LOM - Lives on the Move

Vakhtoviki in North-western Siberia: a Qualitative Empirical Account of Long-distance Commute Work in the Russian Federation's Oil and Gas Industries


Labour force provision in remote and climatically harsh regions around the polar circle has been a major issue in the creation of a successful energy sector since the Soviet Union era onwards. Today extraction sites of hydrocarbon resources in Russia continuously shift northwards and arctic off-shore deposits are being prospected. Although in the Russian Far North the number of urban settlements exceeds that of other sub-arctic regions, the growing labour demand is met only through long-distance commuters (LDC).

For economically disadvantaged regions e.g. the coal mining tows of Inta and Vorkuta in Komi Rebublic–commuting to new deposits in the Yamal Peninsula provides alternative income and has the potential to support diversified development. This can mitigate migration of qualified labour out of the North. Both, economic diversification and LDC appear to be potentials for keeping these towns long-term viable. In traditional gas and oil sites–Novy Urengoy and Nadym–with over-proportional high qualified labour, collaboration of regional and local state bodies with local companies regarding regional development strategies is beneficial for all stakeholders. Commitment on part of the companies to preferably recruit regional labour is crucial for local economies. Nevertheless, recruitment of LDC from central and southern Russian regions is important to meet the high demand of workers. Furthermore, the rich hydrocarbon deposits do not only interlink the Russian Far North with the other regions of the state in terms of fiscal equalisation schemes, they are also integrated to a large extent by the people who travel back and forth and who invest the revenues from the North in their home regions.

Little is known about people behind the extraction processes of crude oil and natural gas in the Russian Federation–neither about those from the “South” (inter-regional LDC) and nor from the "North"(intra-regional LDC).

LDC lead a life on the move, characterised by a circular presence at and absence from home, subordination to strict company-regimes in closed work camps, and long journeys to and from work sites. Inter-regional LDC from southern and central parts of the Russian Federation make journeys of up to several thousand kilometres by train or by aeroplane; it matters whether the company pays for the trip or not. Intra-regional LDC are permanent residents of base towns near oil and gas-fields, but may still commute over several hundreds of kilometres. Both groups work on shift rosters, i.e. 30, 45 or 60 days on shift with 30 days of recreation.

Understanding the coping strategies, motivation for and objection to LDC is a crucial basis for perspectives on labour potentials in a sector where on the one hand, demand for highly skilled workers is enormous; on the other hand working conditions throughout involved companies differ to a great extent.

This interdisciplinary research by Social Geography, Social Anthropology, Political Science and, History, explores the itinerant lifestyles of LDC workers in the hydrocarbon industries of north-western Siberia, the Komi Republic and, the sending regions such as the Republics of Bashkortostan, Chuvashia and the town Belgorod. 

The lives of LDC are shaped by three meaningful social spaces HOME–JOURNEY–ON DUTY. A relational social-spatial theoretical approach allows the material, physical and socio-economically characterised spatial structure to be linked with the agency and responses of the people involved. 

To understand this, we take an ethnographic look from the individual and community perspective on the complex inter-relation of natural resources and social-spatial particularities. Furthermore, through oral history we aim to understand the reception and effects of the fundamentally changing conditions of and discourses on LDC from the late Soviet Union to the present. These findings are contextualised with insights on macro-level policies and strategies on various administrational levels as well as the heterogeneous setting and rapid changes in the involved industries.



Institut für Geographie und Regionalforschung der Universität Wien [Heinz Faßmann, Gerti Saxinger, Elena Nuykina, Elisabeth Öfner, Elena Aleshkevich, Philipp Brugner]; Institut für Stadt- und Regionalforschung der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften

Programm & Laufzeit

FWF Austrian Science Fund

2010 - 2015