Norilsk.  The saddest city in the world straight from a science fiction movie

Norilsk is a city located in Krasnoyarsk Krai in the Asian part of Russia. The city is located in the Yenisei Basin on the western edge of the Central Siberian Highlands, 300 km north of the Arctic Circle. Norilsk is surrounded by tundra and is one of the most northerly cities in the world.

The city functions as an island. Served by Aykiele Airport. There are no roads that lead to Russia from Norilsk. There is only one road up to Dudinka nad Yenisei. There is also a freight railway between Norilsk and the port of Dudinka. Goods are transported by ship across the Arctic Ocean and on the Yenisei River.

Currently, Norilsk is inhabited by approximately 182,000 people. That’s quite a lot, considering that the city is located in a very hostile place that causes depression to hundreds of people every year.


In Norilsk, due to the climate, there are very cold winters, when the temperature drops to minus 50 degrees Celsius. Summer is short, although during the year there are also hot days, when thermometers show up to 30 degrees. However, this is rare. Clouds cover the sky several days a year, and there is massive snowfall (up to 270 days on the RAW). A big problem for Norilsk residents is the polar night, which lasts for a full 44 calendar days and begins at the end of November and ends in the middle of January. Due to the lack of sunlight, children were once exposed to special UV lamps.

Norilsk is a very important place on the economic map of Russia. And precisely because of the huge importance of the raw materials that are extracted and processed there, people who do not have Russian citizenship are prohibited from entering the city (some entrepreneurs from Belarus are an exception). About half a million tons of copper are mined annually in Norilsk, half a million tons of nickel alone and 2 million tons of sulfur dioxide. Cobalt, platinum and palladium are also mined. Norilsk is one of the most polluted places on Earth. Life expectancy is several years shorter than in the rest of Russia.


Norilsk was founded in the late 1920s. The official date of the town’s founding is 1935, when the settlement was expanded to meet the needs of the nascent mining and mineral complex. Norilsk became the center of the entire gulag structure in the region. The city was built, to a large extent, by prisoners of labor camps. Norilsk received city rights in 1953. Many residents of Norilsk today are the descendants of former prisoners of Soviet camps.

Mining of the deposits around Norilsk began in 1939. Before this happened, a railway was built to Dudinka, with which goods were transported along the Yenisei River. In the early 1950s, the Soviets had plans to build a railway from Norilsk deep into Russia, but the concept collapsed after Stalin’s death in 1953. Prisoners worked as slaves – and died – in the Norilsk mines until 1979. In June 2020, disaster struck Environmental, as 20 thousand tons of diesel fuel spilled into the Ambarnaya River.

Norilsk remains, de facto, a city cut off from the rest of the world. Due to the difficulty of getting out and entering the city, the authorities can control the flow of people without any major hindrances.

The city’s future is uncertain. Many residents would like to leave them. Old buildings also pose a problem, as they were largely built on permafrost on high stilts, causing their slippage and subsequent construction disasters.

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