How is like to live in Siberia?

Like to live Siberia
Like to live Siberia

Like to live Siberia

Siberia is a very big geographical region of northern Russia. It is also known as North Asia. Siberia has historically been a part of modern Russia since the 16th and 17th centuries. I have got a chance to grow up in a small town (10,000 people, you may even call it a village) in the Western Siberia. Here I want to clear that Siberia is divided into two parts by a river named the Yenisei River.

These parts are known as Western Siberia and Eastern Siberia.

Siberia contains almost 77% part of Russia’s land area, but it covers the population of just 40 million people i.e. 27% of the country’s population. This is equivalent to an average population density of about 3 inhabitants per square kilometer. It is approximately the same as in Australia. It makes Siberia one of the most sparsely populated regions on Earth. If it were a country by itself, it would still be the largest country in area, but in population, it would be the world’s 35th-largest and Asia’s 14th-largest. My native place is located very far from any big city. People there mostly live very simple and traditional life. Let me tell you about that.

Winter comes early

Siberia is a land of ice. Here winter comes early. At the start of October, It starts snowing and in a few weeks, everything is covered with heavy snow which stays till the end of February. In winter most of the streets would look like on the picture below. The authorities would send special cars to clean up the roads but you have to clean work by yourself and clean around your own house. It could be very frustrating to spend a few hours clearing up the way from the house to the main road (snow is very heavy) and then a sudden snowfall would cover it all once again.

In December and January temperature could decrease down to -35 to -45C. In those days children were allowed to skip the school and stay back in the home. Those were happy days, as you can imagine. Also, in January schools would close up for a week for so-called “quarantine” when there was a high risk to catch flu. If you weren’t sick it was fun. In those days we did not have computers so children played outside any time of the year. In winter we would play snowballs, go skiing or ice skating. But the most favorite activity was sledding down the hill! Adults would make a snow hill on nearly every street around and children would spend whole days sledding down on their snow racers, school bags or their butts. Making a snowman was also a thing. Adults had their own entertainment like ice fishing. It’s when you go to a frozen river/lake, break the ice and freeze your butt sitting there and hoping to catch some fish.

How did we keep our houses warm?

Modern buildings would have a heating system, but my house was a traditional one. So we had a pech (oven). It looked like one on the picture below. Every morning we would put coal and firewood inside, fire it up and soon the whole house would become warm. The oven worked as a cooker as well. We had an electric stove too, but let me tell that nothing beats the taste of food cooked over the real fire!

Though from my words winter sounds like a lot of fun but in fact seeing snow for five months per year is pretty tiring. For me as a child, summer was the happiest season. Warm days in my place last from mid-May to mid-August. Temperature stays between 20-25C (pretty extreme if you compare it to -35C in January). There were many lakes, rivers, and hills around my hometown. We used to spend a lot of time swimming and playing in the water. The water was never really warm but that didn’t matter. We swam anyway.

We used to go to forests surrounding our place to gather berries (mostly strawberry, raspberry, and blueberry) and mushrooms. In those days every street would smell like jam because in every house women would boil berries in water with sugar to make varenye and then keep it in jars till winter. Most of our foods would be preserved in different ways as there was no way to get fresh stuff in cold months.

We had a lot of our own land that we used for gardening and growing vegetables. Taking care of the land and plants would take most of the summer. Harvest season came in September. Then all the vegetables would be kept in a cellar, beneath our house, where the temperature was very low even in the hottest days of summer.

Siberia is huge and very less populated than the Western part of Russia. There are many large cities (like Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Tomsk, Omsk) but the distances between places are very large. When I left my place to study in the nearest big city, the capital of my state, I would travel for 5 hours on a bus through a forest. On the way the bus would pass 3–4 tiny villages – the rest was empty fields and forests. Again, in winter, when the temperature was especially low (like -35) trips would get canceled because there was a risk for the bus to break and then people would be in danger to freeze.

There is a common joke that in Siberia bears walk on the streets. Well, this is not true. Although I did play once with a bear when I was 14. My friend’s parents had found an abandoned baby bear in a forest (they had gone there for hunting or fishing). They brought the baby home and while they were arranging how to bring the bear to a zoo we all got a chance to play with her (it was a female bear) and take pictures (unfortunately, I do not have them in my laptop).

