Near-Death Experience: Winter in Siberia

Reading Time: 2 minutes

By Ajay Goyal

Sharing these pictures of frozen Siberia reminded of a story from early 90s, 91 or 92 .. . The picture below is representative. I did not have a camera with me. I was on a business trip to Surgut and Nizhevartovsk.

I was to be driven 3-4 hours early morning to the airport and we left in a Zhiguli – Lada car, early when it was pitch dark. It was February and the temperature was around -20 or -30 , or so they said. The heating in the Lada was dismal and even though I was wearing 5 layers, it started to be freezing cold.

The road was barely visible and then heavy snow started. So we slowed to a crawl. And then, the car ran out of benzin (gasoline). The dash meters were totally unreliable but I would have expected the driver to fill it up for the journey!

He hadn’t!

He trusted the word of the guy who gave the car that “Benzin khvatayet.” I did not speak much Russian either and I had not thought to question their wisdom. So here we were, on a “not- road,” snowed in, freezing, in high north, in -25 below temperatures, no heating and no communication.

I tried to calculate how much time before we would freeze to death. Our I would. As a vegetarian I had a few layers less of lard on me. How much time before my head would burst open, I wondered. I started to go numb.

We started to smoke furiously and I contemplated setting the car on fire to stay warm. The images we see today of frozen cities look so cute. We forget that for 60-70 years people have worked there in the most treacherous conditions. Some as workers, others as prisoners in the gulag. There is nothing cute or romantic about those places.

Life is always so tentative there. No wonder people are so fatalistic. So uncaring about anything. So detached with no control or choice in life.

That time was the beginning of change with privatization. I remember picking this guy and some others three years later in Cyprus when they came to open a company and be a bank account. The bank account opened with some $45 million for the “collective”. They all bought homes in Europe, placed their children in UK schools and within two years they were insanely rich.

The bastard never apologized but asked me if I knew how he could get his teeth fixed in Cyprus. When he did arrive in Cyprus he brought me a box of chocolates, a bottle of whiskey and I did get his teeth fixed. We were saved by a random truck and another car on that godforsaken frozen road after an hour. I did not miss the flight.

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