The Chukotsky Autonomous Okrug is the very north-eastern region of Russia. Its nearest western neighbor is the State of Alaska in the USA which is separated by the Bering Strait from Chukotka.
In 1885 Chukotka was separated into the administrative Anadyrsky Okrug. And 45 years later on the 10th of December, 1930 the Chukotsky national Okrug was founded. This date is a kind of the present Autonomous Okrug's birthday. Today the Okrug has the territory of 721,5 thousand square kilometers. The geographical position of the Okrug makes it a unique territory in the geopolitical behalf.
The Chukotka peninsula is situated in the extremity of Eurasia. Like a wedge it cuts between the Pacific and Arctic Ocean. The region borders on the Republic of Sakha (Yakutiya), Magadansky region and Koryaksky Autonomous Okrug overland. Chukotka's shores are washed by the Chukotsky, East Siberian and Bering seas. The islands of Wrangel and Gerald also belong to Chukotka.
It seems that the image of Chukotka, which is pierced with clearness, openness and bareness, breathes eternity. Generally, it was formed already by the beginning of glaciations of the Pleistocene. And today it is possible to see the same scenery as Russian pioneers could see there: forcibly simple forms of coasts and mountains, straight valleys as if cut with a carving tool, free expanses of lowlands as if flowing into illimitable seas.
Chukot Autonomous (before 1980—National) Okrug was established on 10 December 1930. It has the status of an independent subject of the Russian Federation since 17 June 1992. The status was confirmed in 1993 by the decision of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation.
The Okrug has a total area of 721.5 thousand km2 that comprises 7% of the total area of all regions of the Far North and their territories.
Geographically, the Okrug is situated on the remotest north-eastern end of Eurasia, running like a wedge in between two oceans: the Pacific and the Arctic. It is washed by the East-Siberian, the Chukchee and the Bering seas.
The Okrug occupies the Chukot peninsula, the adjacent part of the mainland and some islands: Vrangel, Ayion, Arakamchechen, Ratmanov, Gerald and others. Overland, the region has borders with Republic Sakha (Yakutia), the Magadan region and Koryak Autonomous Okrug. Chukotka is separated from Alaska by the Bering Strait.
The southernmost point in the Chukot region is Cape Rubikon (latitude 62 North); the northernmost point—Cape Shelagsky (latitude 70 North); easternmost—Cape Dezhnev, which is also the western end of Russia and Eurasia in general (longitude 170 West).
The largest part of Chukotka is situated in the eastern hemisphere, and about a half of its territory—behind the Polar circle.
Chukotka looks clear, straightforward and naked, and it seems to be eternal. Such looks were already formed by the beginning of glaciations of the forth period. Nowadays one may see the same scenery here as it was seen by Russian pioneers: earnestly simple contours of coasts and mountains, as if artificially cut straight valleys, free open spaces of lowlands which seem to flow into boundless seas…
In a geographical sense, Chukotka is quite an integral space system and its main factors are: it is situated in high latitudes, has a low-mountainous relief and is surrounded with two oceans. Chukotka looks like a wedge pointing East and pressed between the two oceans.
This wedge-looking symmetry is mainly due to the Anyuisk-Chukot mountainous-and-tundra upland (highest point - 1887 meters or 6190 feet). This is a dividing belt between the basins of the Pacific and the Arctic oceans. The upland consists of a number of ridges which are cut through by wide valleys.
The central part of the Okrug is occupied by an extremely water-logged Anadyr lowland. North-West of it there is Anadyr plateau which is the center of the most important ridges and rivers which diverge in all directions. In the very South of the Okrug there is another large upland - Koryak (its northern part). The South-West of Chukot Autonomous Okrug is occupied with the eastern part of Yukagir plateau with altitudes from 500 to 700 meters (1640 - 2296 ft). In the northern part, along the sea coast there are Cheunsk and Vankaremsk lowlands.