So this is how life used to be in a small Siberian town 10–15 years ago. The lifestyle is slowly changing and the infrastructure is developing. Yet the harshness of winter and the beauty of nature is still same.

– Anna Stepanova  

Read some more facts about Siberia

  • I lived in a remote Siberian town throughout their winter and the temperatures remained below -20C for most of the winter, and on very cold days, it would go below -40C as well.
  • Layers upon Layers. If you can put in a thin shirt underneath your fur coats, you put it in.
  • There are no veggies to eat. There are no fruits. Those who can afford them, are usually the oligarchs who come to visit their mansions for fun. Canada might have, because it has world’s largest food producer just next to it. Fatty meats, milks fats, milk, and some roots and tubers. Some people also preserve and pickle all kinds of veggies during the summer.
  • Your lungs burn. The air is so dry, every breath you breathe out, will push water out of your body. The lungs can become dry, and then every breath burns. You might want to replenish the fluids in your body, even when you’re inside. Light alcohol, helps. Of course, then the legendary vodka. But once the alcohol effects are dimmed, you feel more cold. So you need to keep drinking.
  • In remote areas, nights can get dark. People will not have windows, and if anyone has they will fill it up with winter’s covers, which basically means putting several wood boards. Nights are dark. Pitch black dark if you get even about 100 meters away from the civilization. You can’t see your own hands or body. You need to have sufficient lighting. The more batteries the better.
  • You don’t have diesel stuff at all, unless it is specially designed. You should have gas generators, gas cars, gas everything. Diesel will gell up, diesel engines can’t start combustion, or there must be specially designed engines, which have spark plugs. You don’t shut off the car unless you get everything you need. You will sometimes need to heat up the car before starting it, because it just won’t start.
  • Meat. You don’t waste any body parts. You will clean off the large intestine of all the poop and eat whatever part is edible. You eat the heart, brains, and even break up the bones sometimes for the marrow. Of a horse or a reindeer out of a 100kg carcass, 20kg is the highest amount that should go waste. The skins, are used. The most expert folks will be able to reduce the wastage 16–18kg. The amazing thing is, eating up all the body parts, ensures that people are never ever deficient in any macro or micro nutrients.
  • Metal is no good. If the temperatures drop, the metal can become brittle. It doesn’t conserve heat. It conducts heat too well. Wood. Wood. Wood. Your body will stick to metal. Wood is the way to go. You can’ burn metal. You can burn wood.
  • You don’t keep fuel in your home. Fuel means wood. Butane and propane are cute. But you don’t have enough to stock up for the entire winter. Once winter starts, you can’t get more either. You can always go into the forests and get more wood.
  • You learn to kill and clean a carcass. Really. Deer, horse, and whatever animal you come across.
  • You don’t want to sweat. So you don’t heat your home too much. You sweat, you die. You want to work hard, okay. BUT DO NOT SWEAT. SWEAT = DEATH. Sweat will go into your clothes. Water is a good conductor of heat, way better than air. You will get cold. If you sweat too much, your clothes will freeze and stick to your skin. The sweat ice will kill you in a few hours. If you sweat, wipe it off, and if you’re in home and you sweat, open the door to cool down the home. YOU DON’T SWEAT.
  • Home. Home does not mean a 3 bedroom American suburban house. It means a 300 sqft wood cabin. A single room, with some walls strategically placed around the door, to not let the cold air in. More rooms means more wood to heat everything. Wood is not infinite. You need to go into the forest with a few people, where 60% will keep a watch, 20% will cut, and the remaining 20% will do the odd jobs and gathering, cutting up of the trees felled. You can also sweat while cutting wood. YOU DON’T want to go for wood in middle of the winter. So, a single room cabin.
  • Sex isn’t taboo. It’s the same as America was during the period of settlers moving west. You will probably see your parents going at it. No worries, you’re not the weird one. The weird one is who’s not seen sex.
  • There aren’t any jobs. Survival is your job.
  • If you’re from a city like Miami, or from California, where the temperature doesn’t go below 0C, and it’s hot and humid, you can’t live here, without climate acclimatization. You need to move north, slowly, spend a winter and then move further north. You can die from the cold, if you aren’t acclimatized.

That is the gist of what I was able to learn about living in extreme cold.

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