Yet more on Krasnoyarsk, a great place to be exiled
Krasnoyarsk Krai is colossal: an area covering around 2 million square miles ranging from Southern Siberia to Russia’s northern coast… and nudging comfortably into the Arctic Circle. There’s no practical difference between an Oblast and a Krai incidentally… in terms of the functional model. Both are administrative districts run from a defining, titular city within the locale.
“Krai” as a term is a historical left-over used to define regions that marked burgeoning frontiers… more applicable as the developed Russia expanded eastwards into Siberia. This is illustrated (quite literally) by the broad swathe of Karsnoyarsk Krai on a map, virtually bisecting Russia in a thick band running north to south.
Now, after all that could be discovered, claimed, named and allocated has been disposed of, the term is somewhat redundant. But it still speaks of an era when Cossacks, in a mirror image of New World settlers (but with-army) expanded into new territories, nailing their presence to the Earth with imposing wooden fortification as they progressed. And with good reason: the presence of hostile tribes located on good settling ground, such as the banks of Krasnoyarsk’s lifeblood, the Yenisei River, for instance. You will come across this great river on your Trans-Siberian trip, having already passed the other great river – the Ob – at Novosibirsk.
Untamed Siberia was (is) a dangerous place: if the ice and fire climate didn’t finish you off with it’s maximum temperature differential approaching 80 degrees Celsius, then the local inhabitants just might. As with Wild West pioneers, the life of a colonist was nowhere near as romantic as familiar media may have once informed us. Perhaps Siberia is a land more to be conquered than colonised.
In 1628, as part of the 17th Century Cossack push into the east, Andrey Dubenskoy established Krasny Yar: a border fort located at the meeting of the Yenisei and Kacha Rivers. The “sk” suffix, denoting town status was added in 1822 as the the tipping point between burgeoning village and small town was officially crossed. …That’s nearly 200 years of relatively slow growth due to Krasnoyarsk’s outlying remoteness and the lack of a user-friendly transport system. Even in 1890, Anton Chekhov wrote in a letter to his sister Marya: “What a deadly road! It was all we could do to crawl to Krasnoyarsk and my trap had to be repaired twice”. And further: “I lost my woollen stockings but soon found them again” Phew! A close call there on the stocking front, but unshaken he persists to document his observations on Krasnoyarsk’s enduring appeal: “…as one comes down to Krasnoyarsk one seems to be getting into a different world. You come out of the forest into a plain which is like our Donets steppe, but here the mountain ridges are grander… Krasnoyarsk is a picturesque, cultured town… The streets are clean and paved, the houses are of stone and large, the churches are elegant… I should have no objection to living in Krasnoyarsk. I can’t think why this is a favourite place for sending exiles to.”
He would have been in notable company if he had stayed, for a mere seven years later Lenin himself as a pre-revolutionary trouble-maker would be exiled there for a period of three years (1897-1900). In an excerpt from Lenin: A Biography by Robert Service I read that upon hearing that his sentence was to be served at this picturesque (then) extremity of the Russian Empire… he was positively “delighted”! It is also grimly apparent that Lenin was treated far better by the Tsarist establishment in his exile than the subsequent Communist system in turn treated its dissenters.
More next time…
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 54) Loitering and musing in Krasnoyarsk
[Photo by efenstor]