As temperatures dip below 30 degrees Fahrenheit, the rivers of Russia’s Arctic north freeze solid. While for most it’s an excuse to stay indoors, winter is when the trucking business comes to life.
Truck drivers ferrying supplies to the farthest, coldest reaches of Russia hop into their vehicles and drive over those frozen arteries. The work is dangerous — especially as the ice eventually melts and thins — and lonely.
Photographer Amos Chapple of Radio Free Europe joined one young truck driver on a 12-day journey to deliver groceries to Russia’s Arctic north. See what their experience was like.
Ruslan Dorochenkov, 28, loves cursing, heavy metal music, his kids, and his religion. For eight years, he’s risked his life on Siberia’s ice highway.
On this particular journey, he was tasked with delivering groceries from Yakutsk to the Arctic town of Belaya Gora. This type of gig typically pays about $ 600.
The trip began in a warehouse outside Yakutsk, where pasta, cooking oil, soft drinks, and pounds of chocolate croissants were loaded into the truck. It weighed 25 tons.
Dorochenkov hit the Kolyma Highway in the late afternoon, accompanied by another young man who offered help on the journey in exchange for free passage.
The Kolyma Highway goes by another name: The Road of Bones. Tens of thousands of gulag prisoners died constructing it during the Stalin era, and their bones are buried underneath.
When night fell, they slept with the engine and heaters running. Temperatures drop so low in Siberia, they carry a blowtorch in case vehicle parts need to thaw.
At the halfway point, they arrived at the Indigirka River. “Once frozen, the river serves as a kind of magic carpet, allowing access to areas of the Sakha Republic virtually impossible to see any other way,” Chapple writes for Radio Free Europe.
Later, they approached a hole in the ice the size of a truck. Dorochenkov braked hard and threw the truck into reverse, saying, “That’s fresh.”
Some have died falling into the ice. Dorochenkov keeps a photo of a friend’s truck. “He was lucky,” he told Chapple. “If it goes through nose-first, you’re screwed.”
Life on the ice highway has its perks. At 3 a.m., Chapple awoke to this magnificent sight of Aurora borealis. Dorochenkov called it a “message from the universe.”
Exhausted and in desperate need of a shower, Dorochenkov never fails to stop when he sees a trucker in trouble. It’s “just what you do” on the ice road, he said.
Five days later, he arrived in Belaya Gora, a town of 2,000 residents who rely on his services. Lucky for them, Dorochenkov said the ice road runs in his blood.
Read the rest of Chapple’s harrowing account here.