#ARCTIC. #SIBERIA. THIS IS TAIMYR. Yevgeny is not a native Norilsk resident: he came to the city with his parents, the soldiery, in 1983, when he was six years old. The family lived in a military unit for a long time, until it was disbanded. And he himself would later choose the same path – he would become a military man. But that would be later. And in his childhood, Yevgeny was attracted by a completely different world – stories about sunken ships and amazing discoveries in the depths of the underwater kingdom.
The boy’s real passion was adventure books. As a schoolboy, he loved watching films by Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the Travelers Club and programs about the of Russian music and movie stars dives in different countries.
Could he assume that someday he himself would descend into mysterious abysses, that his passion would grow into something more? Doubtful. But it happened: as an adult, Evgeny Babich went from an amateur diver to a professional level. Received an instructor certificate. And in 2009, together with like-minded people, he created the Nord Diving Club and now represents the Russian Underwater Activities Confederation in Norilsk.
“However, unlike the well-known dive centers, our club is a non-profit one”, says the head. “We teach people the basics of immersion, we assist in purchasing the necessary equipment”.
Underwater ammunition is not a cheap pleasure. However, fans of extreme sports in Norilsk are not afraid. Eugene has been calculating the amount in his head for some time: a set of diving clothes costs about 300 thousand rubles today.
There are many who rent equipment. Someone buys second-hand things. However, the regular club members do not spare money for this. There are almost two dozen of them in the Nord Diving Club today.
In general, over the years of the club’s existence, more than fifty divers, people of different ages, have been trained and received certificates there. And the girls as well.
“We even have those who have found their soul mate in the club. In August, for example, one couple got married. We are even considering doing an underwater wedding photo session. At least in a pool if not in an open reservoir, says Yevgeny Babich. “Ceremonial outfits look very impressive underwater – a groom in a tailcoat, a bride in a white flowing dress, like a mermaid… There is even a special trend in photography – underwater photography, and the models pose without scuba gear, just holding their breath”.
What makes people descend into the underwater depths? Everyone has their own reasons. Some of the divers like to take photos and videos underwater, some prefer to study living creatures, and some like to dive on sunken ships and in caves.
Before the pandemic, the Norilsk people, by the way, more than once went on an expedition to the Red Sea for this purpose. Yevgeny says that he himself dived in Egypt, Thailand, Mexico, the Philippines, the Maldives. However, the club is called Nord Diving for a reason – instead of warm seas, its members often choose under-ice. Moreover, taking into account that it is not so easy to go to foreign dive centers, especially in the last two years.
The conditions for diving in the Arctic are quite difficult. The season starts in November. And it lasts a little over a month. It does not work longer – during the winter, the thickness of the ice on the northern reservoirs can freeze up to one and a half to two meters. Since the beginning of December, the Norilsk divers do their training in the pool. And they return to the under-ice in the spring.
“From the end of March we start the ice season, which lasts until June, when the last ice melts. I like diving in the spring more, Yevgeny admits. “Lots of light. Not so cold. And the impressions are more vivid. After the Yenisey and Norilka pass, we will dive in open water”.
Norilsk ice divers are training in the Nadezhda metallurgical plant area – in a flooded open-pit, where at the bottom you can see the old Moskvich car. And in the reservoir near Alykel settlement there is a flooded passenger carriage. Before descending, a hole with a diameter of two by two meters is cut out in the thickness of the ice. Usually two or three people dive. And two-three are on the surface.
The head of the club explains: for beginners, open-pits are part of the educational process, and for experienced ice divers it is a kind of drug. Many admit: if you want to feel like on another planet – go down under the ice. There are low temperatures, high pressure, scuba breathing. But, on the other hand, this is an absolutely extreme experience, a space drive. Unforgettable feelings! The realization that you are in a confined space tickles your nerves. It’s not just adrenaline, though.
Divers plan routes in advance. For example, they had vivid impressions after diving in Kunzhevoe – this lake is located in a rock break in the Ergalah region. Both in the water and on land, the Norilsk people found fossilized shells, which say that at one time there was a sea in this place, and during dives they raised ancient axes, shovels and even an ice pick from the bottom.
“This year we had two expeditions to one of the most beautiful places on the Putorana plateau, lake Lama, in winter and summer, when we tried to explore the water area under the ice in search of the airplane”, says Yevgeny, referring to the famous city legend.
Many Norilsk residents know the story that the An-2 sank during a storm on lake Lama in the mid-70s of the last century. Another question – was it really? No documents, no coordinates of the wreck – there is no official information about this case.
“We conducted dives in two locations: South Neralah and the isthmus of lake Kapchuk. In the search they also used the remote-controlled underwater vehicle Gnome. Unfortunately, nothing was found in the winter. We returned to Lama in the summer. However, the weather conditions did not allow the expedition to be deployed on a full scale”, the club head notes with regret.
Knowledge of the depths and features of the Lama allowed the Norilsk divers to become experts this year: in the summer, the unique lake became the venue for the X-Waters World Extreme Swimming Championship.
“We make long-term plans and strive for new discoveries on the Taimyr territory. For example, we want to find ships of the Great Patriotic War. Last year we were planning an expedition, but it didn’t work out due to complicated logistics. This is always a big problem for divers – diving equipment is bulky and takes up a lot of space on a boat or in a helicopter. And takes much money. Considering that we do not have investors, we pay the expenses out of our own pockets”.
The family is already accustomed to Yevgeny’s hobby.
“My children, of course, like all their peers, think about big cities. They do not share my love for diving. The daughter has already left Norilsk. The son is growing up and also thinks about it. But I’m not going to leave, I like Norilsk. The city attracts me with its perspective, many unexplored places. I like that our club is developing. The level of divers is increasing. And I still have much to do here”.
Text: Elena Popova, Photo: istockphoto.com, editorial archive and Yevgeny Babich’s personal archive