Arctic Volunteers: Dedicated and Committed to the Russian Arctic

Head of the Arctic Volunteers movement, Yevgeny Rozhkovsky, reviewed its performance and shared plans for the future during The Arctic: Today and the Future 9th International Forum.

Mr Rozhkovsky, what did the Arctic Volunteers achieve in 2019?

Just as in 2018, we planned and carried out a number of very interesting expeditions, including research expeditions, to the Yamal Peninsula and Vilkitsky Island. We worked with our colleagues that included people from the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District government, the Arctic Research Center, the Russian Center for Arctic Development, as well as our non-governmental organization Green Arctic. We always operate as a team, since a step-by-step collective action strategy is the only viable approach for working in the Arctic.

For example, there was an expedition with 30 people that lasted for an entire month. This is too long. After 21 days fatigue starts to set in, giving rise to mental and emotional issues, but the participants stood strong. Vilkitsky Island is not a resort, after all. People have to work every day, with 30 men living in the Gorizont (Horizon) housing module… this is obviously a special experience, so we always want to make sure that the volunteers are ready for expeditions like this.

This is why we introduced a selection process, so that we can filter people out. This is a good thing. We teach people to dream large, so they are eager to contribute to major and ambitious undertakings, do something on their own, instead of just talking, although communicating is also critical right now.

What were you able to do during this month?

We had 30 days and a team of 30 men. We cleaned up over 60 hectares, collecting more than 200 tons of scrap metal, including over 500 barrels. This was an important effort, since metal tends to rust as time goes by, and the fuel from these barrels contaminates rivers, seas, oceans, etc.

We also tore down 20 rundown buildings on the island. Why are we doing this? After all, this can be dangerous for us as well. But we can use the salvaged wood for fuel. Delivering pellets that are so popular now is a challenge. They take up weight, which means higher expenses and complicated logistics. So anything that makes us more self-reliant is welcome.

However, I believe that reviving the lighthouse on Vilkitsky Island was our most interesting and significant achievement. For us it was a symbol of the future for the island, and an expression of hope that it will start a new life. Our colleagues from the Russian Center for Arctic Development brought batteries, installed them and lit up the lamps. We created a small museum in a room downstairs. You could see how people who worked there were committed to the Russian Arctic with all their hearts. We live in a great nation that has so many wonderful people, and I think that projects like this one help us train people and teach them in a good way to be patriots of their great country.

Did this educational effort continue during the expedition, like in previous years?

Yes, of course. This year we came up with a new format that consisted of working with researchers. The main purpose here is to study processes, collect water and soil samples, etc. To deliver on these objectives, we selected people who had the required educational or professional background, who worked for research institutions or organizations, or simply had the required know-how. Of course, there are only a few people like this on an expedition, just two or three, but the experiment was a success. The researchers told us that this format suited them well, so they were ready to continue working with the volunteers.

In addition, there are always various activities we offer during expeditions. Every evening we come together to talk to each other, share interesting experiences and ideas, watch movies on the Arctic and its exploration, for example Semyon Dezhnev's northern expeditions, etc. This is part of our history. We watched movies about Dmitry Ovtsyn. Few people know who he was; he crossed the Yamal Peninsula and came back, and also travelled to the head of the Lena River. All in all, there were a lot of interesting things going on there.

Restoring the lighthouse was an important achievement. For me, for the guys, our Polar brothers, as we call them, this was a symbolic and important achievement.

You mentioned filtering when selecting people for the expedition. What kind of people get to join your expeditions?

Our goal is to find interesting people, and sometimes we come across people with a lot of talent. They may be living their lives out there somewhere without anyone knowing about them, but here they can open up and share their experiences.

It is fair to say that people are at the core of all our projects. When they return, they bring these ideas back home, they talk about them and inspire other people, telling them that we have an intriguing place called the Arctic.

We advance steadily. There is no going back. We may stumble or fall on the way, but we never stop moving forward. This is also very important. People who return from our expeditions to their remote villages write articles and hold photo exhibits. It is always a joy to get feedback from these places, when we get links to reports or articles about these exhibitions. Learning about it is always a joy.

Our compatriots who live in Austria and Germany also organize photo exhibits to tell people about the Arctic.

Even now, at the forum, there are many people and a lot of debates going on at the stand of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District. People are interested, they care. Many tell us that they need to learn methods, that they need to speak to people with specific skills or expertise. We collect all this information and try to recruit people who want to spend their vacations on volunteer projects. I hope that we will succeed, since our purpose is to serve our society.

Since you mentioned the future, can you share your plans for 2020?

We have developed a new environmental sociology program that we will test in 2020. It includes a number of stages.

The first stage is called Environmental Academy. We will offer online courses during a certain period of time, maybe a month, to train the people from our pool, about 150 to 200 people. They will take this course, and pass interim and final exams to learn about the part humans play in the environment, what it means for people to be part of the biosphere, and what we can do, and why we form a single whole. This course will include input from researchers and other interesting speakers.

After the course the graduates will join the volunteer corps to take part in a number of expeditions that I talked about, including to Vilkitsky Island, Kamchatka or research projects. We are now planning these activities in cooperation with our colleagues.

We also offer an educational course that consists of one-hour environment awareness lessons. It will target youngsters, as well as adults. In addition, we will have a presentation that people can use to share information about the environment through the prism of their experience and understanding.