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.
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.
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.