• RUSSIA, SIBERIA - October 1991

    The coal mining town of Listvyagi (Listvigi - population 5000) is located 40km West from Novokuznetsk. Bungurskiy-Severnyy coal mine is the biggest employer. I got here with the idea that coal miners work under horrible conditions (which is true) and have a low salary. The later is not true anymore, since the strike in May 1991. Miners have quite a high income now. The starting salary for a 17 year old miner is 1000 Rubles, in comparison to a university professor, who makes 700 Rubles a month. Miners can earn up to 6000 Rubles a month plus the receive meat rations and sometimes consumer goods for low prices.

    Just to give you an idea about the price structure right now: a taxi from the center of Moscow to Domodedovo airport (ca. 45km) costs about 100 Rubles (which is also the price of a 2 liter bottle of Coca Cola on the black market). The 5 ½ hour flight from Moscow to Irkutsk (5000km) is priced at 133 Rubles! The official price in September was $1 = 32 Rubles and on the blackmarket it was 40 Rubles.

    It took me 3 days to find a miner family willing to be photographed and this turned out to be the Gusev family (Sergey Gusev (35), Galina or Gala Gusev (32), Maria or Masha (7), 3 cats, a dog, 40 chickens and 2 pigs, who live in a part of Listvyagi, that looks like a small village. Sergey and Gala were both born in the area, but lived in Wladivostok and worked on ships. He has been to the US, Canada, India, Vietnam and other places in Asia and she in the Philippines and otherbplaces in Asia).

    They moved back after their daughter was 2 years old, because she could not handle the climate in Wladivostok. They bought a house in Listvyagi and Sergey started to work in the coal mine, because a few of his cousins are also miners. The first year was hell for him and he was ready to go back to Wladivostok. But in the end he did not want to leave the family behind and had to get used to work. It helped that the pay was good. His wife Gala found a job in a trucking company.

    The biggest employer is the underground coal mine Bungurskiy with 1800 employees (900 miners) and the second biggest is the open coal mine Razrez, which is one of the most efficient in Russia, which employs 950 people and the third biggest is the trucking company, where Galina works. The workers come from Listvyagi, from villages nearby and also from Novokuznetsk. The reserves of the mine are 50 million tons. The coal is sold for 35 Kopeks per ton in Russia. The actual cost is 135 Rubles (about $4) and the world market price is $40. Sergey earns 2000 Rubles and Gala 700 Rubles a month, a very good salary in Russia. They grow their own potatos, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, onions, pumpkins and some fruits. The chickens provide eggs and meat. The family has to buy only bread, butter, pasta, rice and Wodka. Milk they get from the neighbours and both get meat from work. So the worsening economic situation does not affect them much.

    Life has not changed much here: the houses have cold running water and electricity and most people still have only an outhouse and the banya (sauna), which is also used as a bathroom. Most of the streets are not paved and everything is muddy in the fall and in the spring. Coal and wood is used for heating. The simple pleasures are to eat a good meal and drink Wodka with friends or go and visit Novokuznetsk every once in a while to go shopping. Most of the spare time is spent in the garden to stock up on food and prepare for the long Siberian winter. The Gusevs means of transport is a motorcycle with a sidecar. Gala’s sister Vala, her daughter Sonya and her mother in law come almost every weekend to visit and help around the house, since Vala’s husband is a sailor and is always gone for 4 months.

    Gala’s day starts with preparing breakfast for the family and getting Masha ready for school. Masha takes the bus to school, which leaves near the mine. Gala works from 8am-5pm at the trucking company, where her job is mainly to procure gasoline. She comes home at noon to make lunch for Masha and then returns to work. After work she normally stops by at the shop to buy some bread and whatever is available. Sergey works 5 days a week, but his shift is changing every week (8am-2pm, 2pm-8pm, 8pm-2am). His day starts by signing in, getting instructions for the day, changing clothes, picking up the miners lamp, emergency box, cloth mask, air tester, ax. The last smoke is taken before riding on a wagon into the mine. Then he has to climb down some ladders to a depth of 210m. Sergey is constructing the shaft with wooden beams. The coal is broken loose with explosives and then thrown down a shaft into carts, which bring the coal to a conveyor belt. The coal is enriched and shipped by train all over Russia to powerstations. His day ends by returning the equipment, taking a shower and then he walks the 15 minutes back to his house. He has 40 days of vacation a year.

  • The coal mining town of Listvyagi (Listvigi - population 5000) is located West 40km from Novokuznetsk

  • Masha Gusev on the way to school.

  • Walking the cow home.

  • Cows grazing.

  • Gala Gusev is combing Mashas hair for school.

  • Masha Gusev waiting for the bus to school.

  • Masha Gusev waiting for the bus to taker her to school.

  • Masha in elementary school.

  • Masha in the gym of the school.

  • Masha walking home from school.

  • Masha playing with a dog.

  • Gala at the office of a truck company, where is in charge of aquiring fuel.

  • Miners on the way to work in the morning.

  • Sergey walking to the mine in the early morning.

  • Sergey and other miners are waiting for instructions in the office.

  • Sergey is fetching his gear.

  • Enjoying the last cigarette before going down the mine.

  • Braking down the coal.

  • End of shift and glad to be back in daylight.

  • Washing down the coal dust.

  • Sergey enjoys his cigarette on the way home from work.

  • A conveyor belt is taking the coal out of the mine, where trucks are picking it up.

  • Free meat is also one of the bonus items for the miners.

  • A pig is slaughtered to hvae meat for the winter.

  • Old man in his shed.

  • Family living on social welfare.

  • Lunch at a poor family.

  • The dentist at the Polyclinic.

  • A typical "Soviet" style store.

  • Old woman is storing vegetables and conserved food in the cellar for the winter.

  • Sergey is bringing home some food for the animals on his motorcycle.

  • Gala is feeding the chickens with pumpkins.

  • Sergey is slaughtering chickens.

  • Gala is taking the feathers off.

  • The small feathers are burnt off.

  • Masha is doing her homework.

  • Masha is pointing at a Lenin portrait in her book.

  • The Gusev family is enjoying dinner in front of the TV.

  • Dusk is setting.