EuropeStoryNikel -The Lost Element by Aleksey Ivanov

The town of Nikel is one of the numerous single-industry towns in modern Russia. It is located in the North-Western part of the Kola Peninsula, 123 km North-West of Murmansk and a few kilometers from the Norwegian border.
156517 min



The town of Nikel is one of the numerous single-industry towns in modern Russia. It is located in the North-Western part of the Kola Peninsula, 123 km North-West of Murmansk and a few kilometers from the Norwegian border.

It was founded by Finnish companies in 1935 for the extraction of copper-nickel ore. In 1944 it became Soviet settlement and got its modern name from the chemical element of the same name. The growing demand of the USSR for Nickel-based superalloys determined the economic profile and prosperity of the town for decades.

However, after the disappearance of the Soviet Union, Nikel faced social decline and outflow of population. Nowadays Nickel and other valuable elements are still being mined, which allows the town to stay afloat and not become a ghost town. I decided to focus on youths as the most mobile and active part of Nikel population. I became interested in how young people live in one of the most Northern Russian single-industry towns, what worries them, and most importantly, how and where they see their future.

About Aleksey Ivanov

Aleksey Ivanov is an independent documentary and portrait photographer. Born in 1984, he currently lives alternately in the Siberian city of Chita and Moscow. He started his career as a documentary photographer in 2018. He studies photography in The School of Modern Photography “Docdocdoc”. In his personal projects he explores social issues, small towns and communities, as well as his native region – Transbaikalia and Eastern Siberia.

Abandoned houses in the center of Nikel. About 11,000 people now live in the town, while over the past 30 years the population has decreased by almost 2 times. Nikel, Russia 2019

During summer Maksim (27) lives in the apartment, left over from his deceased parents. He gets food in a christian orthodox parish. Since the heating batteries in the apartment were stolen, and some of the windows are broken, during cold season he spends nights with friends or goes to the forest dugout. Nikel, Russia 2019

Snow-covered car in a courtyard. There are tens of derelict cars lay on the streets of Nikel. Nikel, Russia 2019

Katya (25) is on leave to take care of her second son and is learning the profession of a cook, hoping to find a better job. Nikel, Russia 2019

Kola Mining and Metallurgical Company’s integrated plant. It employs about 25% of the economically active population of Nikel. Nikel, Russia 2019

Denis and Alina (19) are together for about a year. Denis works for the Kola Mining and Metallurgical Company, the main employer of Nikel. Alina decided to move to the city of Rybinsk with her friend. Nikel, Russia 2019

Students are waiting for the rehearsal in the auditorium of Pechenga Polytechnic College, the only professional educational institution in Nikel. Nikel, Russia 2019

Alyona (25) is a hairdresser and vocalist in a local punk-rock band. A rehearsal space for the band is provided by Nikel Palace of culture. Alyona met her future husband a few years ago on the internet and moved to him from Ukraine. Since then she lives in Nikel. Alyona and her husband and daughter are planning to move to the Voronezh Oblast in the next two years. “In Nikel, I like the fact that it is cozy in its own way, but I do not like that it is cold and there is almost no summer. Also there are a lot of drinking people in Nikel, including those who have children. This is, of course, a problem, although it is common for all of Russia. I just live the profession of a hairdresser, this is my thing. And music, too. My great-grandmother was an actress and sang, I guess I got it from her.” Nikel, Russia 2019

A young couple in front of a dormitory. Nikel, Russia 2019

Evgeniy (19) is a student of Pechenga Polytechnic College. After graduating from College, he plans to move to Murmansk, the administrative center of Murmansk Oblast. Nikel, Russia 2019

Preparations for the exhibition at the Children’s art school №1. The school pupils become winners of prestigious international competitions. Nikel, Russia 2019

Vika (17) is a student of Pechenga Polytechnic College. She says many teenagers in town have problems with alcoholic parents. After graduating from College, she expects to move to Murmansk, the administrative center of Murmansk Oblast. Nikel, Russia 2019

Residential area in Nikel. Most of the houses in Nikel are partially painted in different shades of bright or pastel colors. It was planned that these colors should cheer up during the long polar winters. Nikel, Russia 2019

Ilya (19) is a student of the Pechenga Polytechnic College. Ilya says that after graduating from College, he hopes to move to St. Petersburg, as Nikel is boring and there are almost no prospects for life. Nikel, Russia 2019

Exhibition of students’ products in the library of Pechenga Polytechnic College. Nikel, Russia 2019

Grigory (18) is a student of Pechenga Polytechnic College. He says he can’t leave the town because he looks after his parents. Nikel, Russia 2019

An abandoned stadium. Nikel, Russia 2019

Elena (18), a student of Pechenga Polytechnic College, her future specialty is an electrician. After graduating from College, she plans to get married. Will she stay in the North, Elena is not sure. Nikel, Russia 2019

The interior of the “Second school”, one of the cultural institutions of Nikel. It was opened with the support of Mining and Metallurgical Company “Norilsk Nickel”, the parent company of Kola MMC. Nikel, Russia 2019

Andrey (18) is a student of Pechenga Polytechnic College. His future specialty is an electrician. Andrey is not going to leave. He is sure that he will work in his specialty. Nikel, Russia 2019

Autodrome in Nikel. The sign on the ground read “Start”. Nikel, Russia 2019

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