Exploring the Russian North
In the popular imagination, virtually all Russia is “north,” cold and imponderable.
Yet within this immense Eurasian landmass, there is a region traditionally known
as the “Russian North” that includes territories located within or near the basin
of the White Sea. This space is crossed by water networks extending from the
White Lake (Beloe Ozero) to the White Sea (Beloe Morye). (The names them-
selves speak volumes.) Of special interest are the contemporary regions of Vo-
logda and Arkhangelsk. Despite the cataclysms of the twentieth century, this area
of the Russian North still lays claim to a deeply rooted cultural coherence created
by those who settled in its forests and moved along its rivers and lakes.
Today, the rivers have silted, and travel in the north occurs by road—or what
passes for a road. The vehicle is all. The new Russians have their Mercedes and
Cherokees, but for the true connoisseur of the Russian road, the ultimate ma-
chine is the uAzik, Russia’s closest equivalent to the classic Jeep. Four- wheeled
drive, two gear sticks, two gas tanks (left and right), taut suspension, high clear-
ance. Seat belts? Don’t ask. The top speed is one hundred kilometers per hour, but
you rarely reach that if you drive it over the rutted tracks and potholed back roads
for which it was designed.
No place in Russia has more of such roads than Arkhangelsk Province, a vast
territory that extends from the White and Barents Seas in the north to its bound-
ary with Vologda Province to the south. A combination of poverty, government
default on both a local and national level, and distances that exceed those of most