Answers from Bolot, my Yakutsk penpal


While I was exploring the web for links in my post about my fascination with Yakustk, I found a wonderful set of photos on flickr from bolotwife1Bolot Bochkarev, a journalist in Yakutsk (pictured here with his wife).  This photo below is from his collection (He describes it this way: “Don’t know why in the picture everything appear so muddy. Maybe, my hand was so shaking, because it was cold, minus 40 degrees Celsius. Or fog was too thick. Whatever it might be, but I like the shot.”). I encourage readers to check out his flickr site.  Bolot is a wonderful photographer!


I found I could submit questions to him, so I wrote and referred him to my blog post and asked if he would be willing to answer several questions about the weather.  He soon replied:

“Marie, the perfect post you creаted! much research done! thank you! do not even know what to add 🙂 right now i have throat ache, cаn’t writе much viа mobile. in 2 days ill bе all right and ready to answer your questions. is it ok?  bеst wishеs, bolot.”

After waiting a few days for his recovery, I sent along my many questions, and this morning his answers arrived!  I’m so excited and want to share them with you:

1.  Let’s start with illness, since you just had a sore throat.  Does being in the extreme cold cause illness, especially respiratory illness? Does being indoors a lot spread illness? For example, are there outbreaks of flu when everybody gets sick?

Right, in winter we, locals, must be very careful, wear warm clothes on every occasion, even if we go outdoors for 5-10 minutes. Sometimes we ignore precausions saying ‘Nothing will happen to us, if I spend just a few minutes outside without hat or scarf, or smoke just one cigarette,’ and as result we get all kinds of respiratory illness. Flu outbreaks usually appear with warm spell. When temperature rises from -40C to -20C. We may get flu in public transports, stores, homes, work places. When flu outbreak is registered in the city, kids may have school off and recommended to not visit public places and stay home.

2.  What are indoor temperatures like when it is -50 degrees or so outside? Do people keep their homes on the cool side or very warm?  What is the source of heat for homes?

Indoor temperatures depend on building’s heating system. When it works well, it might be very hot inside. If the system wasn’t prepared good enough for heating season, it might be chilly. By the way, in fall we must insulate windows, i.e. put additional warm layers on windows bars, so cold couldn’t get inside through small fissures. We like when it is warm inside, actually. We get heat from city’s centralized heating system, some from boiler-houses.

3.  How long does it take to get dressed to go outside in the extreme cold?  What do people wear to protect themselves?  Lots of layers?  Furs? Is there a difference in how young people dress compared with older people (one of your flickr photos suggests this might be the case)

I try not to hurry 🙂 So getting dressed may take 8-10 minutes. I wear a shirt, thin sweater, Canada Goose Heli-Arctic Parka, one thick wool pants, ordinary trousers, fur reindeer skin boots, leather hat with warm wool layer inside, warm leather gloves. Ladies prefer huge fur coat, fur hats, high reindeer skin boots. Young people like stylish parkas, actually they worry more about appearance than about keeping themselves in warm.

4.  How much time do people spend outdoors vs. indoors in winter?  How much sunlight do you get? What is the length of daylight right now? Do you celebrate the winter solstice when the days start getting longer again?

In winter we spend most time inside. We try spend time outside only when we are on the way to work, home, shops, etc. Kids stay inside all the day round, or just a few seconds outside enough for reaching a car and getting inside. No, we don’t celebrate the winter solstice. We have Winter Farewell Holiday (that’s the Russian tradition) on the last Sunday in March.

5.  When does the spring thaw usually begin?  What is it like?  How long does it take to thaw and end flooding, etc.?
The spring thaw starts in the midth of April. Intensive melting takes place in the very end of April and the beginning of May. Spring flooding happens from the end of May till the midth of June. This is in the Central Yakutia. Flooding is usually devastating. High waters may wash away houses or even whole villages located on river banks. That’s why EMERCOM (the Russian emergency service) is always on alert in spring, and news agencies always give breaking news from Yakutia like “… families left without houses”. Here is the link to such news
6.  Do many people have pets, like dogs?  If so, how do they fare in winter?
Every fourth family in apartments buildings and every private house owners have dogs… for security reasons, to protect properties from thieves.

