English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World Living Arctic) No. 3, 2000

The Drama of Vorkuta Nenets

The headline of the present issue is concerned with letters and other background material received by RAIPON in connection with the plight of a Nenets group in the region of Vorkuta, Republic of Komi.

This is series of letters, the first of which is dated January 1999, and the two latter obtained recently in the course of the preparation of this issue, registered in the State Duma of the Yamalo-Nenetskiy Okrug on June 13, 2000. It is reminded that S.N.Kharyuchi, President of RAIPON, is a deputy of the Okrug’s State Duma.

The matter is striking in every respect: the appalling facts of indigenous people deprived of their legal rights, their suffering, the indifference to the tragedy of this minority − presumably due to lack of information − by all levels of the administration of the Komi Republic.

Witnesses and those involved in the tragedy, for some reason, address a public organisation – The Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East of the Russian Federation (RAIPON) − rather than administrative bodies. They file requests to solve problems that are beyond the competence of RAIPON. The issues concern employment, housing, social, medical and civil matters, as well as the problem of establishing a commission to investigate the present situation. These are problems to be taken care of by the appropriate executive bodies, ministries and agencies of ethnic policy, social welfare, health, education, labor, employment and the interior.

But RAIPON cannot stand by when it is appealed to by representatives of indigenous peoples of the North in their last hope. Hence, we are publishing below this record of arbitrariness and suffering.

Information letter to RAIPON from the Saint-Petersburg Society of Students from the Nenetskiy Autonomous Okrug:

On the situation of indigenous people living in the administrative district of Vorkuta

The city of Vorkuta is situated in the Kara tundra and in the Vorkuta District adjacent to the city. About 60 Nenets families − indigenous residents − live in this area. They all are registered in the Khalmer-Yu village on the tundra. After the Khalmer-Yu village was closed down (3 years ago, in 1995) all the miner residents received apartments in the European and southern parts of Russia and compensations, while indigenous people became neglected; they no longer had even a store where they could buy food. Currently, 30 families are registered in the village of Sovetskiy, Vorkuta District, and they buy food in this village. Nobody knows where the remaining 30 families are − presumably, they migrate near Khalmer-Yu. In 1955, after the closure of the Khalmer-Yu mine, 30 families started to come to the Sovetskiy village. They would sit near the store on their sleds, expecting to sell meat or pelts in order to buy bread and other food. They kept sitting in the frost and snowstorm, cold and starving, with their young children. Local residents would bring tea and bread, invite them into their apartments and feed them. Those who did this were mostly pensioners, teachers and medics, who were poor themselves. They made a list of the indigenous people, made arrangements for them to receive their pensions, and thanks to that, these Nenets finally obtained some money to buy food. It was also found that their children never went to school, with rare exceptions: only those children whose parents died were admitted to boarding schools. Thus, in the Vorkuta District, the law of universal education had not been implemented; indigenous children were deprived of the right to education. The people lead a primeval mode of life. In the tents, an atmosphere of barbarism and alcoholism prevails, children are starving, they are physically handicapped; a 14-year old boy looks like a 7-year old, and a 19-year old girl like 10-year old child. In families with no reindeer (about 15 families out of the 30) only half of the children survive, sometimes even less. In the Valey family, in 1996, there were 7 children, but in 1998 only two of them had survived. At 16 years of age, girls are married off, actually sold for 27-30 reindeer. Girls are often married to their uncles.

The workers of the state farm “Olenevod” [“Reindeer Herder”] receive wages, their children and grandmothers live in apartments and eat well, they are brought food into their tents, they can speak Russian. By contrast, indigenous migrants are deprived of all that.

Characteristically, it is not state bodies that take care of tundra dwellers, but private persons. They take them to administrative bodies, where they encounter roughness, obduracy, unwillingness to do one’s duty (not infrequently, they were met with such statements as “Go out, these hides stink!”, “Go out, you are a nobody!" etc. For instance, the head of the emergency ward of the Sovetskiy village drove out an old woman with two grandsons, who were still ill, in order not to have them transported by helicopter during the flood.

