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Whalen: stick together so you don't get blown away

How the most eastern school of Russia lives, where they speak two languages

While cars in the Moscow metro “fall asleep” on the branches, bridges are being raised one after another in St. Petersburg, schoolchildren from Uelen are already on their way to the third lesson. This village on the Chukotka Peninsula is often spoken of in a superlative degree: the easternmost of those inhabited in Russia and Eurasia, whose inhabitants are the first to meet the sun. Further - only the frontier post on Ratmanov Island, then - America: the state of Alaska is only 86 km from Uelen, beyond the Bering Strait, along which the sea border with Russia passes, and it is a hundred times closer than Moscow.

Whalen: stick together so you don't get blown away


Whalen huddles on a half-kilometer wide pebble spit. To his left is Uelen Lagoon, to his right is the Chukchi Sea and the Arctic Ocean. The village got its melodic name thanks to the black hillocks that adorn the slopes of the hill - in Chukchi "uvelen" - "black earth". In the past, travelers found their way here through them. 

You can get around the village on foot in 15 minutes, but often for such an undertaking, special "adaptations" or partners are required: not only the famous Chukchi "Yuzhak" blows with gusts of up to 70 m / s, but also the "Severyak", as well as their northeastern counterpart ... As is customary in the land of permafrost, all the houses here are on stilts, and the highest of them - a three-story one - is the Uelen boarding school.               

“For some reason, everyone thinks that if we live far away, then we have bears walking down the street, and we study in yarangas,” says Marina Titarenko, director of the boarding school for secondary general education in the village of Uelen. - No, we have a modern, well-equipped school, warm, light, beautiful dining room, where children are fed free of charge from the first to the 11th grade, we have centralized heating, modern toilets, exercise equipment, everything is like in any city school! We did have cases when a polar bear appeared, but not in Uelen itself, but somewhere far from the village. Winter is different, it all depends on the winds. Minus five degrees can be felt as minus 35. People have adapted, someone walks with Nordic walking sticks, or everyone walks together, in unison, by the hand, no one leaves anyone. Everything is very mobile here, because the village is small, the population is 600 people, and when the weather forecast worsens, we immediately call our parents, warn them that we need to go after the children, and the parents meet them and take them away.

Marina TitarenkoDirector of the Boarding School of Secondary General Education of Uelen Village 

We don't have to get used to the difference with Moscow, - continues Marina Borisovna. The education department is located in the village of Lavrentia, the department is in Anadyr, modern communication facilities allow participating in videoconferences. The administration paid a lot of attention to us, seeing such support, we want to work and work! And if, as a leader, as a teacher or as a person, I am interested in some Western webinars or events, then yes, I get up and participate. Due to the fact that we are torn apart in time zones and distances, some come to work, for example, at seven in the morning, but what to do? "

Ueelen School

Space and time in this land of salty winds, and the truth is, the substance is ephemeral, for this reason every Uelenian knows how to maintain Zen in any situation, and never scandals in line. All that matters is the weather and safety, whether it's hiking or boating in the summer, a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle in winter, and a helicopter in any season. The road 140 km from Uelen to the regional center - the village of Lavrentia - on a blizzard can take two or eight hours, and "no-no-no, we will blizzard until the end of the week."


For 120 Uelen children, the school is the second home, and for 82 children from neighboring villages, starting from the fifth grade, it is also a permanent place of residence. In Inchoun and Neshkan, only elementary schools remained; in the harsh northern conditions, parents have to send their children to a boarding school, and take them home only on vacation. Most of the children in the Uelen boarding school are Chukchi. 

Twice a week there are lessons in the native language, in addition, there are circles "We Speak and Write in Chukchi" and "Local History". Schoolchildren from the seaside village are winners and prize-winners of regional and district Olympiads and competitions, in which the local flavor is often noticeable. As was the case, for example, at the drawing competition “We are against corruption”. 

According to the Uelen children, a harpoon, a tambourine and cooperation with polar bears can help in the fight against bribe-takers. 

In 2020, most of the awards went to Uelen, now the students are preparing for a new competition.     