7.  Does the city ever shut down because of extreme cold?  Does transportation ever come to a halt?
No. Transportation never stops. Private car owners, however, prefer to keep them in warm garages for harsh cold days. Public transportation works. Taxi as well, but like to raise rates for the period of extreme cold.      

8.  How do people move around in the city in the winter?  Are there problems with mobility?

Mainly by public buses, cabs or work (non-private) cars. Private cars are used rarely in the winter. People care much their properties and keep them for warm days.
9.  What about people who have disabilities, and are paralyzed?  What is their life like in Yatutsk?  How do they manage in winter?
They stay at homes, unfortunately, all the day round and cared by relatives. If emergency, they use taxi or call ER or something like that. If able, they do some simple homeworks.
10.  Do most people who live in Yakutsk live their all their lives?  Did you grow up there?  Do people choose to move there?  Do you plan to stay there for your whole life? Is there anywhere else you would like to live?
Born-in-Yakutsk people prefer to stay in the city. However, if their origin is outside of the republic, they may move to their parents’ birth places. Another category who may consider move to another city is the people who feel their ability to make bright career in big cities like Moscow or St Petersburg.     

In my case, I prefer to live in other places only for short-term work experience 🙂 Locals think like “If I want to see the world, to change the place of live is not necessary, it is enough to buy fly tickets and go on vocation.”

11.  Does Yakutsk have a “personality?”  How would you describe people of Yakutsk? Their outlook on life?

As an American graduate student said recently, Yakutsk is like the island of civilized life in wild Siberia. The city doesn’t have special outstanding personality look, it is more industrial-like town, but people’s thinking and way of life are more mordern and progressive.
12.  What is the relative humidity like in winter?  In summer?
Have no idea, actually. You may check it on weather websites. But it is very dry and strong wind free. If we had Chicago’s winds, no one would survive here in extreme cold.  In summer it is hot enough. +30C/+86F and +36C/+96F are normal temperatures in the summer, especially in July and the early August.
13.  Do you get a lot of snow?  Thunderstorms in summer?
In the Central Yakutia we don’t have much snow. But in the south and north they’ve got a lot and snowstorms happens very often, especially when warm spell happens.     

Thunderstorms happen. Rains may continue a week long. But sunny days prevail.

14.  What are summers like?  Do people spend a lot of time outdoors?  Do they leave the city very often.
Real summer goes from the midth of June till the midth of August. Hot dry weather with rare rains. A lot of masquitos in forest and even in the city. People try to arrange BBQ every weekend and spend much free time on river banks 🙂 They want to take utmost from summer. Summer here is like holidays, winter like a work week.

15.  What is the flooding like in the spring?  Is it really true they are building a bridge across the Lena?  Do you think it will work?
Flooding is devastating. A few years ago even a town was totally covered by waters and demolished. Yes, a bridge across the Lena river is promised to be constructed by 2013 at least. Have some doubts about the safty of the bridge. The Lena river has strong flow and very unpredictable. But engineers promisely say “Everything will be OK”. Let’s see.

16.  How long is the growing season on average?  (Average date of first and last frost?)

Winter = the midth of October — the end of April.
Spring = May
Summer = the midth of June — the midth of August
Fall = the midth August – September – and maybe a few days in October

Wow, I did it.
Sorry for keeping silence.
These days we have NY Holidays. Will rest till Jan. 11 🙂
Happy New Year!
Wish you all the best and unwindy days in Chicago.
I’ve in the City of Winds in 2001 and 2002.
Your winter is very crafty and harsh. I got sick on the 2nd day of my visit in January.
But summer is perfect 🙂

Best wishes in 2009!

Bolot also has a blog, and posted his answers to my questions there as well.

Thank you Bolot!  Your answers are most fascinating, and I am so happy to have a Yakutsk pen pal!!

One response

  1. Hello Mary, that was a great idea talking to Bolot. I got an e-mail about his hometown and started researching about it. I found everything fascinating. I had been reading elena filatova’s wonderful site ( and so already was into Russia. Visit her site, you will be impressed. Thanks for more news about those people who survive in almost inhuman conditions. Love, Helga