For three years they have not been able to solve the problem of children’s education. In 1996 the parents brought 25 children at an age between 7 and 14 years from the tundra for study. The boarding school had no vacancies, the children did not speak Russian, and they decided to put them into kindergarten No. 109 to study Russian to get prepared for school. It is not until the children had stayed in the kindergarten for two years, that a teacher from Naryan-Mar, T.V.Rasulova, arrived. Over 3.5 months, the teacher taught the children to read and write Russian and Nenets.

Before the 1998/1999 school year, the question arose as to following up the study, enrollment of children, employment of new teachers, work with parents (persuasion of them to send their children to school). It is necessary to teach children of all ages − creche and kindergarten groups are needed. It is necessary to open a boarding school or a branch boarding school No. 9, where children of all ages live and study. Serving this purpose in the village is the building of kindergarten No. 108, a warm two-storey building. The head of the administration, Roza Soroka, intended to use that building for the school of migrant Nenets. That vacant building was guarded, but in the spring 1998, the guard was removed, and as a result, the building was completely looted.

September 1, 1998, came – the beginning of the new school year. The children from the tundra were not brought, the teachers not summoned, the study of senior children not organised.

It is necessary to establish a national center for work with indigenous people, their enlightenment, elimination of illiteracy, control of alcoholism and infectious diseases. To achieve this, specialists are needed to hold lectures in the Nenets language, for instance, of the harm of alcoholism − this is the competence of educators, medics, etc.

Tatyana Rasulova
Recorded by Nikolay Latyshev, January 1999, village Sovetskiy"

Vladislav Peskov, a spokesman of the Saint-Petersburg Student Society passed on that information to Mikhail Kolegov, a member of the Ministry of Nationalities of the Komi Republic, who was attending a round table in Moscow on exchange of experience in cooperation of state bodies of Norway, Sweden and Finland with Saami Parliaments. On arrangement with M. Kolegov, V. Peskov sent him that letter by e-mail. Shortly, М. Kolegov responded by an e-mail which contained some encouraging news:

“Dear Vladislav,

Below is the information obtained by the Ministry of Nationalities of the Komi Republic regarding the life of the Nenets in the territory of the Komi Republic.

Four factories were built in the region of the city of Vorkuta.

Work has been done on the establishment of around-the-clock groups for reindeer herder children in kindergarten No. 110 of Vorkuta.

I have also found information on the medical service for unorganised reindeer herders (the Nenets) in the Vorkuta District, whereby such work is done by the administration of Vorkuta and the City Board for Health Care. In fact, the Nenets are registered for medical care and rehabilitation, in particular the children. Affiliated with the “Olenevod” cooperative is a medical station of city polyclinic for the medical care of reindeer herders, both members of the “Olenevod” cooperative and self-employed. There is a card file for all the reindeer herders, where the Nenets are sent for medical centers for further examination and therapy.”

Information on the Activities of the Ministry of Nationalities of the Republic of Komi under the Framework of the Cooperation of the Komi Republic and the Nenetskiy Autonomous Okrug:

“The Nenetskiy Autonomous Okrug is home to over 5000 Komi, which accounts for 10% of all the residents of the Okrug. In the Okrug, the Komi are engaged in reindeer herding, management, industry, social sphere, etc. According to the census of 1989, the number of representatives of indigenous peoples in the Komi Republic is 495.

The reindeer herders of the Nenetskiy Autonomous Okrug and the Komi Republic have rangelands in both territories. The administrative bodies of both subjects have exempted both their reindeer herders and neighbours from land tax. The Ministry of Nationalities of the Komi Republic has prepared and coordinated an agreement with the Nenetskiy Autonomous Okrug in ethnic policy and social protection of the indigenous peoples of the North, migrating in the Nenetskiy Autonomous Okrug and the Komi Republic.

The Okrug receives textbooks from the Komi Republic and students from the Okrug study in the Republic. In Vorkuta a seasonal boarding house of an adaptive type operates, No. 110, where about 70 Nenets children live and study (reindeer herders, self-employed workers). They are taught the Nenets language by a teacher from Naryan-Mar.

The Okrug leader and the leaders of the ethnic movement regularly participate in various forums conducted in the Komi Republic. They were invited to the congresses of the Komi people and participated in the conferences of the Consultative Committee of the Finno-Ugric peoples (leader: V.P. Markov).

