Яма / The Pit
Photographs and text by Eugeny Shchemlin
"I have only vague memories of my first day in the mine. I can remember the anxiety, the fear of missing the train, of not being able to keep pace with the headman. And, of course, there was the fear that my lamp could break and go out leaving me alone in the darkness, not knowing my way around those endless labyrinths of underground workings. That was long ago, I was then still a student. Now I don't fear anything anymore, I just do my job.
Sometimes I ask myself what I really felt? Why the fear? It was, perhaps, some kind of 'genetic memory', man's primal fear of the unknown lurking in the dark. Or was it the fear of sinking into the body of Mother Earth, violating her intimate space? Or was it just that kind of job?
It was not until much later that I heard this word for the first time. I was then working at the Mayak mine in Norilsk as a shift leader in charge of mobile diesel equipment repair. One or another of the guys would say in a matter-of-fact manner, 'I'm going to the Pit'. With a note of respect mixed with discontent. To the question 'What's it like in the Pit?' they would give the curt reply, 'Dark and damp'. It was a job like that.
I worked at the Mayak from 2005 to 2016. Those were strange times. The oldest mine's unique character had not quite been run over by the corporate standardisation. Some things were left over from the times past, mixed with the things from other epochs. I saw old-timers who had worked the mine from the very beginning. Everything was simpler then, black or white: you either grabbed a work order today or you didn't. To do your job."