The Russian Town That Will Kill You In 60 Seconds

“If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” —Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ode to the West Wind

In A Nutshell

Oymyakon, Russia has the dubious distinction of being the coldest inhabited place on Earth. Only a few hundred miles from the Arctic Circle, the coldest recorded temperature is -96.16 Fahrenheit (-71 Celsius). It’s too cold for fruits, vegetables, and grains, so the people who live there survive on reindeer, horsemeat, fish, and the milk from their animals. Winter temperatures average -40 Fahrenheit (-40 Celsius), and anyone foolhardy enough to go out in the cold unprotected will die from exposure in about one minute.

The Whole Bushel

Somewhere between 500 and 800 people call the frozen Siberian village of Oymyakon home. It’s hard to fathom the constant, bitter cold temperatures that this small group of people are subjected to almost every day of the year. The village is a reminder of a darker time in Russian history, as it sits in an area known as Stalin’s Death Ring, where political prisoners used to be exiled to die.

During the long winter months, nighttime lasts for about 21 hours. The town is situated just a few hundred miles from the Arctic Circle, but there are still some modern commodities there. They have a school, which only closes if the temperature drops below -61 Fahrenheit (-52 Celsius). The average winter temperature is -49 Fahrenheit (-45 Celsius). With those temperatures, it’s bizarre to fathom what little actually works.

Indoor plumbing is a new thing, with toilets only having been installed in the school in 2008. Technology just doesn’t work in the cold: There’s no mobile phone service, and most cars and trucks are useless. Pen ink freezes solid, batteries last for only a fraction of their life span, and pipes can freeze solid in a matter of hours—they’re only kept working by a power plant that absolutely must keep functioning 24/7. Metal sticks to any exposed skin. There are few early photographs of the area, because cameras would stop working and film would break.

And showing proper respect for the dead is next to impossible. The ground is permanently frozen, which means that digging a grave is a massive undertaking. Bonfires are lit where the grave will be dug, kept lit long enough to soften the ground enough so that the grave can be started. It’ll freeze well before the hole is dug, and another bonfire will be lit, the grave made a little deeper… over and over in a process that can take days.

And even once a grave is dug, the ground will freeze, thaw, and re-freeze, meaning that it’s in a constant state of cracking and heaving. This means that it’ll probably only be a matter of a few seasons before the coffin and the body are pushed back up above the ground. At one point, the villagers practiced a sort of Tibetan sky burial, leaving the bodies hung from trees for the wild animals, but the Russian government put an end to the practice.

It’s too cold for fruits, vegetables and grains. The only food is fish, reindeer meat, horsemeat, and the milk that comes from domesticated animals.

Bizarrely, tourism is an important source of income for the people of Oymyakon, and one of their major attractions is their swimming. And it’s not just the tourists that take it as a challenge to hop in the freezing water, but the men, women, and children of the frigid Russian village swear that it’s a way to keep from getting sick. They regularly bathe in the freezing water, and those who have done it have said that it’s not so much the cold water, but getting out into the freezing air that’s the biggest shock to a person’s body.

They’re also attracting tourists to the area with reindeer hunting, ice fishing, and baths in the hot springs . . . although we’re pretty sure the term “hot spring” might be a bit misleading.

Show Me The Proof

National Geographic: Life Is a Chilling Challenge in Subzero Siberia
BBC News: Life in extreme cold around the world
Atlas Obscura: Oymyakon
Featured photo credit: Maarten Takens

  • Hillyard

    This just made my list of places to avoid.

    • TheMadHatter

      How to prank someone- cut the sleeves off of all of their shirts and coats. The cost of amputating the arm is worth. I’m avoiding that place too, I can’t stand the cold. Like seriously. I can’t stand in the cold. I just lie down in the winter.

  • edzyl blane

    Sounds like a place to do my next survival trip

  • Chaos

    No Mobile Phone service???? Sounds like my dream destination!

    • OC

      I had a dispute with one of these mobile phone services and told the Fascists to cut it off. I felt FREE. It was great.

  • asda

    hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. funny stuff you guys write about. ahahahahahaha. when it gets -50 here we dont close all the schools just the elementary school. hahahahahahahahahah i guess only canadian inuit are use to -50 weather. ahahahahahahahaha this is just too funny

    • rincewind

      Calm down, mate. Did you forget to take your Dried Frog Pills this morning?

      • Lisa 39

        Do those work? Or should i stick to coffee?

        • rincewind

          They work for me …. for most of the time.

