Chukchi People in the Soviet Era

Over the long years of judging images here at Dreamstime I have come across some really amazing work.

Stock photography has been put down many times for being cheesy and broken from reality and even goofy at times but I'd beg to differ.

The story I am about to tell today is inspired by a series of editorial images from one of our contributors taken back in the days when digital photography was a distant SciFi dream and film imagery was king.

These images range from 1979 to 1985 and depict the ways and lives of indigenous people living in the tundra of the Chukotka peninsula at the outskirts of Chukchi Sea and the Bering Sea region of the Arctic Ocean, a place you may call The End of The World.

“The way you treat your dog in this life determines your place in heaven", so says an old indigenous proverb.

Reaching these parts of the world is hard and dangerous. Extreme cold and snow reign supreme here and help is scarce. Expedition trucks must have been sturdy and prepared for all kinds of obstacles in the road.

Due to the harsh climate and difficulty of life in the tundra, hospitality and generosity are highly prized among the Chukchi. They believe that all natural phenomena are considered to have their own spirits. Traditional lifestyle still survives but is increasingly supplemented. In this image taken in 1979 we see a Chukchi man driving a snowmobile through the tundra.

The Russian name "Chukchi" actually comes from the Chukchi word Chauchu (rich in reindeer). Reindeer men use this word to distinguish themselves from coastal folk, who are usually called Anqallyt (the sea people). Although an indigenous Siberian people, the Chukchi apparently came to Bering Strait later than the Eskimos. The indigenous name for a member of the Chukchi ethnic group as a whole is Luoravetlan (literally 'true person').

This 1983 image depicts a couple of Russian mainland folk posing with an indigenous family in front of their yaranga tent.

Chukchi clothing is in accordance to their ancient traditions so women traditionally wore a kerker, a knee-length coverall made from reindeer or seal hide and trimmed with fox, wolverine, wolf, or dog fur. In addition to the kerker, women also wore robe-like dresses of fawn skins beautifully decorated with beads, embroidery, and fur trimmings. Men wore loose shirts and trousers made of the same materials. Both sexes wore high boots and leather undergarments. Children's clothing consisted of a one-piece fur cover-all with a flap between the legs to allow the moss that served as a diaper to be easily changed. Present-day Chukchi wear Western clothing (cloth dresses, shirts, trousers, and underclothes) except on holidays and other special occasions.

In this 1985 image we see an indigenous man wearing traditional clothing while puffing on a cigarette.

Pollution caused by Soviet-era mining and industry, poverty, poor diet and medical care, and widespread alcoholism have led to high rates of tuberculosis and other diseases among the modern Chukchi. In addition, pollution, weapons testing, strip mining, and overuse of industrial equipment and vehicles have greatly damaged Chukotka's environment and endangered its ability to support traditional Chukchi activities.

Seen in this 1984 image is a gold prospector in a gold rich field in the Chukchi Peninsula

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Soviet government abolished many native settlements, dispersed their former inhabitants, and made Russian the language of instruction in Chukchi schools. During the 1980s, writers, teachers, and other concerned Chukchi began to criticize these policies and to participate in native-rights organizations. They have also begun to expand Chukchi-language teaching and publishing.

The image of "authentic reindeer folk," never subjugated by anybody, is still a dominant part of the Chukchi mentality. The survival of the Chukchi culture and language depends upon the success of hundreds of current village residents in returning to their former lifestyle.

Your article must be written in English

August 11, 2015


Chukchi history is very similar to the history of the Inuit of Alaska ...

May 07, 2015


Data2203 wrote: [Very interesting retro photos! I like film colours! Which film was used?]
It were Kodak and Orwochrom.

April 30, 2015


The colours have such a nostalgic feel.

April 23, 2015


Very interesting retro photos! I like film colours! Which film was used?

March 12, 2015


awesome... very interesting to see them all. I was born in USSR, and it is a bit nostalgic for me ) thanks for sharing

February 25, 2015


Great historical images!

February 24, 2015


Interesting blog. Good work...

February 23, 2015


Yurikr, those are really great images, they deserved a story of their own. Keep them coming.
Gmargittai we accept historical images that have cultural value, so start digging and scanning and maybe upload some.

February 23, 2015


Amazing blog and pictures. I am glad that DT accepts these, although maybe their commercial appeal is not that great. For somebody looking for these historical photographs these images are priceless. I have some slides from the seventies but they are not as good as these. I'll look through them see maybe I can find something worth scanning.

February 22, 2015


Thanks a lot, Nikitu!
I realy could not imagine those pics would inspire someone 'cause numbers of images on-line. It's please for me to know people like them! Thank you again for your great story about nice Chukchi people.

February 22, 2015


Super interesting. I love the language.

February 21, 2015


All I can say is wow I am speechless!!!

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Photo credits: Yurikr.