In the 1990s, many young people left to find work elsewhere as eight of the town's 13 coal mines closed, reducing some suburbs to wind-blasted ghost towns.
The government helped relocate those who lost their jobs; pensioners moved in with relatives in the south if they had them. Others relocated under a
program sponsored by the World Bank.
The city's population plummeted from 217,000 in the late 1980s, when Zharuk's 24-year-old son Vadim was born, to 96,000 today.
The suburb of Vorgoshor, where the Zharuks and Krikun live, has emptied precipitously, the front doors of vacant apartments marked by a few nails or planks
Many of those who remained, especially after the 1998 financial crisis wiped out many Russians' savings, simply lacked the means, opportunity, or
wherewithal to get out.
Nevertheless, young people like Vadim Zharuk, who aren't interested in a life in the mines, are determined to leave, despite the odds. After studying in
the Moscow Oblast, he has seen what life can be like outside remote and icy Vorkuta.
He says he is considering moving to Tver, where he has friends.
"I know what it's like to live in a different city. I can compare life in Vorkuta with life in Zelenograd in Moscow Oblast," he says. "It's two completely
But Vadim tempers his criticism with praise of the tundra's beautiful summers and stunning white nights.
Like many residents, he is also proud of this city, where a deep sense of solidarity and camaraderie has risen out of a brutal past.
'Capital Of The World'
Vorkutlag, the city's Stalin-era labor camp, once heaved with political prisoners from so many countries that it earned the droll nickname of the "capital
of the world."
Today, it still has a retro Soviet feel. Vorkuta's central Lenin Street is adorned with signs exhorting citizens to mine more coal for the motherland.
Banners from the ruling United Russia party call on citizens to "build the future together."
From 1931 to 1957, 2 million prisoners from the U.S.S.R. and 21 other countries passed through the Gulag system here. Local historians say there are
200,000 political prisoners buried in the permafrost in marked and unmarked graves.
Despite this dark history, there is a strong current of Soviet nostalgia here. The Communist Party marshals a strong following.
In 2011, communist Leonid Gorbachev was briefly declared the winner of mayoral elections. But a recount was held and the United Russia candidate was
declared the winner by one vote -- a move that sparked small street protests.
'City Is Dying'
Konstantin Rimenov, an unabashed Stalinist who has a poster of the Soviet tyrant on his kitchen door, has worked in the mines for 27 years.
At 46, he's already drawing a pension but continues to work in the mines. He says his pension is not enough to provide for his family.