Currently, the Vorkuta District of the Komi Republic is home to 314 Nenets, whose socio-economic conditions are under close surveillance of the Komi Republic Government: On 25.08.1997, the decree by the Head of Administration of the Komi Republic No. 235 “On Measures for Social Protection of Indigenous Minorities of the North Residing in the Territory of the Komi Republic” was issued. The decree stated a number of organisational measures on social protection of indigenous minorities − including the Nenets − and on providing transport and communication to them. The above measures are financed by allocations from the federal budget of the Komi Republic and the “Gorod Vorkuta” [the city of Vorkuta] association.

A.K. Konyukhov
Minister of Ethnic Affairs,
Komi Republic"

Unfortunately, the story about the problems of the Vorkuta Nenets does not end on this official note, because the State Duma of the Yamalo-Nenetskiy Okrug received new letters through the President of the Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East, which describe the hardships of the Nenets in the Sovetskiy village:

"Mr. Sergey Kharyuchi
President of the Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North,
Siberia and Far East of the Russian Federation

We, the undersigned, Sven-Erik Sosooar, doctorant of the Philosophy Faculty, Tartu University (Estonia), and Margarita Vasilyevna Latysheva, graduate student of the Tallinn Pedagogical University, arrived in Vorkuta to investigate of the language of the Nenets indigenous minority and their living conditions.

In order to collect material for our work, we talked with the Nenets of the Sovetskiy village, city of Salekhard, in the tents and on the tundra, and also visited a kindergarten in the Sovetskiy village, where Nenets children study. We found that migratory Nenets are characterised by absolute illiteracy, since they have never had any education facilities. Those people are deprived of the right to education.

The children attending the kindergarten do not know the Russian language; the elimination of teaching in the native language has been unjustified. Out of the 33 workers of the kindergarten not a single one has a commission of teaching in the Nenets language – the only teacher of the Nenets language has been dismissed on no sufficient grounds.

The school is organised with gross violation of specifications for people’s education. The Nenets who arrived from the tundra on reindeer would sit on their sleds with young children in cradles. There are no premises where they could rest, wash their children, warm up, drink tea, although there are numerous vacant apartments in the village. They complained that they were attacked by hooligans, their reindeer were stolen and killed, and the police did take no measures.

We were shocked by the attitude of the kindergarten administration. We were admitted into the kindergarten only for an hour and were not allowed to speak with the children freely. We were surprised by the claim of the kindergarten staff that the children already knew their native language, and would only need to learn Russian.

We would like to approach you with the request to check the above facts and take measures.

23 January 2000
city of Vorkuta, Sovetskiy village

Sven-Erik Sosaar - Valja 8-278, 10616 Tallin, Estonia
Margarita Latysheva"

"Mr. Sergey Kharyuchi
Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North,
Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation

From tundra dwellers
Vorkuta District 
and residents of the village Sovetskiy

Dear Mr. Kharyuchi,

The residents of the Vorkuta tundra and the village Sovetskiy are addressing you.

Your urgent help is needed: The attitude towards the indigenous people residing in the city of Vorkuta is sheer arbitrariness and craziness.

People are deprived of things they are entitled to, including:


There are numerous vacant houses in the Sovetskiy village, and the administration of Vorkuta forbids registering the Nenets in the village – they believe that the Nenets do not need any houses.

Nadezhda Laptander, the mother of two children asks for an apartment in the Sovetskiy village, because every year she loses children who fell ill and die before they live to be two to three months old. If she had an apartment the children would have survived.

2. Absence of documents (passport, birth certificates, pension certificates, invalidity certificates)

For instance, in the Prokopii Laptander family, neither Prokopii nor his wife has a passport and, hence, they are not entitled to children’s welfare or social welfare, although they badly need them, and besides, they are a family with many children. Last year an accident occurred: a bus run over the wife of Prokopii Laptander, and now she is partially paralysed.

There are over a dozen of families that have document problems. The children have no birth certificates or invalidity certificates.

3. Payment of pensions and children’s welfare

There are some cases of failure to pay pensions or children’s welfare due to lack of available documents. There were also some instances recorded when some Nenets failed to receive children’s welfare for three months, namely for October, November and December 1999.

For instance, the following documents are absent:

  • Andrey Ledkov  –  social welfare
  • Evdokia Laptander –  pension
  • Galina Ledkova  –  social welfare, passport, pension
  • Aanastasia Laptander – loss of mother
  • Evdokia Ledkova  –  no passport
  • Maria Laptander – widow, passport data are incorrect, does not receive pension or social welfare.

