It’s fall in Yakutsk, the jeweled city of eastern Russia, and it’s cold — really cold. Frost-bitten and paralyzed by brutally low temperatures nearly year-round, the city moves at a crawl, its people scrambling from one heated enclosure to the next in an attempt to carry out daily life without succumbing to the devastatingly frigid conditions.
But the residents of Yakutsk are accustomed to this environment. They endure bleak, eight-month winters that rival those within the Arctic Circle, with temperatures dropping to as low as minus 64C (minus 83F). They’re no strangers to extremes — this is Siberia, after all.
With its 200,000-plus population, Yakutsk sits in the Sakha Republic of northeastern Russia and holds the title of the world’s coldest city. Coming into prominence in the late 1800s, the city grew out of industrialization and the discovery of gold and precious minerals, including a wealth of diamonds, beneath its perpetually frozen permafrost surface.
Yakutsk is linked to the rest of the world via Yakutsk airport and the Lena River, where a ferry operates in the short summer months. During the winter when the river’s surface is frozen, the Lena Highway, built by inmates from the gulag prison system, serves as the primary method of transport to and from the city, though the nearby Kerdyom Railway station officially opens for business this week.
Fur is the fashion in Yakutsk, with everyone donning nature’s insulation to weather the blistering cold. Rabbit, Arctic fox and reindeer furs are harvested and manufactured locally for coats, hats, boots and other garments for defense against the hostile temperatures.
In a place like Yakutsk, one must do the best with what one has, and that includes putting horses on the menu for sustenance. Horse heads, hearts, steaks and sausages are local delicacies.
The most important staple of Yakutsk cuisine is, of course, the soul and countenance warming shot of vodka.