The Chukot region differs from other regions in its unique diversity of recent and relic ice. Here one may find thick sheet deposits, ice veins with a vertical length of up to 50 meters (160 ft) and underground ice of stone glaciers. Besides one may often meet buried remains of ancient glaciers, injection ice of heaving hillocks and various cave ice.
Chukot seas and mainland waters represent a huge complex of natural resources. Difficult ice-situations, storms, fogs, strong tide flows are characteristic features of Chukot shelf-seas.
The East-Siberian Sea is the coldest among all Chukot seas and its temperature rarely rises above +2°Ñ (34°F).
The Chukchee Sea is the easternmost of all seas washing the northern coast of Eurasia. Most of the year it is covered with floe. In autumn storm winds result in the appearance of waves up to 7 meters (23 ft) high and hummocks up to 5-6 meters (16-20 ft) high.
The Bering Sea is the warmest of all those washing Chukotka. The ice regime of the Bering Sea is more favorable for navigation, than that of Arctic seas.
Chukot rivers belong to the basins of Arctic and Pacific ocean seas. Hydrologically, they have been studied very little. The largest of rivers is the Anadyr, its basin area—150 thousand sq. meters (161,464 sq. ft) (1/5 of the total area of the Okrug), its length—1,117 km (694 miles).
Rivers are characterized by long freezing-over periods (7-8 months), irregularity of water flow, high and quick floods, freezing of some rivers down to the bottom and formation of wide ice mounds. Most of rivers belong to the mountain type.
The Anadyr flows into the Bering Sea; its main tributaries are the Belaya, the Main, the Tanyurer. The Kolyma flows into the North-Siberian Sea; its main tributaries are the Omolon, the Bolshoy Anyui and the Malyi Anyui.
Large lakes: Krasnoe, Elghyghyghyn, Pekulneiskoe.
Flora and Fauna
It is the extremity of the climate that determines the severe Chukot nature.
At first glance vegetation is very poor here. Only sometimes in river valleys one may find light coniferous forests comprised of cachectic Daur larches and dwarf birch trees, and even more seldom—relic poplar forests. More often one may see the tundra with its “unpretentious” alders and cedar elfin wood, sedge and cotton-grass, blue and red bilberry. The most typical landscape is the one of mountainous and Arctic tundra with its small bushes, weeds, moss and lichen pressed to the ground.
Meanwhile it only seems that vegetation is scarce: in fact more than 900 kinds of plants and more than 400 kinds of moss and lichen can be found in the Chukot region. Even the flora of Vrangel island—the northernmost part of Chukotka—consists of 385 kinds of vegetation that is more than any other Arctic island of the same size has.
The Chukot Autonomous Okrug is situated in several native zones, that is why its vegetation is so diverse. The zones are: the Arctic desert zone (which includes the islands of Vrangel and Gerald as well as a narrow strip of land along the coastal line of the Arctic ocean), the zone of typical and hypoarctic tundra and forest-tundra (western Chukotka, the Chukot peninsula, Nizhneanadyrsky lowland, southern part of the Anadyr river basin and the Bering district) and finally, the zone of larch taiga (the Anuy and the Omolon basins).
Chukot fauna is also a very diverse one. It belongs to the typical “Arctic complex” with its center in Alaska and is rather unique for the Russian North, as many species can be found only there and not in any other part of the country.
There 402 species of fish (65 classes) in the Bering Sea and among them 50 species and 14 classes are food fish. Other objects of fishery are: 4 species of crabs, 4 species of shrimps, 2 species of cephalopod shellfish. About 30 species of freshwater fish can be found in inland reservoirs of the Okrug, and the fishing industry is mainly focused on salmons, loachs and lake herrings, graylings, smelts, pikes, whitefish and burbots.
Numerous species of birds: tundra partridges, ducks, geese, swans; on the coast—diving-pigeons, eider-ducks and sea-gulls form up bird colonies. Altogether there are about 220 bird-species.
