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Zone of Absolute Discomfort The Race for Resources in Arctic Russia. By Justin Jin

A Nenets herder rounds up his reindeers. The meat is sold to sausage factories and the horns to China for use as aphrodisiacs.

In the last decade, Justin repeatedly visited the Russian Arctic region, a 7,000 kilometer area atop the planet stretching from Finland to Alaska on which Moscow bureaucrats bestowed the name “Zone of Absolute Discomfort.” The icy hinterland is wretched to live in, but just hospitable enough to allow for the extraction of billions of tons of resources trapped beneath the permafrost.

The Nenets are the original people living in the Russian Arctic, before being crushed by Soviet collectivisation and affected by modern oil and gas exploration.

Here, three contrasting ways of life representing three epochs of Russian history simultaneously exploit resources amid the world’s harshest conditions: the indigenous reindeer herders; descendants of former Soviet prisoners and indentured workforce; and modern energy company men seeking a rich cache of treasure under the frozen tundra.

Reindeer herder Simyon travels by sled from his chum (tent) to the city to buy supplies. Construction of gas pipelines and industrial complexes is threatening the herders’ way of life, forcing them to travel further afield in search of pastures.
These reindeer herders were born as nomads in tents but were force-relocated into apartment blocks by the Soviet authorities.
A monument in Murmansk, a city strategically located near Finland during the Cold War.
Karp Belgayev, a coal miner, walks through an abandoned village where he is among the last ten inhabitants. Miners say that after ten years working underground it is impossible to remove black rings from around the eyes.

Little besides dots of nomadic tribes and spectres of Soviet concentration camps haunt the icy desert of the Russian Arctic. But deep beneath the permafrost lie untold treasures: billions of tonnes of oil and gas.

Workers connect a pipeline on top of the permafronst at Area 5A of a joint-venture between Germany's BASF Wintershall and Russia's Gazprom.

Drilling in Extreme Cold

Inside the claustrophobic confines of a shipping container erected on an icy nowhere, a group of engineers gathered on this desolate patch of Russian tundra looking for oil deep below the permafrost. Justin Jin braved the extreme cold with them, documenting the international race to domineer Arctic resources.

Justin trudged for months in deep snow to create this Arctic work. The Russian military granted him unprecedented access to photograph the strategic zones, and cautious energy company CEOs opened their doors to show us their wares, giving us a glimpse of energy politics’ coldest battle front.

Workers plunge a drill bit into a gas field 3,000 meters below in Arctic Siberia, Russia.
A LUKoil worker repairs a leaking pipe in the Russian Arctic, home to some of the world's largest natural gas deposits.
Russian and German gas executives welcome visitors to their base in Arctic Siberia, Russia. With energy prices tumbling and Russia losing popularity with Europe, oil and gas companies are struggling to bring in new investments.
An overview of a Siberian city purpose-built for energy exploration. The hexagonal shape design blocks cold Arctic wind.

International visual journalist Justin Jin works with the global media to craft narratives around the world.

International prizes attest to Justin’s dedication, including the Magnum Fund and Pictures of the Year International (POYi), both of which awarded this project.

Born in Hong Kong, Justin studied philosophy and social science at Cambridge University, and currently splits his time between Europe and China. Justin speaks five languages: English, Chinese, Russian, some French and Dutch.