Explorer Mikael Strandberg

Frozen Frontier; 17 years in prison

21th of March

-21 degrees Celsius

Yakutsk, Republic of Sakha

”What are those tatoos you have on your hands?” I asked one evening whilst having a few shots of vodka with a friend and a mate of his and he sadly looked down on his big paws and uttered in dispair; ”I have spent 17 years in prison. And do you know why? Because I stold some candy as a child!”

The other day here in the relatively warm Yakutsk, I was asked by a new friend, Tanya, what is this strong attraction that Siberia has on people who have chosen your kind of life. And my main answer was, compared to my own country Sweden, everyone has a engaging story about their life to tell. Always stories about the worst dispair to a certain joy because one have survived and moved on with life. This new friend of mine who had spent 17 years in prison, continued to tell his story with sorrow:

”I was an orphan, so they needed to get me of the streets. And I ahte the Soviet time and what they did with people. Just because I stole some candy. How can you be so cruel so you put a child in prison for 17 years?”

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He looked like he had battled hard with life, but he was always close to a laugh and after the first burst of bitterness, he said that he was happy to be alive.

”I am just very happy I was born and got the chance to live as long as this. And I eventually met my mum, he just left me and went away with another man than my dad, who I never figured out who he was.”

”Are you bitter towards you mum today?” I asked him and he replied immediately: ”Not at all. Everyone has to survive in his or her own way.”

We took another shot of vodka, toasting each other, this time for life itself. My new friend was half Korean, half Russian. It had been a problem as well. It hadn´t been easy being non-white Russian during the Soviet Era.

”I did meet my mother one day. I had met a nice person who gave me a job in a store, so I could always myself full. One day she turned up and I told her, you are my mother.”

”You are wrong she said, I knew she had maybe 9 other children, and she said that you don´t look like me.”

”Of course I don´t look like you!” he said to her and now he started to laugh; ”That is because I look young and you old.”

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The mother wanted nothing to do with him. But when relatives he didn´t remember heard about him working in a shop, they turned up and begged him to give them food, since they didn´t have the needed coupons to get enough food, as was life as a consumer during the Soviet Era when everything was rationed in this area. He helped them, but ended up in trouble and almost got sent back to prison, so he said he couldn´t help them anymore and they immediately stopped visiting him. Once again he lost his relatives. So we had another shot of vodka.

”But I never gave up on life. And now, I have found a nice wife who loves me and we have cattle and we are doing well in these new times. One just have to work hard.”

Post-Trip Update from Outwild TV on Vimeo.

His story is of course one of many hard one´s experienced by people living in this region I have just passed. Up until now I have talked very little about the negative aspects of being Eveny orbelonging to any of the other indigenous tribes of Siberia. I have talked nothing about the high rate of suicide among them, alcoholism, the terrible boarding schools of the past, their broken lives due to colonialism or other extremely negative aspects. But these we all know about. And I want to concentrate on the overwhelmingly positive issues and I want to find stories which inspire. Like this one above, never give up. There´s always light at the end of the tunnel!

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