A typical sled of the nomadic Nenet people of the Siberian Tundra


© Sebastião Salgado


At first glance, it looks like a sled being pulled among the clouds. This is what the Yamal peninsula looks like. It's a vast region of Siberia which extends over about 700 kilometres in the Kara sea. The temperature never goes above 10°C and the territory consists of large expanses of ice and tundra.
It is a hostile environment, and yet life, including human life, always finds a way round things. The peninsula is inhabited by the Nenets of the Tundra, an indigenous nomadic people subdivided into small communities who have made reindeer farming their main activity. During winter, the men round up their reindeer herds every morning with their sleds and keep moving towards the Southern woods, which offer shelter from the cold, while the women work reindeer hides to create their typical Malitsa fur coats. In spring, the Nenets return the central part of the peninsula, where the reindeer birth their young, then move towards the coasts during the summer grazing season.
It all suggests a remote, unspoilt place, but the reality is sadly very different. The peninsula in fact has rich natural gas and oil deposits and the Nord Stream gas pipeline was inaugurated in November 2011. The planning and construction of the pipeline led to the destruction of about 5,000 square kilometres of natural habitat and the subsequent removal of the Nenet people, forced to move permanently to the cities, in search of work. Because of the serious psychological trauma of losing their land, it is estimated that many of them have developed alcohol dependence and their life expectancy is 15 years lower than the Russian average.

Martina Giagio