A young girl and a dog on the streets of Udachny.
Photos: Hanne Van Assche
Life

Photos of the Freezing Town Where Winter Lasts Nine Months

Belgian photographer Hanne Van Assche set out to document life in Udachny, which translates as "happy".
LP
Mechelen, BE
January 7, 2021, 9:15am

This article originally appeared on VICE Belgium.

Udachny – which translates literally as “happy” – is a remote town in north-eastern Russia. It formed around a mine, where diamonds were discovered in the 1960s. By the 1990s, Udachny was producing around 12 million tons of rough diamonds per year. Today, around 12,000 people call the place home, living their lives in extreme subarctic weather conditions. The temperature only rises above zero for three months a year, and for the other nine it’s winter.

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Belgian photographer Hanne Van Assche travelled to Udachny to document the town in the depths of winter last year. She’d become fascinated after hearing how the diamonds mined in the tiny town had a direct impact on the famous diamond traders of Antwerp in her home country, where the gems have been cut since the 15th century.

A photo of palm trees made from tyres.

A palm tree made from car tyres.

Before travelling to Udachny, she started learning Russian and prepared herself for the prospect of temperatures that drop as low as 43 degrees celsius below zero. When she arrived, people were suspicious of her, but also incredibly curious. “I didn’t know anybody,” she says, “but, because I spoke a bit of Russian, people were willing to talk to me and have their picture taken.”

Van Assche shot photographs all over Udachny. What she discovered was a little world of its own, where every street is filled with colour (to counteract the nine months of winter) and ironic palm trees made out of tyres stand beside the roads.

“Eventually,” she says, “I got to know almost everyone there.”

Scroll down to see more images from the collection.

A photo of a monument to Lenin.

A monument to Lenin.

A photo of industrial pipelines.

Industrial pipelines.

An aerial shot of remote Russia.

Remote Russian countryside.

A photo of a car in the snow.

A car in the snow.

A photo of a young dancer.

Van Assche: “This is Lena, who's 11 years old. She caught my eye with that beautiful image of her blue skating suit against the bright white snow. A lot of kids in Udachny practice a sport or hobby at a high level and participate in contests all around Russia.”

A photo of colourful architecture in Udachny.

Colourful architecture in Udachny.

A photo of diamonds on display.

Diamonds on display.

A local woman in fashionable winter attire.

Van Assche: “This is Ilona, a proud woman with lush red lips and a gorgeous hat. Despite the harsh temperatures, women in Udachny take fashion seriously.”

A photo of a car parked outside a housing block.

Night time in the streets.

A photo of the mine.

The diamond mine.

A photo of a dog in the streets of Udachny.

Daytime on the streets of Udachny.

A photo of a local couple.

Van Assche: “This couple are the parents of a girl called Tatyana, who I met in the high school. Her dad’s a pilot and put on his army suit for an official holiday.”

A monument in Udachny.

A monument in Udachny.

A photo of Adelina, a local schoolgirl.

Van Assche: “Here we see Adelina on her final day of high school. It’s a tradition in Russia to wear your school uniform and a ‘graduation’ ribbon. Lots of 18-year-olds are going to college in big cities like Moscow or Saint Petersburg, far away from their family in Udachny.”

Colourful housing blocks in Udachny.

Colourful housing blocks in Udachny.