          • Lisa 39

            They’re real? Or am i gullible lol

          • rincewind

            No. They appear in the humourous discworld novels by Terry Pratchett, from which I get my username, rincewind. He is the “hero” of the series, if you can call him that.

            Dried Frog Pills are hallucinogens, used by the Bursar of Unseen University. The pills are carefully designed to make him hallucinate that he is sane.

            The main side effect is that he also hallucinates an ability to fly. Fortunately the Bursar is a wizard and the only action necessary to deal with this belief is to keep him from going higher than the walls.

            The pills are apparently not addictive, or else, the concerned are assured, the Bursar wouldn’t keep taking them……

          • Lisa 39

            That’s awesome! I’ve heard the name terry pratchett before (probably here) but didn’t know who he was, that’s a cool story tho, thank you rincewind, and your name is cool to 🙂

          • rincewind

            Thanks Lisa 😉

          • rincewind

            If you ever want to read this series, read the earlier ones. There are about 40 books in the series. A couple of books ago, Terry was diagnosed with alzheimers and his last couple of books don’t compare with his earlier work. It’s a great pity.

          • Lisa 39

            That’s very sad about the alzheimers, maybe i’ll google the books and see what i can find, they definitely sound interesting, thank you again rincewind 🙂

          • lbatfish

            They’re “real” . . . but they only work for dehydrated Frenchmen.

          • Lisa 39

            That means i’m excluded again 🙁

    • lbatfish

      Fifty below? ‘Tis like a spring day when you’re dealing with -70F!

      Or did you mean -50C (-58F)? That would at least get you a little closer to Real Cold (a.k.a. Fort Yukon, Alaska).

  • Too cold for fruits. We knew that about Putin’s Russia.

    • Rhythm_is_therapy

      A little tasteless, but funny 🙂

      • heli chopter

        No, just funny.

        • Rhythm_is_therapy

          ok;)

      • Check

        Waddayamean? It’s fruitastic!

        • Lisa 39

          Fruitylicious!

  • Check

    Oy My! Akon imagine living here! Does their queen dance in the mountains singing, “Let it go! Let go! Can’t hold it back anymooooore?”

    • Check

      Suspect #1:

  • Ryan

    Cold as a witch’s tiddie.

    • g.g.palin

      Colder than a well diggers ass.

  • Karmala

    Funny, my Husband always told me my heart was the coldest place on Earth…

    • Lisa 39

      My ex said the same thing to me but he used other colorful words also 🙂

      • Hillyard

        Obviously he’s a moron.

        • Lisa 39

          Aww, thank you hillyard, i agree with you, mostly because he’s the only person who ever called me that, everyone else says the opposite 🙂

          • Mike

            That’s because you could’nt call in mods to delete his comment, althought I bet you somehow tried. You are an moron lisa.

    • TheMadHatter

      I’m thinking of starting an account just to comment song lyrics… I always have the perfect songs for every occasion. I just don’t do them because it would be random. Like now, “you’re gonna catch a cold from the ice inside your soul, don’t come back for me, don’t come back at all”

      • Lisa 39

        I have one! You’re as cold as ice, you’re willing to sacrifice our love

        • TheMadHatter

          Hah, perfect! I had one for sugar in space but the mood is over now.

          • Lisa 39

            Ooh, the one about sugar made me want to bake a blueberry crumb cake but i don’t have any blueberries 🙁 i do have more songs tho
            Ice ice baby!

          • TheMadHatter

            Made me think of “Rice rice baby” weird al parody 🙂

          • Lisa 39

            My favorite weird al parody is amish paradise lol

          • TheMadHatter

            As I walk through the valley where I harvest my grain,
            I take a look at my wife and notice she very plain
            But that’s just perfect for an Amish like me,
            You know we shun fancy things like electricity

          • Lisa 39

            At 4:30 in the morning i’m milkin cows,
            Jebediah feeds the chickens and jacob plows…fool
            And i’ve been milkin and plowin so long that,
            Even ezekiel thinks my mind is gone

        • Karmala

          Funny thing, that exact same song jumped into my head!

          • Lisa 39

            I used to have that on 8 track lol

          • Karmala

            I’m ashamed to admit this, I don’t even know what an 8 track is. Arhh, google my good friend.

          • Lisa 39

            I’ll tell you what it is, its my age hanging out lol its an old contraption we used to play music on lol

          • lbatfish

            It was invented shortly after the steam engine, but before the internet.

          • Lisa 39

            And after we quit riding dinosaurs to school! Which my kids did ask me about when they were younger lol

      • Karmala

        Wow. That’s an awesome idea. I actually DO that when people say things to me. It’s nice to meet you Mr. Hatter.

