple act of traveling through its streets becomes a challenging experience due to the strong winds. That’s right, Vorkutá, the saddest city in the world, classified as such, due to its turbulent history and its current state of abandonment.

This is what it looks like today, Vorkuta, the saddest city in the world
Why do they say that Vorkuta is the saddest city in the world?

Vorkutá is located in Siberia, in the Arctic Circle. A 10-hour train ride through a wild and very desolate landscape.

As is also devastating, the history of this city. It was not born as a city, but as a Gulag, that is, a prison where prisoners were forced to work in an inhumane manner. Far from it all, the possibility of escape did not exist.

Its beginnings date back to 1932, when they created the largest Gulag within the Arctic Circle. Its function was mining, and it still is today, although coal extraction is no longer as profitable as in the past.

History of the Vorkuta Gulag

Most of the prisoners in this place were intellectuals and opponents of the Soviet regime. Their families established the city in 1943. Abuse and terrible living conditions characterized the site.

Vorkuta Gulag
Vorkuta Gulag – Wikipedia

When Stalin died, there was an uprising against the forced conditions to which the prisoners were subjected. This happened in 1953 and 42 people died. Near one of the abandoned mines, today you can visit the unnamed graves of those people. With the dissolution of the USSR, some of the mines were worked by free citizens, and many others were closed and then abandoned.

Vorkuta today

The city took the same name from the river that flows through it. Vorkutá, in the Komi language means “many bears”, since before the arrival of men there was a large population of bears. During the Gulag, it housed nearly 70,000 prisoners, all of them opponents of the Soviet.

Due to its geographical location, Vorkutá experiences the polar night. For 40 days in winter the sun does not reach the horizon, it is simply night. Although during summers, the sun does not set for several days.

The city still has a certain charm from the past, as it preserves its old advertising signs and monuments from another era. Although it is only for tourism, since the current economic policy led them to a recession where more and more people leave Verkutá to look for other opportunities.

In the last three decades, three-quarters of the population deserted. Currently less than 50,000 people live there.

However, the only means of subsistence for the city’s few remaining inhabitants is coal mining. Many neighborhoods are deserted, with abandoned buildings and homes and streets where no one walks.

Vorkutá is considered a monument to human temperance. The few residents, who operate the mines that remain open, formed cooperatives for their subsistence.

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