I understand you have a very long and difficult history with BAM, can you tell us about your life as it intersects with BAM and Siberia?
For the first time when I finished 1 year studying in technical school after secondary school in the town Kazan in 1954-1955. This was in 1955 year, I become a worker for assembling power substations for Railways of the USSR, there I worked for two years. Here I moved to Omskaya region and Tumenskaya region in Eastern Siberia, worked here for 1 year; it was very useful for me as we lived in the railway cars during assemble of power substations, when we finished an assemble we moved to other sites of power substations.
Here were severe/rigorous conditions, we had no water in our stops during for 4 months and sometimes it was cold to sleep (water was frozen in nights); in the morning we were had only for breakfast: glass of cold water, sugar and the the beard and butter. All the latest difficulties in my life I always just compared with the period of my life in the cars in Eastern Siberia!
In 1957-1962 I finished Moscow Institute of Railway Engineers and I began my work in Project Institute Railway Construction, our work was in the whole USSR, I very much time spend on business trips till 1978.
In 1978 in June I went to Severobaikalsk (I was 42 years old) with my 10 year boy Hafis, we flied here using two plains: first we arrived from Ulan-Ude to Angarakan in a plane having 45 passengers, then we were flied in a famous AN-2 plain for 6 passengers; we arrived in the aeroport Nizheangarsk. Here we catch a big lorry going to Severobaikalsk in forest road of 50 km, it was very bad, everywhere were sand and dust!
Here began our life in Severobaikalsk at first in a railway carriage, we were four men, there was electricity, no water - we live here till November 1978 and I was given 1 room flat by a Chief of NIZHENEANGARSK TRANSSTROY Mr. Hodakovsky Felix (they were responsible for big site of BAM on the territory of Buryatia) as I was an engineer of GLAVBAMSTORY Special Construction Bureau from Moscow (we had brunch/department here in Severobaikalsk that just organised, I was the second man in the department - we were only two: I and my chief): toilet, cold water, electric cooker. The main idea was to help in projects for building small objects like the 10 kw power line from substation 220/35 kw in begin Nizhneangarsk settlement till the end of Nizhneangarsk settlement about 6 - 7 km, it still works!
In November my wife with a little son Shamil has arrived from Moscow, she also worked at first in GLAVBAMSTORY Special Construction Bureau. I was everywhere on BAM from Severobaikalsk till Kuanda (near Vitim river).
In 1981 I moved to Tunnel Detachment Number 16 of BAMTUNNELSTROY, we began to build the Mysovye Tunnels (4 tunnels, the whole length 5.5 km, they were for double track!) and finished them in 1990 year; Tunnel Detachment Number 16 moved to Moscow region but I refused to move! Here I spend my best years on BAM!
In 1990 year I moved to Baikal Amur Railway and became a chief of tourism department of Severobaikask Department of Baikal Amur Railway, here I worked till 1994 and in 26 December I had a stroke. In 1983 my wife has got a 3 room flat as from 1981 she worked as building engineer in Group of Customer (she finished Leningrad Building Institute in 1959!), this Group was responsible for control of the working organisations on the whole of BAM on the territory of Buryatia, and these working organisations have got money from Group of Customer! I live in the same wooden house, one storey, has chimneys, two owners, a little yard, it is on old part of our town; many people are live in temporary buildings. Our house had: central heating system, cold water, little greenhouse; we raise: potatoes, onions, beetroot, carrots and etc.
In these 1990-1994 years I achieved success in tourism on BAM, I went along BAN till Sovietskaya Gavan and to Vladivostok many times. In 1991 I was very lucky to take part in the First World Congress of Eco-Tourism in Colorado Springs.
What were conditions like for workers on BAM when you arrived in 1974?
I can say only from 1978. Many workers lived in temporary buildings: in a wooded huts with nothing, railway cars (like carriage I lived in 1978), houses with 12 flats that were build for several years then they were to disassemble and transfer to other places to assemble again (sometimes they had a cold water). But many workers are still live in these temporary buildings! - now they are pensioners, nothing is in future waiting for them from the flats or separate houses.