        • TheMadHatter

          Nice to meet you too, I’m a knowledgenuts person more than a listverse person, so if you’re usually around there you might not find me. IRL I like to sing when something reminds me of song, my mother does the same, and sometimes we will break out into the same song. It is amazing. Impromptu duets are the best. It gets annoying for the rest of the family sometimes… And my mom calls me uncultured if we break out into different songs. I just call her old. That goes over well… Not.

          • Karmala

            LOL. I’m impressed, I usually just get *eye roll* from my family. I often spontaneously burst into song (from their point of view). From my point of view, I’ve been singing the same song for the past 3 hours, I just go into full concert mode.

        • Lisa 39

          Hatters a sweetie!

          • Karmala

            So are you 🙂

  • Nathaniel A.

    With regards to their burial situation, why not try cremation?

    • Hillyard

      I was wondering about that myself, if they’re going to set numerous fires to thaw the ground it seems that cremation would be smarter. Maybe it’s some sort of cultural taboo.

    • Check

      Good point! After living in a place THAT cold, one would think you’d eventually want your body to be immolated.

      • Lisa 39

        Pfft, i would never go there, i’m in cleveland in the winter and that’s bad enough, i’m trying to talk the kids into inventing battery operated heating pad slippers and boots because my feet are so damn cold for 5 months of every year, damn it.

    • Jobrag

      Read “The Cremation of Sam McGee”.

    • percynjpn

      Good question.

  • Bmitch32

    Fuck. That.

  • SuperWeapons

    -40˚F is not -40˚C

    • Storme Davis

      It is though…

      • SuperWeapons

        i stand corrected

        • lbatfish

          Assuming that it was a typo was an easy mistake to make — only people who’ve lived in places that actually get that cold are likely to know where the two scales match up. FWIW, my village in interior Alaska (140 miles northeast of Fairbanks) would sometimes get down to -70F.

          • SuperWeapons

            That sucks. And i thought chronic 0˚F in Iowa was bad.

  • 1DireWolf

    I thought it was going to be Chernobyl or the like.

    • Lisa 39

      O direwolf, like hillwilliam and i, your age is hanging out lol

      • 1DireWolf

        Damn that zipper!

        • Lisa 39

          A day or 2 ago i said something to karmala about my 8 track and she doesn’t know what that is lol

  • Anthony Burroughs

    I just saw the title of this article and I had to comment… With all of the media hype that has been carrying on lately about Russia – the winter olympics, gay rights and civil liberities etc., all I keep seeing is the media constantly bashing Russia… from CNN to Conan O’Brien, The Daily Show, Colbert Report, Tonight Show, Fox News, MSNBC and pretty much every form of media right now seems to be trying to bash Russia and it’s almost as if they’re trying to pin us against them, make us become enemies again. For instance on Conan, he has had this on-going bit (along with numerous jokes) about the Winter Olympics where the Russian government kills and threatens its athletes and does all of this horrible stuff. Now, I know Russia is not the greatest place on Earth, especially if you’re a homosexual seeking ethical treatment or a protester trying to express your opinion, but I just find it annoying how it seems like something out of the Cold War era where we are almost being groomed to hate Russians. Intelligent discussion about the current situation over there is one thing but constantly joking about it and creating crude commentary is something else. Just kind of annoys me. Sorry everyone, my comment has absolutely nothing to do with this topic but anyway, interesting article. Nice job.

    • Too high fa Dis

      Russians and their laughably corrupt government do more than enough to earn the hate they (rightfully) receive.

      • OC

        This country is a model of truth and freedom.

  • OC

    I would choose death. All the thousands of political prisoners sent there. And the millions of words written about it. Nothing to do but read starve and die. That may be one reason they have the world’s greatest literature. Solzhenitsyn Doestoevsky Trotsky – the many intellectuals, poet, writers sentenced to Siberia. Russians are so fascinating. Some intellectuals sentenced to Siberia, when pardoned, chose to stay rather than live without freedom, and to protest that form of slavery known as serfdom.

    And this article claims that people now call the place home? The places people call home. NPR did a piece on those who live in tiny villages ghosted by Chernobyl. It’s what they love. They chose to go back to their houses even though the government said it is still unsafe. It’s Home. Very true for Afghans, true for Muslims, Alaskans, people in N. Dakota or West Virginia.

  • OC

    Horse meat. Disgusting.

  • Bruce Wayne

    why is there a building in the bottom right corner