I am now on my second trip to Siberia. I spent my first time mostly in the Altai region, visiting small towns and the countryside.
On my second time, I stayed around the city of Krasnoyarsk. I experienced more of the city life with a few local trips.
With my first visit to the Altai region, I became increasingly interested in the Siberian people and my second visit helped me to understand a bit more of the local culture.
Table of Contents
This post does not go down to stats, numbers, names of tribes, or spoken languages. Surely you may find more accurate information on the Wikipedia page for that.
This is more of a photo-documentary with my personal experience and a comparison with other countries, to put Siberia in a world context.
I have been very lucky on these two trips to be supported by Nornickel and the Follow Up Siberia project. They helped immensely in the whole organisation. I could focus more on the artistic side, leaving everything else on their shoulders.
Moreover, I have been recently honoured with the title of Ambassador of Siberia. I really hope that this article will help to open another window to this unique region. You can read more facts about Siberia here and how is life in Siberia here.
Was Siberia ever a country?
This is one of the most interesting questions I received following my first trip to Siberia.
It’s an interesting one especially considering the size of Siberia, a region covering around 77% of the Russian territory and bigger than any other country in the world.
No, it was never a country as such.
Siberia was and is used to define a wide area going from the Ural Mountains, on the west side, to the Pacific Coast (Bearing Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk), on the east side.
Politically, you may come across the Siberian Federal District, however, this is a slightly smaller region, not including the far east areas.
Siberia was a territory with a multitude of small indigenous tribes that were eventually included in the Russian Federation in the 17th century.
In some respects, history is very similar to the arrival of the white people in Australia (in relation to the Aboriginals) or in North America (in relation to the native Americans).
Who are Siberian people today?
With a population of around 40 million, around 90% of the Siberian people are white Caucasians, mostly with West Russian and Ukranian background.
This is a result of massive immigration happened and happening in the last 100 years. Today attracted by a higher average income.
Consider that Siberia has the highest concentration of minerals in the world with the majority of the economy based on the mining industry
If I think back to Australia and North America, the natives are much less than 10%.
There was actually a stunning statistic in Australia a few months ago where 60% of the population was not even born in Australia. I am one of them and I proudly feel Australian.
Siberian native American
On my first visit to Siberia, I was surprised to discover a connection between the indigenous Siberians and the American natives.
The face, the lineaments, the typical tipi tents (cone tents). All very similar.
In my second trip, I was able to meet also the ethnic group of the Island of Taymir.
I investigated a bit further on this subject and I found something very interesting
The Georgetown University of America actually found a close genetic relationship between the American Indians and the indigenous people of the Altai region.
This is evidence of immigration happened over 10,000 years ago through the iced Beringia land.
Meeting the locals
It has been easier than I thought.
Certainly, the language was a barrier for me as I do not speak any Russian.
There are many token languages and dialects actually in Siberia, mostly known only by the minorities, however, Russian is definitely the common language that everyone understands and speaks.
Still with my English, and the Google Translator app, I was able to somehow communicate.
I also travelled with a group of people, including Russian speaking, that helped me a lot.
My second trip also helped me to demystify even more the famous Russian smile, or better say the lack of it.
Coming from Australia, I am quite used to the laughs and smiles, which are usually seen as the typical Aussie friendliness and hospitality.
Siberia is nowhere similar, smiles do not come for a grant but when they come, be sure they are truly genuine and not just part of a daily conversation.
I will always remember the big smile given to me by a local when I showed him the footage of the drone I was just flying. Literally a gold smile. As characteristic as unexpected.
Photographing the Siberian people
On my second trip, I made more of a commitment and I started doing more portrait photography than I usually do.
I love street photography, and I consider it part of my travel photography. Making photos of people working in the towns, walking in the streets, etc
On my last trip, I wanted something different, I wanted to make more close up, either of faces or hands that would describe the people’s life
I have been very happy with what I have achieved. But I would love to extend this project to the far east region of Siberia.
Asking and making photos of Siberian people has been surprisingly easier than I thought.
If I try to run a similar project in Australia I would get mostly rejections to my simple question to take a photo.
I think the biggest difference between Siberia and Australia is probably the lower influx of tourism in Siberia which makes a foreigner somehow more interesting, exotic and not the “usual tourist” from overseas.
Please, leave a comment below and let me know more on your experience with portrait photography and your exposure to Russia if any.
More on Siberia
After my first trip to Siberia, I was asked a few questions on my socials, which I would like to report here. A few interesting ones as well as curious too.
Is Mongolia in Siberia?
No, it’s not part of it.
Siberia borders Mongolia as well as China in the south.
Of course, only 100 years ago the political borders did not mean as much as they do today and you can experience a unique mix of people in the southern region of Siberia.
In fact, when travelling in Russia, in the area closer to Mongolia, you may notice the typical circular tends used by the nomadic Mongolian population.
These are called yurt (in the Turkic languages) or ger (in the Mongolian language)
Is it always cold in Siberia?
No, it’s not. You can read more on this subject on my Demystifying Siberia post.
In short, summer temperature can go up to the 30 degrees (Celsius) meanwhile in winter it can go down to -40 degrees, although only for a few weeks.
In the north of Siberia, winter can be much colder, down to -70 in extreme cases. This is one of the coldest places in the world.
Is Siberia safe to visit?
Most definitely so.
I would personally not visit it in the coldest weeks of the year (usually January to February), just because you can’t spend much time outdoors.
Besides that, I have never had any issue.
I must say that I have travelled and I was supported by Nornickel and the Follow Up Siberia project. However, I never felt unsafe or even uncomfortable on any occasion, even when I was on my own.
Are there cities in Siberia?
Yes, a few, and mostly in the southern region where the weather is not that cold during the winter.
I was able to visit Krasnoyarsk and I had a great time, especially because the city was hosting the Universiade, such an amazing event.
Everyone was so welcoming. These are the events that can change a life forever, both to the participants and the locals.
What is the capital of Siberia?
Siberia is a region (not a state or a country) and there is no official capital as such.
Novosibirsk is the biggest city in Siberia (1.5M people), second only to Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
What itinerary would you suggest?
I have not visited all of Siberia. It’s a very wide territory. Just to have an idea, you would need at least 8 hours to fly over it, from west to east.
I would love to explore more of Siberia in the coming months and years. I will update this post with the new findings.
Based on my experience, I would definitely suggest a trip to the Altai region.
Spending a few days in a city, just to have a different view, is also a great idea.
Krasnoyarsk is big and small enough, a great base from where you can organise a few local trips in the region.
I really hope to explore the Arctic region, sooner or later in my life.
And finally, I would love to visit the peninsula of Kamchatka (although east of Siberia) because of its dramatic landscape and also because it was my favourite territory when, as a child, I used to play Risiko 🙂
You can read more information about Travel Photography in Siberia here.