As for food products - it was normal, in BAM Area it was good from this point. Many workers after 3 years had a right to buy new cars (there were special bank accounts for collect money for cars, many workers did buy cars, only in 1990 year situation has changed - many people had a right to buy cars but they couldn't buy as many people got money - but it were 4 times less than car costs!). It was a great stimulus/incentive for BAM workers, as to buy cars was very difficult in other regions of USSR these years 1974-1990. Take also north coefficients for work (1.7 at first) and every year they added 10% to this (but it was for five years on working on BAM Area).
On the whole the government has issued many good ideas for attract people from all regions and Republics of the USSR.
I understand your activism on behalf of workers got you dismissed as a BAM laborer? Yet somehow you also got reinstated?
I was dismissed from work in 1981 as my behaviour wasn't good from the point of party members of Severobaikalsk and I was in Moscow, here I had meeting with Mr. Mohortov - he was a chief of GLAVBAMSTROY of the Ministry of Transport Construction of the USSR. I didn't obey to the points of Mr. Mohortov - the result was my dismissal from the work, my behaviour was supported by people in Severobaikalsk department of Special Construction Bureau. After my dismissal I couldn't find a work as the SEVEROBAIKALSK COMMITTEE OF COMMUNIST PARTY issued a note not to take me on any organization! Only as I was a MASTER of SPORT of USSR in Chess Playing (I got the title in 1961 in Moscow!) the chief of Tunnel Detachment Number 16 Mr. Podzarey Anatoly had risk of taking me to his detachment (more than 2000 workers were there) but he said: a very bad reputation have we about you, from this day you come to big detachment of workers, never raise a question of salary! He has take me as mechanical engineer for building site, this site was busy: making all wooden works for tunnels, it has a lot of lathes for woods, building houses for people of Tunnel Detachment Number 16 in the Zarechnye settlement of Severobaikalsk (it is 4 km from the town).
I worked here till the last days, was left here to put the latest work in the tunnels, making assemble of all equipment inside tunnels. There were given to me the titles and medals: "Veteran of Labour" and "For BAM Construction". And in 1988 year town has given me: "Honourable Citizen of the town Severobaikalsk Republic of Buryatia".
How would you compare the BAM region in 1974 with today?
I could say that it was much better in 1978 year than now:
Many feel that the huge cost of BAM in lives, environmental degradation and social displacement of native peoples is hardly worth it, given that it is not being used to extract riches from Eastern Siberia as long planned/touted. What are your thoughts on this?
Like every big construction BAM has many drawbacks. I give only one of them. A lot of native people has lost their work that was with them many centuries ago like reindeers breeding, cow breeding, horse breeding and etc. I don't understand why it happen? COMMUNIST PARTY is responsible for that thing. Now it is very difficult to re-establish their occupation in spite of the pastures are left without changes! What is changed? People, they lost their attitude toward the labour, many of them began to drink alcohol drinks; they die out. Our government didn't pay attention to this problem.
Before BAM came here in our region were reindeer breeding in Kholodnoe village (2000 heads of live-stock), at Tompa on the eastern shore of lake Baikal (2000 heads of live-stock), at the Uoyan village (2000 heads of live-stock).
Now only one family of Evenks from Kholodnoe village began in 1992 year re-establish their reindeer herd. Evenk Youry Chernoev purchased 30 heads of reindeers and transported in railway cars from Nerungry (it is in Yakutia, more then 1000 km). The Chernoev's family was: he, 4 sons, one girl and wife. The owner has dyed 3 years ago, his son dyed 2 years ago, the herd now is bigger than 1000 heads of live-stock; their nomad camp is one hundred km from Kholodnoe village to the north! Kholodnoe village is on BAM Line, 40 km from Severbaikalsk. But roads absent to their nomad camp at any time of the year, roads existed when there were geological researches 30 years ago! Roads are the biggest problem in our country.
No one from Evenks try to re-establish reindeer herds in Tompa (80 km from Nizneangarsk, on east shore of lake Baikal. Reindeers would have a big attraction for tourists!) and in Uoyan village (180 km from Nizneangarsk, it is on BAM Line).
I am sure that BAM is the great construction site in the USSR in the last century. It is very good to build BAM Railway and to finish it. For the next hundred years BAM will work and bring brilliant success to our country and people!!! I am proud of that I have taken part in building BAM.
Contact Rashit Yahin for help with tourist services in or around Baikal:
mail: 16-2 Octyabrya Str. Severobaikalsk 671701 Russia.
Phone: (7) 30139 21560
Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.
PO Box 567
Montpelier VT 05601-0567