People are suffering due to lacking or incorrect passports, and also due to the unwillingness of the administration to help.

4. Social welfare once a year

In the early part of 2000, social welfare was granted to families which need it badly. 25 families were listed as those whose income is below the acceptable living standard. The criteria for allocations to each particular family are not known, since there is no information available about the actual life of reindeer herders. Their social status is still obscure. There are still families, which have no reindeer and are dragging on a wretched existence.

For instance:

•Pëtr Laptander has an annual income of 5140 rubles. He has over 1000 reindeer; his family comprises 10 persons. The children are three adult daughters and four sons, born in 1981 through 1988.

•Andrey Laptander's family has an income of 2632 rubles. This family needs material assistance. They have 100 reindeer. There are 7 persons in the family, including: two daughters, 17 and 18 years old, and the three others born in 1987-92. As you can see there is a large difference in income.

•Two widows received welfare for loss of breadwinner. The amount they received was much less than the one allocated.

•Anna Valey has an income of 1324 rubles. She has over 400 reindeer and a family of 6 persons. There are two adult children and two teenagers of 13-14 years. She is on welfare for loss of breadwinner.

•Maria Laptander has an income of 117 rubles. She has 10 reindeer and her elder son claims that the reindeer belong to him. Maria’s two sons are 7 and 12 years old. She is on a loss of breadwinner welfare.

Today there is a great difference in terms of allocation and payment of social welfare for reindeer herders and residents of the Sovetskiy village. The choice of products provided by the welfare system is not suitable. The clients receive only rice and tinned meat, whereas reindeer herders need flour, sugar, butter, etc.

5. Provision of jobs and organisation of work on elimination of illiteracy among young people

Once, two girls, Tatyana and Nina Laptander, escaped from their parents from the tundra. For half a year they were promised housing and work in kindergarten No. 110. During six months they lived at the place of T.V.Rasulova, the teacher of ethnic classes. The residents of the house where they were going to give the girls an apartment wrote a letter to the Mayor of the city of Vorkuta, demanding that the girls should not be registered in this house. The request was complied with. The house is to be pulled down. Afterwards, the timber will be taken away to central or to southern Russia; this is what they already did to another wooden house. The building has undergone capital construction repairs and has excellent apartments with high ceilings. Today, only two families remain in this 12-apartment house.

Despite the fact that kindergarten staff with a commission of teaching the Nenets language are needed in kindergarten No. 110, director I.A. Ponomarenko declined to employ the girls. Although the decision of Mr. Shpektor, head of Administration of the city of Vorkuta, was positive, the girls received neither housing nor jobs.

6. Orphan problem

There are some children on the tundra, which lost their parents, for instance, the children of Darya Laptander. Four children were left without a mother. The family lived in the Sovetskiy village because they had no reindeer. Now, the children are on the tundra with their father – they live with the family of Nikolay Ledkov, but this is the third family where the orphans have been placed. They applied to the administration – directly to E. Abuzyarova, but their problem has not been solved. The house where that family lived is nailed up, and the sewerage is out of order. They did not want to live in the apartment where their mother died. In autumn, before the death of Darya, they found the corpse of the Nenets Misha Valey in the vacant neighbouring apartment. And before that, under the windows of the nailed-up apartment, they found the corpse of Misha's brother Mitrofan.

7. Organisation of militia work on controlling crime and hooliganism in the Vorkuta District.

Out of the 40 families living in the Vorkuta District, 20 are destitute. Andrey Valey, for instance, has four sons, out of whom three died. One died of hypothermia, and two others died under unclear circumstances. Two persons were stabbed and killed in the village – Prokopii Laptander and Aleksey Ledkov. The Valey brothers - Mitrofan and Mikhail - died under unknown circumstances.

During the five years the reindeer herders stayed in the village, they were robbed by hooligans. Traps were set on their way, i.e., the road is barred with barbed wire. Reindeer herders are attacked, food and pelts are stolen, etc.

8. Medical Service

On the tundra reindeer herders do not have medical service, except at emergency. Despite the decree issued by Yu.A. Spiridonov to the effect that a helicopter should be leased during the flood (15 hours per year) to transport indigenous people, the helicopter time is not made use of.

