On the White Sea


On the White Sea

On the White Sea




On the White Sea





On the White Sea





On the White Sea










Unezhma, Archangelsk Region, 2007.

Unezhma – a fairy tale name that I heard a couple of years ago, a village to which you should walk 20 km along the path through the woods, till the White Sea; a couple of inhabitants, real coast-dwellers.
During the past couple of years the village died out, the last inhabitant, an elderly woman, died in winter 2006-2007. She was found dead in her house when the spring was coming already. On her grave there is no date of death, neither the day, nor the month.
Once the village was huge and prosperous, men went to sea, women cooked salt and fished flounder along the coasts. During the time of the Soviet Union, the village was considered to have no future because of its location and the programme of relocation of the inhabitants was undertaken. In spite of the fact that some of the people refused to move from the village, the village became extinct anyway. It doesn’t count a single inhabitant anymore and it cannot be found on the map either, but it is still alive.
For the inhabitants of the settlement that bears the same name it became a kind of summer residence. In summer and autumn there live fishermen and hunters from the settlement; some houses are inhibited by people arriving from Murmansk, Onega, Saint-Petersburg, Moscow and even Sidney. In the settlement they always know who is staying in the village at the moment and for how long. There is something in this place that attracts people. Some, having come there once as students, come twenty times in a row each year, dream to repair semi-destroyed houses, to stay over for winter, and, maybe, some day, forever. They say that of all the places on Earth they only can find peace there.
When you get to the village from the settlement, it really seems to be a blessed place.
The settlement itself resembles hell. It used to be an open prison. Everything is built up there without any order or plan. It feels as if everyone who came there built something as he pleased, as if for one day.
The area is not covered by any mobile connection. There is only one telephone in the settlement – at the post office. In the evening a small local train is coming to bring you to the nearest station, and in the morning there is one train that stops by. Only in these moments you can feel some connection to the outer world. Half of the inhabitants of the settlement come to meet this evening train – some to pick up a relative, others – to see off…
I remember how I arrived to the place – amidst night and rain; against the white wall I saw a silhouette of a peeing man spotted out by the headlamp of a truck; the man could hardly stand on his feet…We were going in the open truck of the car; it was jumping as hell; everything I saw was – a couple of houses, then a bare place, then a couple of more houses, some forest, and then – an isolated “farm yard”, ours.
The only occupation in the settlement used to be wood chopping. But nowadays there is almost no wood left in the area.
In the settlement there is nothing that would encourage the development of social life, only a disco in the club. There is no café, no gym, no cinema and no library.
Quite quickly I meet the most marginal inhabitants – they all live a house divided into four “apartments” – they occupy two apartments on one porch – Mormyshka (an idiom that means a “killer”, a small worm or a piece of bread one uses when fishing to attract fish), whose real name is Natasha, is about 45 years old and two Sergeys – one – quite a young man aged 32; the other Sergey is a bit older, he never worked and spent all his life in this house. In the similar house nearby lives Anya, a young woman, a mother of two children. She was deprived of parental rights for alcoholism, her husband took the children and left.
They all live like one family. They eat together, if there is something to eat and drink together. The most significant event in their lives is buying some spirit, all the rest – in between. Another man, whose name is Sergey and whose nickname is “Shaggy” comes to meet Natasha. He has a wife somewhere in a nearby station. And, it seems, he has the way out into the normal life still, but, either it is Natasha who prevents him from going back or lack of will along with alcohol, but he is there almost every day. I’ve never seen a scene that would equal the one when Natasha was persuading him to get up and follow her to her part of the house, and he wouldn’t go, and she would cry and say she loved him.
Each of them has his own “job”. Natasha goes to one elderly lady to fill the buckets with water for the bathhouse, then to pull weeds in the vegetable garden of the other one. Two Sergeys go to the railroad to carry railway sleepers; the other Sergey and Anya go to saw firewood and dig potatoes.
The school is situated in the barrack, the former dormitory. There are a couple of schoolchildren in each grade. Two first-grade students, one of whom left back for the second time. The First of September, the Day of Knowledge, is the first school day in Russia. The ceremony is held in the club - a badly lit hall, mothers, grandmothers and schoolteachers. The head of the school is reading out the official order about the admission to the first grade, then – some poems read by children without any expression. Not a single smile, a single word pronounced with warmth. In the end of the ceremony – pencil-cases for the first-graders and the hymn of Russia. And again false and hypocritical words. And the school seems to resemble a camp rather than a school and one feels like crying about the happy present and promising future of these children of the huge and great country, looking at everything it was able to give them.
At the same time in a small cabin around the corner some men are cooking samogon; they are the fathers and grandfathers of these children.