The School of Young Marine Hunter helps to keep in touch with the roots and to learn the craft that is in demand in these parts of the world. The project has been operating since 2019 with the support of the district authorities. In Chukotka, non-commercial hunting for whales and walruses is allowed, the quotas of the whaling commission are allowed to hunt up to 140 gray whales per year.

“Throughout the year, children are taught theories, taught to prepare tackle, repair them, put in order tools for butchering sea animals. High school students in the summer already went on boats on a whale, learned to throw a harpoon (hunting luck was not reflected in the menu of the school cafeteria: everything is according to Sanpin. But there is local fish and venison here, - ed.) Albert Eckem, an experienced sea hunter, is engaged with cabin boys. It is undeniable that traditions will live on as long as there are people who want to pass on the experience, and there are children who are ready to adopt it. Some of the children, after receiving their matriculation certificates, plan to get a job in the local territorial-neighboring community, ”says the director of the boarding school.

After the hunt, the meat goes for processing, and the hard "currency" - walrus bones and fangs - ends up in the "Uelen bone carving workshop", whose craftsmen create skillful figures of people and animals. This is another place in Uelen where students can learn unique skills, there is also a section here. The works of Uelen bone carvers and engravers are kept in many Russian and foreign museums, and this workshop has its own museum with objects of art, everyday life and hunting equipment of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic.

If you don't want to throw a harpoon and cut on the bone, dance: the children's Chukchi-Eskimo ensemble "Nakayak", which at one time became a companion of the adult folk group "Uelen", is the third channel into which schoolchildren can direct their energy.


Graduates of the school in the village of Uelen enter various Russian universities, after graduating, some of them return to a small village on the sea spit. It is from the ex-students that almost the entire pedagogical team of the school consists, 36 people. Dynasties are strong here, for example, for the primary school teacher Elena Skibina, one of the daughters works as a technology teacher, the other is the deputy director of the school for administrative affairs, and the third is a kindergarten teacher. My husband's sister also teaches classes for elementary school students. Elena Nikolaevna herself got into the Uelen school 40 years ago by assignment after the Leningrad Pedagogical Institute.

“In general, I had to work for two years and go home, but then I met a guy and got married. At first it was unusual for me: we had forests in the Bilibino region (also Chukotka - ed.), And here there is bare tundra. But I liked the blizzards so much, the sea, the ice all around, the amazing beauty! In summer, the tundra is very beautiful, although at first glance it seems that some stones are around, but everything is green, everything is blooming. Where will I go? I've already put down roots here. Yes, everything is expensive in Uelen, a loaf of bread is 80 rubles, but the village is growing, new houses are being built, commercial shops have been opened, and goods are delivered regularly. A poultry farm has been opened in our regional center, and a dairy shop will soon appear. I confess that I recently went to my homeland in the Bilibino district, but it was enough for me literally for a week. It was scorching, but I don't like it at all, ”admits Elena Skibina.

When asked what unbearable heat we are talking about, the teacher replied: "15 degrees." Even in summer, local residents do not hide their jackets in a closet, the average temperature is about 7 degrees Celsius. The water is icy both on the sea and on the lagoon, people go to swim in the northernmost thermal springs in Asia, hot springs, which are 8 km from the village in the direction of Cape Dezhnev.

“It’s impossible not to fall in love with Uelen,” school director Marina Titarenko supports her colleague. Here you acutely feel the power of the elements, understand how crystal life is, and appreciate it, every minute, every moment. And there are people living in a cold land with such a warm heart who love what they do. It costs a lot!"

Since November, the electricity supply to the village will also cost a lot, no longer figuratively: the polar night will fall on Uelen. Until the end of February, all social facilities, including the school, will switch to daylight, and streetlights on the streets of the village will be on around the clock. At this time, the natural "illumination" - the northern lights, periodically coloring the sky over the easternmost village of Russia, will become noticeable even in the daytime, and residents will slowly begin to prepare for Pegytti - the Chukchi New Year, which is celebrated on December 21-22, on the days of the winter solstice. Traditionally, there will be a bonfire, dancing, refreshments and good wishes, if the weather permits. And on December 31, Uelenians will already celebrate the Russian New Year. As usual, ahead of all Russia.   

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