The children have not been vaccinated. For instance, Gennady Laptander (born 1985) had chickenpox. Doctors did not attend him to, and the disease has complicated – the boy’s body is a complete mass of abscesses. This is only one single example.

9.Veterinary Service

Animals have not been vaccinated. The meat sold to reindeer herders is often inedible. Dogs die from canine plague and other diseases.

10. The question of mother and child room should be solved

As they come for food and children’s welfare, reindeer herders bring young children. They have no housing in the Sovetskiy village, have to sit on the snow with cradles at a temperature –45oC.

Some reindeer herders have parasitic diseases. Young children have not been vaccinated or medically examined.

11.Organisation of ethnic boarding school

The transportation of Nenets children to the tundra and back to the Sovetskiy village for the beginning of the school year is not organised. The children are brought as late as in the beginning of November because of lack of transport. In early April, they are already taken back to their tents. This is disadvantageous for their studies. They spend part of the five months' time in hospital due to poor health. These are mainly the children of health categories II and III.

At school there is a language barrier between the teacher and the children.

For instance, Kolya Ledkov made Dorofei Taibari take in antibiotics. As a result, the child was poisoned. This demonstrates that ethnic specialists should be trained. In the respective school there are no persons speaking the Nenets language.

In 2000 (January 10 and 11) the teacher of the native language T.V.Rasulova was dismissed on unjustified grounds from kindergarten No. 110, and currently there is not a single worker who could communicate with children in the Nenets language. No work is done with parents, which results in inadequate behavior of parents and children, since they do not understand or do not know the Russian language. In 1999 Dima Taibari was drowned when he was away from his family. The kindergarten staff had sent the boy to the wrong family for vacation.

In the spring of the same year, Kolya Laptander roamed about between the Sovetskiy village and the tent of Ivan Ledkov. He was always wet and begged for bread. Together with the children of Darya Laptander (Sasha and Vanya), they walked about scrap heaps, and they were not admitted to a kindergarten.

If the administrator of the school-kindergarten would have been a person with a higher education and caring for his/her nation, such incidents would not have happened. I.A. Ponomarenko has no higher education, but only an incomplete musical education. In the course of two years people have been asking for teachers to be invited from the Yamalo-Nenetskiy Okrug or the Nenetskiy Autonomous Okrug to work with the Nenets children. The only answer of the administration is “we have our own specialists available”. This year, they employed a speech therapist with no knowledge of the Nenets language.

12. Implementation of the decree issued by Yu.A.Spiridonov, whose contractor is the cooperative “Olenevod”.

In relation to self-employed reindeer herders, not a single item of this decree is implemented.

In 1997, the administration of the Sovetskiy village handed 100-200 rubles to each person, while the rest of the amount – 50,000 rubles – was deposited to the savings account of Nadezhda Belkina at interest. The head of the administration, Roza Soroka, explained that “they could not be given much money, because they will booze it away”.

We wish to approach you with a request to visit us with a commission for investigation into the social status of reindeer herders, the residents of the Vorkuta District and the Sovetskiy village. We would also appreciate your helping us to set up a public organisation or a branch of RAIPON in the Vorkuta District for work with reindeer herders, fishermen and other indigenous people here.

Respectfully, on behalf of reindeer herders, fishermen, hunters and residents of the Sovetskiy village,

Tatyana Rasulova”

The above documents about the status of the Nenets in the Vorkuta Region of the Komi Republic cover a half-year period. It is appalling to know that during this time members of a small group of Nenets suffered and died at the sight of the residents of Vorkuta and the Sovetskiy village.

Obviously, it is necessary to organise a commission of the RF Ministry of Federative and Ethnic Affairs, with the participation of the Ministry of Ethnic Affairs of the Komi Repbulic and other ministries and agencies to investigate the current situation on the spot. The Commission should include representatives of the Human Rights Commission of the President of the Russian Federation, RAIPON, the Association of the Nenets People “Yasavey”, and the Association of the Indigenous Peoples of the Yamalo-Nenetskiy Autonomous Okrug “Yamal to our Descendents”.

The Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) is calling upon all appropriate administrative bodies to investigate the situation in the Vorkuta District of the Komi Republic and protect the rights of Russian citizens – the Vorkuta Nenets.