When authorities in Yakutsk invited participants in a youth government initiative to brainstorm ideas for an empty lot in the centre last year, it seemed like a smart way to get rid of an eyesore.
But the project was held up after residents and officials raised concerns that the site could hold anthrax spores preserved in the permanently frozen soil.
Although specialists eventually said it was safe to build a skate park on the lot, which once held a laboratory making an anthrax serum, the incident raised further questions about the ancient diseases known to be lurking in the permafrost—and whether they could be unlocked by global warming.
“Anthrax spores can stay alive in the permafrost for up to 2,500 years. That’s scary given the thawing of animal burial grounds from the 19th century,” said Boris Kershengolts, a Yakutsk biologist who studies northern climates. “When they are taken out of the permafrost and put into our temperatures, they revive.” Continue reading
As winter begins in war-torn Eastern Ukraine, Alla Gapeshina manages a laugh while discussing how her family will survive the desolate cold months. “We’ll have potatoes breakfast, lunch and dinner,” she says, standing in her rocket-damaged home.
“Food can be scarce, but we won’t starve,” says Ms Gapeshina, 58, who lives in the separatist-controlled village of Alexandrovka and works at a hospital cafeteria. “We’ll survive the winter.”
Some 900,000 people are struggling to eat as the conflict between government forces and Russia-backed rebels drags on for a fifth year, according to new planning figures that the United Nations will issue by the end of 2018.
It is also the coldest humanitarian crisis in the world, and dropping temperatures pose a threat due to damaged homes and infrastructure. In the summer, people often grow their own vegetables in small gardens, unless shelling makes it too dangerous, but this isn’t an option as the weather dips below freezing. Continue reading
The man accused of poisoning Sergei Skripal grew up in a family with ties to the Russian army and signed up for officer training straight out of school, according to neighbours from his home town near the Chinese border.
Anatoly Chepiga, who neighbours confirmed is the true identity of one of the alleged Salisbury nerve agent attackers, was raised in a single-storey white-brick house with a corrugated iron roof directly across a dirt road from the high school where he was a star footballer.
With three bedrooms, central heating and indoor plumbing, it was an affluent residence for the remote village of Berezovka, where many residents live in traditional stove-heated wooden cottages to this day.
But for neighbours here, the special forces colonel wanted by Britain for a nerve agent attack is fondly remembered as a conscientious student and keen sportsman whose glittering military career made his family proud.
“Yes, that’s him. I was friends with his father. He was a good kid,” Anatoly Chepaikin said on Friday when shown photographs of the man British authorities named as “Ruslan Boshirov.” Continue reading
As the electoral commission members rushed to set up the ballot box and voting booth in the deerskin tent, the lashing rotors of the helicopter outside reminded them that time was ticking.
“Are we re-electing Putin?” a reindeer herder asked as he lifted the flap and came in, every body part but his face bundled up in hides against the -28C (-18F) cold.
The three Nenets families at this windswept camp near the Arctic Circle in Siberia belong to one of the few nomadic peoples left in the world, travelling hundreds of miles in an annual migration to provide their reindeer with fresh pasture.
Sixty miles from the nearest city, the electoral commission essentially recreated a polling station in their tent before Sunday’s presidential election, in which Vladimir Putin is expected to win a fourth term in a landslide.
Within minutes, the ballots were cast, and the voting party began fighting its way back toward the Mi-8 helicopter through knee-deep snow and the downwash from the rotors. Then it was on to the next camp. Continue reading
In 2015, Marat Burkhardt decided to try out for a better-paid position, writing in English rather than Russian, at the St Petersburg-based internet company where he worked.
The topic he was given for his 30-minute English writing test hinted at what kind of work his employer’s “American department” would be doing over the next 12 months.
“It was a text prompt to write about Hillary Clinton’s chances in the presidential election in the United States,” he told The Telegraph. “I wrote that it would be great if the United States elected a woman for the first time. I said she has every chance, the Democratic Party is behind her. The choice is up to the American people.”
Unsurprisingly, he didn’t get the job: Mr Burkhardt’s employer, the Internet Research Agency, is believed to have been the engine of a secret Kremlin campaign to help Donald Trump win the election.
The full scale of alleged Russian election meddling was revealed on Friday as 13 people who worked for the Internet Research Agency were charged and their alleged crimes recounted in remarkable detail.
Ramzan Kadyrov, head of Russia’s restive Chechnya republic, doesn’t actually ski. So after he pulled a giant lever to start the chairlift at the new Veduchi resort on Friday, he rode it down to speak with the young men who had skied the resort’s only slope holding flags emblazoned with the faces of the strongman leader and his late father.
On the way back up, the chairlift briefly ground to a halt, leaving Mr Kadyrov, who enjoys near absolute power in Chechnya, dangling in the fog for several long seconds.
Nonetheless, he later promised guests including Russian Olympic athletes that a tourist hub with “ideal conditions” was being created here.
“I’m confident that it will become popular not just with the Russian population but also with foreign countries,” said Mr Kadyrov before jogging from the stage to a VIP area surrounded by bearded bodyguards.
But technical hiccups are hardly the biggest worries facing the ski resort, which is located 12 miles up the road from Shatoy, the site of a major battle with Chechen separatists in 2000.