As for animals, here one can find the white and the brown bear, the reindeer, the snow ram, the sable, the lynx, the wolf, the glutton, the ermine, the chipmunk, the lepus, the fox, the musk-rat, the mink and some others.
The seas round the Chukot region are rich in sea-animals: the walrus, the seal, the whale.
There are also many insects: mosquitoes, midges, gadflies.
The white bear and the snow ram, the following sea mammals: the sea-unicorn, the humpback, the fin back, the grey and the blue whale, the razor-back, and 24 species of birds are registered in The Red Book of the Russian Federation.
The Chukot region has several nature reserves: “Vrangel Island” reserve, “Beringia” nature and ethnical park, “Lebediny” State zoological reserve of republican significance, and the following State nature reserves of regional (Okrug) significance—“Avtotkuul”, “Tumansky”, “Tundrovy”, “Ust-Tanyurersky”, “Chaunsk Bay”, “Teyukuul” and “Omolonsky”.
Besides, there are also 20 parks and reserves of regional significance on the territory of the Chukot Autonomous Okrug.
There are places on this planet created, it seems, to test the limits of human hardiness and fortitude. Chukotka is one of these.
This frontier is a land of permanently frozen ground, unfailing arctic winds, and ferocious blizzards, its inhospitable coastal cliffs washed by freezing seas. Chukotka’s unique beauty is only open to those with the courage to endure the demands that travel here exacts.
The extreme northern climate has dispassionately selected the inhabitants of the region for millennia; Chukotka’s indigenous peoples carefully organized their lives in harmony with the land in order to survive in such a severe and unforgiving environment. Only with incredible skill and ingenuity could a people survive and prosper. From the demanding physical environment, human endurance, strength, and adaptability, and spiritual resilience emerged as the highest virtues.
Perhaps this explains the popularity of contemporary and traditional sport in Chukotka today. Whaleboat, reindeer and dogsled races are all gripping and beautiful events, of interest to inhabitants and visitors to Chukotka alike.
Any traveler who makes the effort to see Chukotka and move beyond the confines and comforts of civilisation will have his senses bombarded by the spectacular power of the northern landscape. It will seem to him that this ancient land is unfixed in time, irrelevant to the march of modernity. The mountains fall to the sea, the seacoast is pounded by the Arctic and Pacific Oceans, deep valleys cut through the inland plateaus, and the lakes, streams and marsh lowlands bring clean, unpolluted water to the seas. In the 21st century, the landscape remains unchanged, meeting the modern traveler with the same views as met the first human inhabitants of the Chukotka peninsula, or the first Russian explorers in the 17th century.
On this pristine landscape, the visitor will meet the indigenous peoples of Chukotka, the warm-hearted and welcoming masters of the land — the Chukchi, Yup’ik, Even, and Chuvantsy.
Chukotka — a land of remarkable contrasts, where in the most severe polar conditions life flourishes in startling variety. Over the course of the short northern summer, regardless of the ever-present permafrost below the tundra surface, an annual miracle of blooming, blossoming and growth occurs with a speed and dynamism that astonishes. A rich choir of birdsong floods the landscape, the vivid blues of the bays and inlets match the endless northern skies, the tundra transforms into an artist’s palette of colour.
For visitors prepared to test their hardiness, Chukotka’s winter landscapes present their challenges and attractions as well. The perfect silence of the tundra under snow is deceptive — life below and above the snow layer never stops.
You would never believe how warm and comfortable life in a traditional Chukchi yurt (yaranga) can be, even in the bitterest Arctic cold. And until you have tried it, you can have no sense of the exhilaration of a ride on a dog or reindeer sled. Have you ever seen a walrus hunt in the coastal waters of the Bering Sea? Have you ever tasted a freshly caught smelt, pulled from the ice with your own hands?
If you are ready for a break from modern civilization and you want to step back into a timeless and untouched natural world, if the promise of certain adventure thrills you, travel in Chukotka will satisfy your instincts for the unusual.